In Focus: Domestic Violence In Appalachia Ohio

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“My mother was a survivor of domestic violence when I was growing up. My father left us when I was about four years old, but from that time I remember seeing my mother with either a black eye or hearing them fight”

Unfortunately, stories like Mackenzi Bentley’s are all too common in Appalachia, Ohio.

Domestic violence is an issue across the United States, a problem that often fails to go away due to the close personal relationships it often presides over.

Whether dealing with couples relationships or issues with family members, domestic violence has a large impact on its victims, especially those that are adolescents or younger.

“When you grow up in an abusive family, that’s what you see modeled for you” said Sarah Fick who is the Program Coordinator for the Sexual Assault Prevention Program.

“Those are your most important role models that you’re modeling yourself after so you’re going to grow up to become similar to the parents situation in your home”

This can be difficult for children who often feel as though they don’t have people to talk to about their problems.

Boys who witness domestic violence as kids are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults.

The effects are obvious.  The consequences are severe but the issue often goes unreported.

In 2011 in the state of Ohio, there were 44,302 domestic violence arrests.

That number should seem high but the actual number of calls reporting domestic violence to the police is nearly double the number of arrests at 74,842 total calls.

Despite these numbers, many victims are still afraid of reporting cases.

“There is a lot of secrecy and this is a family issue. We don’t seek counseling. We don’t seek outside support. There is a lot of taboo and this is not an issue that we talk about,” said My Sister’s Place Councilor Sarah Webb on possible reasons why domestic violence victims don’t come forward.

A large portion of domestic violence cases take place in relationships, with the majority of the victims being female.

In the United States, one in four women experience domestic violence in their lifetime.

The numbers increase for the percentage of women that are victims of assault compared to men.

Among family violence victims, a staggering 73% are women.

It is estimated that in the United States, 1.3 million women a year are the victims of physical assault by an intimate partner.

Sarah Webb believes one answer to the problem is to inform young men on what’s allowable or not in relationships.

“We also need to be doing as educating young men, you know, a proper way to communicate, what’s consent, what is not consent,” said Webb.

One way to make sure that students learn the proper consequences of dating violence and domestic violence is to make sure they learn about it in school.

In 2009, Ohio passed a law requiring all schools to teach dating violence to students in grades 7-12.

Despite the law, it can hard to get programs into schools due to the sensitive subject matter.

“I try to get to the teacher, a teacher who believes in the message who believes we’re here to help the kids in whatever way we can” said Fick “Health teachers are the most receptive. They believe it fits what they are teaching.”

As someone who goes from school to school across Appalachia, teaching about healthy relationships is an important part of Fick’s message in trying to prevent abusive relationships.

“Healthy relationships is a big part of what I’m teaching, how to go about being in a relationship that is healthy and has effective conflict resolution skills and healthy communication.”

Even with the recent improvements in the state trying to educate students on dating violence, Mackenzie Bentley still believes they could do a better job locally.

“They need to actually lay it out in plain terms that they use when they talk about it. And especially in this area I think they should talk about it more than they actually do.”

In addition to adolescents not receiving the proper education on dating violence, another risk for domestic would appear to be poverty.

“Poverty is something that limits survivors from getting help,” said Webb “we’re in rural communities where often a perpetrator and a survivor are sharing a car or the survivor doesn’t have a way of getting somewhere where they can get help.”

In addition to poverty, there are many other risk factors for domestic violence but there can be different triggers depending on each situation.

One thing that is encouraged to victims is to try to get help.

While the most dangerous time for a victim is right after speaking out, counseling shelters such as My Sister’s Place provide a solid environment to talk about the issues victims are facing while receiving support from others.

“Our survivors are very open with us about their own family histories with abuser or neglect, or domestic violence or other things” said Webb.

Being open about the problem is just one of the many solutions to the problem.

For former victim Sarah Fick, trying to become part of the solution was her way of coping with her past while trying to help others.

“I feel like I’ve been through a lot from that and all the rest of the things about my life. I feel like I’ve learned a lot the hard way and I’d like to prevent other kids from learning the hard way.”