Years ago, when I was just getting started as a writer, I also worked “part time” as a paralegal for my then-wife, Susan Decker McNarie, in a law firm that specialized in domestic violence cases. But I quickly found out that when domestic violence is involved, there was no such thing as a “part time” paralegal. We ended up putting in twelve-hour days at the office, and my writing would get done in the wee hours of the morning; there were always emergencies, always Temporary Restraining Orders to file, always affidavits to take from traumatized spouses and children whose lives could depend on getting it right and getting it done fast. And not just spouses and children’s lives. In the course of doing that work, I heard from multiple sources that cops disliked responding to “domestics”reports more than any other type of incident, because those were the ones in which they were most likely to be injured.
Cases like the one in North Kohala (see previous posts this week) are hardly unique. Over the years, this Web site has covered numerous other examples of “domestics,” and we’ve only covered a tiny fraction of the cases that happen on this island every year.
Domestic violence gets reported more often when lower-income families are involved–there’s less social pressure to “keep it quiet”–and it’s more often fatal when the man is the abuser, simply because men are, on average, just physically more powerful. But domestic violence is a problem that spans all income brackets, all ethnic groups and all genders. In the very first apartment that Susan and I owned in Hilo, we got to listen frequently to screams and crashes as the woman next door, who was of European descent, threw plates at her Japanese-American husband. It wasn’t the first time I was witness to a “domestic”: when I was working on my master’s degree in Columbia, Missouri, I had to call the police when the woman next door started screaming “stop hitting me!” A couple of years later, I ended up interposing my own body when I was attending a renaissance fair in Topeka, Kansas, and one of the vendors, in a drunken rage, began demolishing his own craft booth with his terrified significant other inside. I managed to divert his attention until the police got there to escort him off the premises. We thought that would be the end of it, but we later learned that the man had been released, then had returned late at night with a gun, had thrown the woman’s possessions into a nearby river, and had gotten himself arrested again.
In my sixty-plus years, I’ve never seen an armed robbery, a burglary or a car theft. But I’ve been an eyewitness to domestic violence at least eight times. When I was a college teacher, I had to cope with students who couldn’t complete their assignments because their fathers or domestic partners had chased them out into the street. When I was a paralegal, we found so much “business” trying to rescue domestic violence victims who couldn’t afford to pay that we eventually lost Susan’s law office, our savings, our house and our marriage. We did some good for some people; won some cases, lost some. But domestic violence was a great, yawning chasm in the island’s social landscape, and it seemed that no amount of individual effort could fill it. And by the time it reached the legal system, much of the damage was already irreversibly done: the relationship was already wrecked, the children permanently scarred.
If you’re in involved in a violent relationship, get informed, get out and get help. Notice that I didn’t say “If you’re a victim in a violent relationship.” If you’re losing your temper with someone you love, you need to get help, too, BEFORE you permanently harm him or her, yourself, your children and/or a cop or an innocent bystander. There are some superb programs such as Alternatives to Violence that can help both victims and abusers to figure out what’s going on and put a stop to it before it gets worse. You can start at this Web site, which offers both basic information and links to organizations that can help.
Remember: you love this person–or these people, if there are children involved. You don’t really want to harm them, or be harmed by them. Don’t let that happen.