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A Domestic Tragedy

August 20, 2000

Domestic violence does not always spill out into public view as dramatically as it did last week. A man chased his longtime girlfriend through her Studio City workplace and into rush-hour traffic on Laurel Canyon Boulevard, shooting her to death and then killing himself.

But whether it takes place behind closed doors in the family home or before horrified commuters on their way to work, it exacts a deadly toll. The sad fact is that women in this country are more at risk from men they know and love than from the random terror that struck the San Fernando Valley earlier in the week, when a botched robbery at the Van Nuys Costco left one bystander dead and two more critically injured.

Each year an estimated 4 million women are physically abused by their husbands or boyfriends. Almost half of all women murdered are killed by their male partners.

According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund, a national advocacy group, men who abuse their wives are more likely to abuse their children. Millions of children witness parental violence each year, and those who do are more likely to grow up to abuse their own partners.

"Why did she stay?" is the question most often asked about the victims of domestic violence. The reasons are sometimes as straightforward as a lack of money or shelter, sometimes as complex as a dehumanizing cycle of abuse, apologies and isolation that leave a woman feeling worthless and helpless. Leaving an abusive spouse is itself a risky endeavor as it often triggers even more serious violence.

This is why it's crucial to have agencies--whether police, emergency room workers or special crisis centers--trained to understand the patterns of domestic abuse and to offer counseling along with concrete help such as emergency shelter or transitional housing.

Here in the Valley, Haven Hills Inc., one of two emergency shelters for battered women, runs a 24-hour crisis hotline, (818) 887-6589, that can connect women to emergency services and other resources.

Giving that number to a woman in need could mean handing her, quite literally, a lifeline.

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