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Domestic violence No. 1 health problem

Relationship violence can occur at many levels and in many situations

Diane Moore and Dan Smilkstein

— This past month across the nation, our attention has been drawn to the painful effects of violence. In October, National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we are again reminded of another form of violence that hits too close to home: domestic violence or intimate partner violence.

This epidemic is widespread, and no community is immune to it. It affects people regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, economic status or geographic location.

No longer is domestic violence a private matter. This issue has a serious impact that goes beyond the immediate family. We feel pity for the victim, contempt for the perpetrator, but very distant from the act, because this is not our life and what can we do about it anyhow?

We must first understand that domestic violence encompasses far more than physical violence. Words and other non-physical actions can be as painful as fists.

Thus broadly defined, domestic violence can affect our daily lives.

Some of the most long-lasting and traumatic effects of domestic violence come from the psychological and verbal attacks that occur between couples or even between co-workers.

Are any of these non-physical forms of abuse happening on a repetitive basis in your life? Has your significant other: ignored your feelings; ridiculed or insulted you, your most valued beliefs, your religion, race, heritage or class; withheld approval, appreciation or affections as punishment; continually criticized you, called you names, shouted at you; humiliated you in public or private; insulted or driven away your family or friends?

Relationship violence occurs at many levels and in many situations. The behaviors that eventually manifest as overt physical domestic violence start in adolescent and teen relationships, are seen in the workplace between employees and are learned in homes where a child observes one parent criticize, demean and/or physically abuse the other parent.

In the 1999 Steamboat Cares Survey for combined ninth- through 12th-grade Steamboat Springs students, 14.5 percent of females and 6.1 percent of males reported being involved in an abusive relationship.

One in five females reported sexual abuse.

What is most concerning is that the majority of abusers in this age group do not consider their behavior inappropriate. Kids learn by example, both from parents and peers.

There is no reason to think that behaviors learned during the formative years of dating and romance will change with their transition to adult relationships and marriage.

The one place on earth that women and children should feel safe and secure is often a place of danger.

Domestic violence is widespread and destroys lives, families and communities. It is true that any solution to the problem requires a complete community collaboration in which health-care providers can play an essential role.

According to the American Medical Association, this tragic epidemic is the No. 1 health problem in this country. Medical costs from domestic violence total more than $5 billion annually and businesses experience additional costs in lost wages, sick leave and absenteeism.

The key to preventing relationship violence is early education and early recognition. The solution will require a team effort by parents, schools, health-care workers and the media.

Diane Moore is director of Advocates Against Battering and Abuse. Dan Smilkstein, M.D., is a family practice physician at Steamboat Medical Group and is Yampa Valley Medical Center’s director of community education and health promotion.


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