Their secrets are hiding in plain sight
She is a talented woman, with children. She travels, has a beautiful wardrobe, social standing and poise. At social and business events, we're impressed by her carriage. Her husband is charming, well respected and successful.
What we can't see is that her husband tracks her every move, accuses her of infidelity, keeps the family's assets in his name, demeans her performance as a mother and subjects her to an unending stream of verbal abuse.
Do you know any couples like this? I do. It has been my life's work to alleviate the suffering of victims of abuse and increase our community's understanding of domestic abuse. It is our agency's mission to make safety accessible to all victims, and it is our mission to keep the community informed about this problem. And so, it is consistent with our mission to focus our attention, now, finally, on a constituency of victims who have been overlooked.
In this community, and in communities across the country, class privileges -- real estate, professional careers, good education, fancy cars, vacations and beautiful wardrobes -- have blinded us. We assume that if you have all that, abuse could never happen to you. With education, confidence, ambition and financial success, is it possible to be vulnerable to someone else's power, isolation, coercion? Yes.
There remain widely held judgments about victims; this keeps them silent. It is an odd irony that silence is especially burdensome for a person of economic means. Revealing the dark secrets of one's intimate partnership, when you live what looks like a privileged life with a partner who is perceived as charming and desirable, feels near to impossible. Who would believe you?
During the past 30 years, community attention has been focused on the need to serve those who have sought help. Most of these victims, who are overwhelmingly lower income, have been guided to programs by intervening public sector criminal justice system agencies, a result of public policies that focus on families with fewer economic resources.
The public profile that has developed is that victims and their abusers are of a particular socioeconomic status, unemployed or working as skilled laborers or paraprofessionals, with a history of violence in their childhoods. The popular mythology is that this is a problem that can't happen to educated or wealthy people.
Family violence affects all kinds of families, in diverse ethnic groups and economic classes, with memberships in churches and country clubs, in high-achieving professional jobs and enjoying lifestyles that would seem to make them immune to such a problem. The misery and suffering that breed substance abuse, delinquency, eating disorders, sleep disorders and depression define the dynamics of individuals in wealthy families, too.
I know from my experiences throughout the community that family violence happens behind the closed doors in large, well-manicured homes and overcrowded multifamily dwellings. Domestic abuse affects people with good jobs, children in private schools and careers affording them luxuries.
We can take our understanding and our compassion a level deeper to see that victims who are in a more privileged class are still victims deserving of help.
As we begin to talk about the problem, to give victims permission to speak out and to provide assistance that is crucial to them, our collective awareness must include all victims.
That person you would never have imagined vulnerable could be scared and silenced, uncertain and unhinged. She needs you. She needs us. Ask if she needs help or a telephone number for professional guidance, or perhaps police protection. You will never regret it.
Hiding In Plain Sight, the public awareness campaign being unveiled during October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, is aimed at increasing community understanding of domestic abuse in communities you assumed were untouched by the problem. Everyone has a right to live with dignity, self-respect and personal freedom from fear.
Nanci Kreidman is executive director of the Domestic Violence Clearinghouse and Legal Hotline.