View Point

By Cynthia Thielen

Friday, August 9, 1996

Abusers teach abuse,
so let's break the cycle

RECENTLY victims marched to the state Capitol to decry domestic violence. They wore paper bags on their heads to protect their identities and targets on their chests to symbolize their vulnerability to violent partners.

Obviously, their abusers never learned from their families or in schools that violence was illegal and unacceptable. In many instances, violent behavior is passed down from generation to generation.

Our job at the Legislature must be to create a system that breaks that cycle of violence. We know that domestic violence is a crime that devastates individuals and harms the entire social and economic fabric of our community.

Research shows the importance of reducing family violence as a means of decreasing other types of violence. When families fail to function as healthy and nurturing units, problems such as crime, drug and alcohol abuse, and dropouts from education and society increase.

Although most people associate injuries with car or sports-related accidents, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women aged 15 and 44 in the U.S.

The FBI estimates that every 15 seconds, a woman in the U.S. is beaten by her boyfriend or husband. The March of Dimes reported that more babies are born with defects as a result of the mother being battered during pregnancy than from the combination of all diseases and illnesses for which we now immunize women.

Ignorance of this reality results in our nation having three times as many animal shelters as shelters for battered women.

Domestic violence happens in our own neighborhoods. From 1985-1994, there were 138 domestic homicides in Hawaii. In 1994 there were 7,853 incidents of abuse of household members reported statewide to police - a 9 percent increase from 1993. These numbers do not include the victims who fear speaking out and suffer silently.

Over half the men who abuse women also abuse their children. Even if children are not physically abused, the psychological abuse they suffer may be as harmful.

Children in homes where violence occurs are at high risk of suffering from physical, emotional, sexual, drug and alcohol abuse. These psychological outcomes are generally carried into adulthood.

For example, boys who watched their mothers be beaten are more likely as adults to batter their wives and girlfriends.

Although our society continues to view domestic violence as a private "family" problem, domestic violence affects us all.

Childhood abuse and neglect significantly increase a child's odds of future delinquency, violence and adult criminality. Even if they were not direct victims, youth exposed to various forms of family violence have higher rates of violence than those who are not exposed.

Abused or neglected children are more likely to have a first arrest at a younger age and are arrested more often than children who have not been abused or neglected. They are also more likely to have an adult arrest record and to have a juvenile and adult arrest record for violent crime.

Considering all this, it was tragic that the 1996 legislative leadership failed to do all that it should have done to prevent domestic violence in our state.

The most critical bill introduced by the House Women's Caucus (HB 2527) would have established a three-year project to integrate violence prevention curriculums at five public schools. This bill died because the House Judiciary chairman did not schedule it for a hearing, even though experts say that such education in childhood is crucial for reducing domestic violence.

Experts included the Violence Prevention Council, established by a 1995 state resolution to evaluate the need for violence prevention education for students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

They concluded that violence prevention skills and knowledge are as important to our children as reading, writing and math. They found that current policy ignores prevention and focuses on ineffective and inefficient methods.

HB 2527 included the Council's recommendation to establish under the attorney general a violence-prevention education program funded and coordinated through a public-private partnership.

It would train teachers in violence prevention and create anti-violence college and continuing education courses. Education would include teaching children and families that domestic violence is wrong and illegal, that anger can be controlled.

ABUSERS and victims must be taught the same. Those already serving time for domestic violence should be required to attend domestic-violence and anger-management classes. Because many female prisoners were victims of abuse, they should be screened carefully and receive appropriate education and counseling. The same should apply to all prisoners with a background of domestic violence.

We're costing society more if we fail to fund violence prevention programs in our schools and prisons. Without these programs, there is little hope to eliminate the legacy of domestic violence.

Women should not have to wear grocery bags on their heads to speak out against domestic violence. Unless funding educaitonal prevention and treatment programs become a top priority, legislators are the ones who should hide their faces.

Cynthia Thielen is a member of the state House of Representatives. Opinions expressed in View Point columns are not necessarily those of the Star-Bulletin.

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