By CINDY LADAGE
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The 10th annual Women’s Health Conference, Women’s Health for All Ages, covered a variety of topics this year, including “Domestic Violence through the Lifespan” by Vickie Smith, CEO and executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV) Springfield.
She pointed out one of the cultural areas where abuse can sometimes go unnoticed is in rural areas because of the geographical isolation of the victims and because abusers tend to isolate their victims, as well. Smith shared some startling statistics for not only rural women, but for women across America: “One in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime,” she said.
What is domestic violence? She defined it as “A pattern of coercive controls that one person exercises over another.” Smith referred to domestic violence as “planned terrorism” and said it can happen as physical, verbal, sexual, emotional, financial (economic), neglect and spiritual abuse.
Many people only think of abuse being in certain types of households; however, Smith shattered that image by explaining abuse happens in all educational, economic and cultural situations. “The abused come from all walks of life,” she said.
“Victims of all cultures, races, occupations, income levels and ages are battered by husbands, boyfriends and lovers. One-third of all batterers are occupied professionals: clergy, doctors, lawyers, businessmen, military and police officers. Domestic violence does occur in many other areas besides poor urban communities.”
Some of these other areas include rural and agricultural environments. She said many just think, Why don’t they leave? but she said the better question is Why does the batterer get by with committing a crime to a loved one?
Smith said escaping an abusive situation is something most victims cannot deal with without assistance. “Leaving abusive relationships improves victim’s long-term health and safety, but in the short term it can actually put them at greater risk,” she explained.
A lot of women in abusive situations worry about losing their children, or that their loved ones – such as parents, sisters and the like – may get caught in a violent situation, and there is the basic “how will they afford to live and where will they live?” questions, as well.
Besides the horror domestic abuse causes its victims, Smith also touched on the cost of health care for them. “The health-related costs of intimate-partner violence exceed $5.8 billion each year,” she explained.
National statistics show four million American women experience a serious assault by a partner during an average 12-month period, but hope may be on the horizon.
In 2014 as part of the Affordable Care Act, medical providers will begin screening and referring those they think may be suffering domestic violence. Hopefully, she said, the interaction of those in the medical field will help with this highly dangerous situation with which she said most people just don’t want to deal.
For more information or assistance, contact ICADV, a not-for-profit organization that works to eliminate violence against women and their children by promoting the eradication of domestic violence throughout Illinois; ensuring the safety of survivors, their access to services, and their freedom of choice; holding abusers accountable for the violence they perpetrate; and encouraging the development of victim-sensitive laws, policies and procedures across all systems that impact survivors.
The Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline is 877-863-6338. For your state’s resources, contact a local law enforcement or social services agency.