The Herald Bulletin

October 23, 2012

Domestic violence prevention is possible, expert says

Forum panelists discuss ways to make community safer

By Abbey Doyle
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — A picture of a pretty woman with her arm around her young son flashed across the screen followed by the image of a bruised, crying woman huddled in a corner.

“What does a woman look like?” Todd Cawthorn asked the gathered audience at Tuesday’s domestic violence forum at Anderson High School.

Next a picture of a handsome man posing with his wife and child is replaced by an angry, screaming man gesturing wildly.

“What does a man look like?” said Cawthorn, prevention specialist at Alternatives Inc.

Gender stereotypes are just one thing that he and the other speakers, during the 90-minute panel discussion, talked about that create an environment where domestic violence is accepted.

Saying things like, “quit crying like a little girl,” or “take it like a man” enforce those strict gender stereotypes.

Education about these social norms needs to start young, not after someone is already involved in a violent or controlling relationship, Cawthorn said.

“What are we teaching our toddlers?” he asked. “What are they picking up on? Monkey see monkey do — we lead by example. Dating and domestic violence is learned behavior. Just like walking. Eight-two percent of children in an abusive household grow up to be a victim or an abuser.”

Those statistics were sobering for Heather Chandler-Robleto. She came to the forum because a close friend was killed in a domestic violence situation. She wanted to learn more about how she could help someone else in that situation as a way to honor her loved one.

During the forum, Chandler-Robleto spoke up asking what more she could have done as a friend of someone she knew was in an abusive relationship.

“I could have saved her,” she said, crying. “I didn’t know where to go.”

Kandi Floyd, a victim’s advocate with Alternatives, told her that no matter what state the victim is in, a family member or friend should reach out to a victim’s advocate for assistance.

Colleen Yeakle, coordinator of the Indiana Coalition of Domestic Violence’s prevention initiative, was the featured speaker at the forum. She focused on arming the community with the tools to make preventing domestic violence a reality.

“Domestic violence is preventable,” she said, tasking the audience of about 25 with identifying their power and place to be a part of the solution. “It will take all of us, but we can do this.”

She said prevention lessons in years past were focused on teaching people what the red flags or warning signs were about abuse. That’s not working; it’s not enough, she said. Those red flags instead need to be eliminated.

“We need to continue to change our culture to create one where domestic violence won’t work, where abusive behavior no longer makes sense,” Yeakle said. “Are we all on board?”

The event was sponsored by The Herald Bulletin and Anderson Community Schools. Superintendent Felix Chow said it was important to get behind the event because violence of any kind  — bullying, domestic violence, verbal abuse, etc. — should not be tolerated. He said he took away several lessons from the discussion.

The five social norms that enable domestic violence was especially powerful, specifically culture’s tolerance of violence, Chow said.

“If we can change attitude and culture we are on the right path to true prevention,” he said.

Evelyn Bertram said attending the event opened her eyes to ways to help prevent domestic violence and to what resources are available in this community.

“It’s amazing how much support we have in this community,” she said.

Vaughn Walker, supervisor of S.O.S. Counseling’s Batterer’s Intervention Program, like Cawthorn and Yeakle said socialization and gender stereotypes enable domestic violence. He said even traditions like a father “giving his daughter away” on her wedding day encourages the norm that women are property.

He stressed that there is help out there for batterers.

Also speaking about their departments’ handling of domestic violence cases were Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings and Elwood Assistant Police Chief Scott Bertram.

Find Abbey Doyle on Facebook and @heraldbulletin on Twitter, or call 640-4805.