Domestic violence is nothing new, but after video footage was released Monday showing former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice assaulting his then fiancée in an elevator, discussions on the dynamics of abusive relationships resurfaced.
Meghan Kehoe, program director at Merced’s Valley Crisis Center, said sometimes it takes a publicized case like Rice’s to help raise awareness on the importance of domestic violence prevention.
One in four women are victims of domestic violence at one point in their lives, Kehoe said. “When you think about all the women in your life, one in four women is an astronomical number,” she said.
In Merced County, the center handles about 1,600 new cases of domestic violence and sexual assault each year. From March 13 to Sept. 9, the Merced Police Department responded to 438 calls for service involving claims of domestic violence, according to data compiled on www.crimemapping.com.
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Why people stay in abusive relationships is the age-old question, Kehoe said.
“There’s lots of reasons why people stay,” she said. “You don’t get into a relationship for violence; you get into a relationship because you love that person. Maybe you have children and you want that person to stay in the children’s lives or maybe (the abuser) is the sole provider.”
Kehoe explained that people leave and return to an abusive relationship an average of seven times before they leave for good.
On social media, #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft became trending hashtags, through which men and women who have endured domestic violence shared their reasons for having tolerated violence and for leaving unhealthy relationships.
“You often hear about the cycle of violence; it comes in several stages,” Kehoe added.
The cycle of violence begins with tension building. Some red flags include financial control and showing jealousy of time spent away. Kehoe explained that typically, abusive relationships will also go through a honeymoon phase in which abusers apologize and reconciliation occurs. However, it is only a matter of time before tension begins building again, she said.
Kari Mansager, director of UC Merced’s Violence Prevention Program, said the most dangerous period for a victim is when he or she chooses to leave the abusive relationship. For this reason, it is important that victims get connected with an advocate to develop a safety plan.
According to Mansager, the benefits of Rice’s publicized case is that it prompts discussion about domestic abuse, but she believes a better topic of discussion should focus on the abusers and why they feel it’s OK to resort to violence.
“I think it’s mainly because society allows for these things to happen,” Mansager said. “We don’t speak up or we blame the victim, so this pattern of abuse continues.”
“I mean, it took a video for many people to believe that this actually happened,” she added. Mansager compared Rice’s case to the also highly publicized Chris Brown and Rihanna domestic violence case in 2009. “Many people denied it until the pictures came out.”
Kehoe said it is important to remember that domestic violence cannot be hidden from children. She estimates 60 percent of children who are in families with an abusive relationship are also abused.
The first step in getting out of an abusive relationship is finding inner strength and realizing there’s a way out, Kehoe said. “Our job is to help people get there, to a healthy, happy, violence-free life.”
Valley Crisis Center has two office locations, one in Merced and one in Los Banos. The center offers emergency shelters, counseling, group therapy services and legal services to help with restraining orders. All services are free and confidential, Kehoe said.