Valley Voices

It’s bad enough when dad strikes mom. Their children also suffer impact

Fresno police officers stand outside an apartment where a man wanted on domestic violence charges was holed up with a knife in southwest Fresno on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018.
Fresno police officers stand outside an apartment where a man wanted on domestic violence charges was holed up with a knife in southwest Fresno on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. Fresno Bee file

Many people are becoming acutely aware of the ills of domestic violence. Since the killing of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson in 1994, our nation has changed its thinking about the issue and we have many opportunities to learn about the cycle and the ramifications that come for victims and their children.

Domestic violence does not discriminate. It takes the opportunity to damage all families who suffer from its wrath.

Many are now familiar with the cycle of violence and the terms, “anger phase,” “cooling off period,” and “honeymoon phase.” These three stages generalize the repeated behaviors that are common in an abusive relationship.

Fresno County District Attorney Lisa A. Smittcamp Fresno Bee file

Many statistics are available to tell us that it is common for a victim to suffer abuse seven times before they call for help. Stats also tell us that 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States every day, and that children exposed to domestic violence are more likely to be obese, have educational delays, and suffer health issues than children who grow up in nonviolent homes.

However, in domestic violence cases, there are many statistics that cannot be calculated. When we stop the cycle by intervention, education, counseling, protective orders, incarceration or placing the victims in a shelter, we never know how many of those cases would have resulted in a domestic violence homicide. We never know if we have prevented the next murder-suicide where the offender also takes his/her own life. We never know if the intervention prevented the offender from killing the children.

Another statistic that is difficult to measure is the number of domestic violence victims and their children that would be homeless if it were not for shelters like the Marjaree Mason Center in Fresno.

Domestic violence is common among families who become homeless, and for many it is the immediate cause of their homelessness. Victims of domestic violence turn to shelters looking for a safe temporary place to live after escaping domestic abuse.

Data are limited, but a 2017 study suggested that on a single night in the United States, 16 percent of the overall homeless population reported having experienced domestic violence. Research from a study in New York City found that 20 percent of families experienced domestic violence in the five years before entering homeless shelters. Among those families that reported domestic violence in the prior five years, 88 percent reported that the violence contributed to their homeless status.

The immediate need of a survivor fleeing domestic violence is safety. Some victims may require a stay in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program before re-entering their own independent housing. In Fresno County, approximately 78 percent of victims that seek assistance at the Marjaree Mason Center have children with them.

Having a place to call home is crucial for victims who are attempting to get out of violent situations. DV shelters reduce their risk of homelessness as well as the possibility of future violence. Research indicates that families that receive housing opportunities after exiting homelessness are far less likely to experience interpersonal violence than those that do not.

It is essential for leaders in the city and county of Fresno to realize that domestic violence and homelessness go hand in hand. Victims who do not have other housing resources should not be forced to choose between violence and the streets. Domestic violence victims and shelters need to be a part of the homeless conversations we are having in our community or they are going to become part of an additional population that we do not want to increase.

Community members can also help by donating to the Marjaree Mason Center in Fresno, or other shelters who serve victims and their children.

Lisa A. Smittcamp is the Fresno County District Attorney and a member of the Board of Directors at the Marjaree Mason Center.