Domestic violence is a problem that affects our entire county. Horrendous acts of domestic violence occur between both men and women and to people from all socio-economic conditions. Anyone can be an abuser, including artists, athletes, military personnel, lawyers, and laborers. And anyone can be a victim — it could be your neighbor, your family member, or you.
Crimes involving domestic violence almost always happen behind closed doors. There are rarely any witnesses or independent corroboration. The physical injuries inflicted upon the victim are often the only visible sign of abuse.
The recent high profile case involving NFL football player Ray Rice provides the public an unfiltered view into the world of domestic violence. In the first video, Rice, appearing completely devoid of any compassion, drags the victim’s limp body out of the elevator. Although court documents describe the incident as an assault so severe the victim was rendered unconscious, it took the actual video recording of the assault to cause public outrage. Hopefully, the one good thing that can come out of this tragic incident is that people will better understand the reality, severity, complexity, and gravity of domestic violence.
In the aftermath of the assault, Rice’s now wife has stood by her husband. To some, this is shocking behavior, but to those of us who are intimately familiar with domestic violence cases, her conduct is all too common. Victims of domestic violence rarely “turn their backs” on their abusers. Why? Because the person who has abused them is someone they might still love.
Their abuser is their partner, their spouse, their child’s parent, someone they may depend upon emotionally, psychologically, and financially. Victims of domestic violence also have a tendency to blame themselves for the abuse they have endured. They frequently focus on all the things that they could have done differently. To make matters worse, family members and friends of the abuser may also blame the victim and attempt to dissuade them from reporting the crime. For all these reasons, a victim might feel that by calling the police, they will be doing more harm than good. They may also think that if they change their own behavior or they ignore the violence, it will just stop. Tragically, those assumptions are usually painfully untrue.
Most people who commit acts of domestic violence are serial abusers, especially when the perpetrator also abuses drugs or alcohol. Still, the victim remains hopeful, even after suffering physical, sexual, or psychological abuse, because the perpetrator will apologize for their conduct. The perpetrator will promise to change. The perpetrator may also place blame upon the victim for their role in causing the abuse. The victim, in turn, may minimize the incident in their own mind. The victim may also blame themselves and believe that it was their fault the abuse occurred in the first place. The victim may accept the abuser’s apologies and believe that they will change. For a while the relationship will seem normal, until something happens to upset the abuser. Then the cycle of violence repeats itself all over again.
Even after the physical injuries heal, the emotional scars can last a lifetime, and children raised in this toxic environment are at a greater risk of becoming victims or abusers themselves. A victim/survivor can break this cycle of violence by coming forward and reporting domestic violence when it occurs. Victims need to know that they are not alone. They do not have to feel ashamed or embarrassed for what has happened to them. There are many services that are available to assist victims of domestic violence with counseling, relocation, and support. In addition, by reporting the crime the abuser can get help with their anger, drug, and alcohol problems.
First and foremost, if either you or someone you know is in danger, call 9-1-1.
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, there are multiple local services for victims of domestic violence:
For the 24-hour Domestic Violence Crisis Hotline call:
• Santa Barbara Shelter, 24-Hour Crisis Line: (805) 964-5245
• Lompoc Shelter, 24-Hour Crisis Line: (805) 736-0965
• Santa Maria Shelter, 24-Hour Crisis Line: (805) 925-2160
• Santa Ynez Valley, 24-Hour Crisis Line: (805) 686-4390
Legal Aid may be able to assist victims with obtaining Civil Restraining Orders. Contact Legal Aid at:
• Santa Barbara: (805) 963-6754
• Santa Maria: (805) 922-9909
• Lompoc: (805) 736-6582
For cases that have been reported to law enforcement, and referred to the District Attorney’s Office, Victim/Witness Advocates with our District Attorney’s Office are available to provide assistance to all crime victims:
• Santa Barbara: (805) 568-2400 or toll free (855) 840-3232
• Santa Maria: (805) 346-7529 or toll free (855) 840-3233
• Lompoc: (805) 737-7910
If you suspect anyone is being abused, please make the call.
Be a part of the solution; the alternative can just be too hard to live with.
Jennifer Karapetian is a Santa Maria deputy district attorney specializing in domestic violence. Joyce E. Dudley is District Attorney of Santa Barbara County.