For the past several years, Goleta native Maura Mitchell has sat on the board of Domestic Violence Solutions, a countywide organization offering shelter, educational programs, and counseling — among other services — to women and their kids. Ahead of the organization’s first-ever 5K Run/Walk for Love at Goleta Beach on November 1, and in the wake of a University of Michigan study where nearly 20 percent of men admitted to abusing their partner, Mitchell chatted with The Santa Barbara Independent. She talked about how, after being abused by her ex-husband, she is now living her “happy ending” — enjoying a successful career and a 20-year marriage to (and two kids with) one of the friends who supported her in extricating herself from that scary situation.
Your advocacy comes from firsthand experience. I dated an absolutely amazing man in high school. Six months after we got married, he became violent. I didn’t even know what domestic violence was. It certainly didn’t happen to people like me and by people like him. He told me all the right things: It was a total aberration; it would never happen again. A year and a half later, I woke up one morning and realized that the next time he got angry, I was going to end up in the hospital. Something awful had happened to me the night before because I hadn’t marinated the pork chops correctly.
What is the biggest misconception? That leaving an abusive man is like breaking up in a normal relationship. Abuse is about control. When you leave, you have to get away from somebody who will go to great lengths to control you. I was able to leave for two reasons. I had my own income. I had an amazing support system.
In many cases, domestic violence seems like a learned behavior. How can that change? The number one risk factor for people becoming violent is having seen violence between their parents as a child. When they turn into adults, they replicate those patterns. We need to educate our young men as to what a healthy relationship is. We need to educate our young women about the signs that start to show up when a relationship is likely to become abusive. Domestic violence has been in the closet for so long that it’s going to take us a while to become comfortable talking about it. We have to continue to destigmatize it and talk about it.
What role has the Ray Rice video played in that conversation? The video made all the difference in the world. All of a sudden people said, “Oh my gosh — this is our problem.” Here’s a football player who’s a hero to his hometown and to his team, and this is what’s happening behind closed doors. What is he doing to make sure that never happens again? How are we as a community rallying around the victim to help her?
The 5K Run/Walk for Love takes place at Goleta Beach on Saturday, November 1, at 8 a.m. For more information, visit dvsolutions.org.