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Butler: Domestic abuse takes many forms, destroys many lives
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It certainly catches my attention when I see the words "domestic violence" in a news headline. Kathleen Parker recently brought national attention to this issue in her syndicated newspaper column, which appeared in The Times on June 26.

At Gateway Domestic Violence Center, we believe that abuse is a crime, and that people have the right to live in a home free of violence. While domestic violence affects people of all ages, races, genders and socioeconomic backgrounds, most experts say that at least one out of every four women in the United States will be the victim of intimate partner violence at some point in her lifetime.

Studies show that the point when a victim leaves an abusive relationship is the most dangerous time for that victim. Each year, the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence studies domestic violence homicides throughout the state. GCADV reports that in most of the domestic violence homicides they reviewed between 2004-07, the victims had made steps toward independence from his or her batterer shortly before the murder.

From what we see at Gateway, there are many reasons why victims do not call law enforcement or choose not leave an abusive relationship. In many cases, the reasons are economic. Some victims do not feel they are able to support themselves and their children alone. Some feel embarrassed and don't want friends and family members know about their abuse. Others have been threatened and are afraid to leave or ask for help.

Many victims want their children to live in a home with both parents. And at the heart of the matter, in most cases, is that the victim loves the person who is abusive and is hopeful that the abusive behavior will change.

Domestic violence takes many forms. It may be physical, emotional, verbal or sexual in nature. Gateway served more than 1,264 people fleeing abuse at home in 2007. Our services include emergency shelter, transitional apartments and a 24/7 crisis telephone line. Victims in our shelter and those living in the community may attend our support groups and life-skills classes. Additionally, we provide legal advocacy for victims in need of temporary protective orders.

There are many agencies throughout our community to work together to provide services for victims and to hold abusers accountable. In Georgia, we are fortunate to have certified Family Violence Intervention Programs for abusers. Unlike Parker's description in her column of programs that teach men "how to be less sexist," the programs in our community ask abusers to identify and take responsibility for their behavior, and teach about equality in relationships.

Most of the education Gateway provides to victims, and the intervention provided to batterers, is based on notions of power and control. It is our belief that no one person in a relationship should possess most of the power.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, help is available. In Hall County, call Gateway's 24-hour phone line at 770-536-5860, and throughout the state you can access the shelter closest to you 24 hours per day by calling 1-800-33-HAVEN.

Jessica Butler is executive director of the Gateway Domestic Violence Center in Gainesville; Web site.

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