Freedom from violence and abuse is a basic human right. Yet nearly one in four women and one in seven men have suffered from domestic violence by an intimate partner. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a time to recognize and offer our support to people who are hurt in their homes and in their relationships by those closest to them – the ones who should protect, support and keep them safe.
This month, I have visited domestic violence shelters, and I have been witness to the horrific experiences of victims of domestic violence. They are beautiful, smart and unbelievably strong people. Some are pregnant, with no place to turn because their mothers are on a “journey of their own,” possessed by the drugs that poison our communities and cause normally decent people to abandon their children. Some are young mothers who have been forced into homelessness to protect their children from sexual abuse by adult family members. Some are middle-aged, suffering from the loss of their own loved ones and rendered vulnerable by their inconsolable grief. Some have hidden for days and nights to escape their captors, those who have imprisoned them behind doors and windows with bars and have isolated them from everyone who might have come to their rescue. Some are parents of children with special needs whose abusers react with jealous rage at the attention the children require. Some are gentle souls, poised and articulate, who work day by day – sometimes minute by minute – to try to remember who they were before fear and abuse consumed their lives. These are just a few examples; there are so many more.
They have lost eyes, teeth, and other body parts. They have been raped and beaten, burned and shaken, suffered broken bones and brain injuries. They have lost their families, friends, worldly possessions, and self-esteem.
Many need medical and dental care, but don’t have money and can’t apply for public assistance because they left their birth certificates and government identification cards behind. They fled their abusers with only the clothes on their backs. They can’t turn back for help because they can’t risk disclosing their location or endangering anyone who might dare to provide them assistance. They understand all too well what their abusers are capable of doing.
They all share the common wish to live in a place where they can spend their days and nights unafraid that someone will hurt them or their children – something most of us take for granted.
The lucky ones find help. There are amazing shelters, programs, and people – real life heroes – who welcome them, lock the doors behind them, wash their clothes, provide them nourishment, counsel and care for them, and give them a temporary safe haven.
The unlucky ones stay with or return to their abusers. Too many of them die. In the last year, West Virginia reported 26 deaths from domestic violence.
So when you read this, when you go home tonight, prepare dinner, help with homework, talk to your loved ones, watch TV, walk the dog, bathe and go to bed without fear, remember not everyone is so lucky. Please say a prayer for the victims of domestic violence and think about what you could do to help them.
If you are a victim, please get help before it is too late. You have every right to live without fear and intimidation. Please take the first step toward a better and safer life by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). They are available, 24/7. They will identify and connect you with supportive programs and help you create a safe exit plan. Please don’t wait. Now is the time to take back your life.
Carol A. Casto is the United States Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia.