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Help free the O.C. of domestic violence

The now-infamous video of suspended Baltimore Raven’s running back Ray Rice beating his wife unconscious created a “shock and awe” reaction that has opened the public conversation about domestic violence. Unfortunately, that conversation has been misdirected.

Instead of using this horrible situation as a wake-up call to the community about the need to band together to put an end to emotional, psychological and/or physical abuse, the public attention has been focused almost exclusively on NFL leadership and on Janay Rice.

This tone-deaf reaction underscores just how far we still have to go as a society to recognize the prevalence and horror of domestic violence. We should be discussing ways to protect victims, counsel and remediate abusers and educate young people about prevention.

Instead, pundits and the public are focused on Janay Rice, judging her and criticizing her tolerance. Some have demanded her to show more strength and to be a role model for women and potential victims.

If the elevator video woke society up to the existence of domestic violence, the resultant media firestorm should wake us up to the need to protect and help victims. The media attention around the Rice case and the furor against the NFL have not been beneficial to women in general and has been detrimental to Mrs. Rice in particular. Victims deserve support, encouragement, protection, education and access to resources. They don’t deserve to be judged and condemned. What is happening to Mrs. Rice is a prolonged victimization.

We as a community have the power to stop it.

Orange County has plentiful resources, but we need an integrated and comprehensive system to eliminate domestic violence and improve the health of all members of our community. We need awareness campaigns and prevention efforts beginning in middle and high schools, in competitive youth sports leagues, in neighborhoods and in workplaces.

During Domestic Violence Awareness month in October, Hoag Hospital’s Women’s Health Institute will do its part to get the word out about intimate partner violence, its signs and its effects on the community.

As the Rice situation has brought to light, domestic violence has no boundaries, with unacceptable prevalence among all ethnicities, sexual orientations, income brackets, ages, life stages. It will take all of us working together to put an end to this scourge.

Sometimes it is difficult to identify domestic violence, but some people who are being abused might:

  • Call in sick to work often, miss school or social occasions without explanation.
  • Have frequent bruises, fat lips, black eyes and marks on hands and arms.
  • Be noticeably nervous or distressed and anxious to please her partner.
  • Make off-handed remarks, seem depressed or withdrawn.

By working with organizations such as Human Options or Laura’s House, you can learn how to identify whether a friend or co-worker is the victim of domestic abuse, and how to help.

Offering to keep information confidential is a good first step. Workplaces can also assist with restraining orders, change a person’s schedule or even relocate workers to avoid being found by abusive partners.

Women in our community need help, and we need to keep raising awareness. In my practice, we keep cards from Human Options in the bathrooms, detailing a hotline women can call if they need help getting out of an abusive relationship. You’d be amazed at how quickly those cards disappear.

Awareness of the problem is a critical first step. But we as a society have to decide what our next steps will be. I am convinced we can do more.