This is one of an occasional post from Margaret Epperheimer, an eight-year member of Next Door’s Board of Directors.
Little Katie (not her real name) couldn’t contain her excitement about her new dress. She spied it hanging at Next Door’s community center, and she had to have it. It was exquisite. Handmade by an anonymous donor, the dress was fairytale beautiful, topped with a cream-colored pinafore with ruffled capped sleeves and teddy bear applique. With help, she made a quick change. A perfect fit! Now a princess on top of the world, she skipped around the center to share her joy.
Katie is the face of domestic violence, but it is a face that will never be seen. She and her mother, with the help of numerous domestic violence agencies, escaped from a far-away state to safety. While her mother gets assistance with the basics – shelter, food, legal aid, self-esteem and self-sufficiency – Katie is adjusting to her new life. She is a sunny girl who feels safe and free for the first time in her young life. To stay safe, Katie and her mother’s whereabouts can’t be known.
Abuse is more common than we’d care to believe. As many as one in four women will experience intimate partner abuse at some time in her life. Statistics on teen dating violence are cold water in the face of well-to-do parents in our community who think their children are safe from what the professionals are calling an epidemic. Abuse – emotional as well as physical – happens behind closed doors. Unless it turns particularly violent to the point of lethal, it’s much more comfortable for us as individuals and as a society to keep the door closed.
I’ve often thought it would be easier to advocate for the homeless, the hungry, or four-legged creatures in need of rescue. If only I didn’t know about the little Katies in our community. If only I didn’t have concern for my 9-year-old and 13-year-old grandchildren. If only I didn’t feel the pain I and others of my era have experienced in intimate partner relationships we couldn’t talk about. Then, I could devote myself to another cause. That brings me to October – Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
I’d truly like to say this is a special month, but domestic violence happens every hour of every day. And, “awareness” month is shared by so many other causes that have affected my life or those around me. October is also national awareness month for AIDS, child abuse, breast cancer, lupus, brain injury, orthodontic health, and spina bifida. Nonetheless, domestic violence is my personal passion. I asked Kathleen Krenek, Next Door’s executive director, what I and others could do to recognize and support the domestic violence awareness effort this month. Here’s what she told me:
● Recognize the signs of domestic violence (www.nextdoor.org) and take action if violence may be affecting acquaintances or family members. Call the 24-hour hotline for advice.
● Advocate domestic violence education – especially awareness of teen dating violence – through your local middle and high school parent-teacher associations.
● Make a donation to a favorite charity focused on domestic violence support and education (www.nextdoor.org). Do it in honor of someone you know who may have survived domestic violence or in honor of an unnamed and unknown child who is suffering now and whose mother needs an escape plan, an advocate and a path to freedom and safety.
● Attend a rally or special event that benefits the cause and calls attention to the challenges and possibilities of domestic violence awareness. Be entertained in the process. I recommend the blues revue, “Girls Got the Blues Rock for a Good Cause,” taking placer from 8 – 10:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 26, at Theatre on San Pedro Square, 29 N. San Pedro, San Jose. Raffle ticket sales and a portion of the proceeds go to Next Door. Admission is $20 in advance (www.brownpapertickets.com/event/260908) and $25 at the door.