Everyone's Problem

Domestic violence can stop here

This month's issue recognizes interesting and influential Madisonians. The smart and compassionate Shannon Barry earns praise for her work as executive director of Domestic Abuse Intervention Services. Barry sees firsthand the violence that can escalate to murder, and she’s been at it long enough to know of what she speaks. “These deaths are preventable,” she told us, “And I can’t think of a better community to do it.”

That quote—“I can’t think of a better community to do it”—got me thinking. Across this county, people are working extremely hard to solve some of our most entrenched problems. The United Way doesn’t just want to help the homeless—their goal is to end homelessness. The Humane Society seeks a zero-percent euthanasia rate, challenging residents to spay and neuter our pets and help adopt every healthy animal that passes through the shelter. In health and medicine, we rock. UW scientist Jamie Thomson made the cover of Time for a stem cell discovery that could lead to exciting new treatments for heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s and more. It’s a simple fact that we are a unique, progressive community with a legacy of innovative change for the better.

But contrast all these successes and noble endeavors with the fall report by the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence: seven homicides in Dane County in 2009 and according to Barry, “a drastic increase in the need for services for domestic violence victims since the end of 2008.” How on earth did we let this happen? And not just here in Dane. Across Wisconsin, “67 people were killed in 47 incidents. This represents the highest total since WCADV started collecting the data in 2000.” And then there’s Ken Kratz, the Calumet County DA-slash-predator, who stalked victims of domestic abuse he was supposed to be helping.

That’s a lot of bad news, so I called Barry to see if she could help me sort through it. “There’s still this perception that domestic violence doesn’t happen here, which shocks me, and that it doesn’t happen to ‘people like me.’” “People like me” is shorthand for mostly white, educated women as opposed to women in poverty. “All the statistics prove otherwise.” As does Tracy Judd, one of the seven murder victims. Judd was a white, all-American girl. An athlete at Verona High. A soccer mom and coach.

Talking to Barry was a real eye-opener, and I’ve been aware of the issue since I was a little kid. My mother helped open my hometown’s first “battered women’s shelter.” When the shelter was full, survivor moms and their kids stayed in our guest room. Driving in the car on the way to the shelter, my mom always made me and my sisters close our eyes so we wouldn’t know where it was—to protect us, and to honor the privacy and dignity of families who might have children at our school.

Speaking of school, Barry showed me an alarming academic study on the ripple effect domestic violence has on education. Get this: “Children from troubled families significantly decrease their peers’ reading and math test scores and increase mis-behavior in the classroom.” And troubled families aren’t all living in our low-income neighborhoods. “It’s happened to more women than would ever admit it,” says Barry, in the same breath as she rattles off another statistic, that three-quarters of all domestic violence incidents are never reported to law enforcement.

So how do we, this forward-thinking and generous community, start a dialogue about this? How do we rise to Barry’s challenge? First, we acknowledge the problem, and that domestic violence is not a private family issue or a gender issue—it’s a children’s issue, a schools issue and a business issue (decreased productivity, increased health care costs, etc.). And, dear readers, it’s a “you” issue.

“I think that there are so many women in this community, women with resources and women with standing in this community; they’re the ones who can make the difference,” says Barry. “We really need women of influence to step up and say we can do something.”

The only thing I’d add? Men in this community, men with resources, standing and influence, are more than welcome to step up, too.

Brennan Nardi is editor of Madison Magazine. Comments and letters can be sent to 7025 Raymond Rd., Madison, WI 53719, or bnardi@madisonmagazine.com. Letters we publish may be edited for space and clarity.

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