Breaking the cycle of abuse. This phrase has almost become a cliché, one thrown out during casual conversation in connection to numerous psychological conditions.
But for Beryl Raviscioni, domestic violence coordinator for the Madera County Victim Services Center, it's literally a matter of life and death. And through the various services the center provides, Raviscioni and her staff of advocates fight to break that cycle and free Madera County women from the bonds of domestic violence.
During her 18 years with the center, Raviscioni said, she has seen a change in those seeking help. Formerly, most of the clients were Caucasian women between the ages of 19 and 29. Now, she is seeing women in their mid 30s and 50s seek help for domestic violence. In the last two years, she has seen more Hispanic women and migrant worker women seek help, as well.
"We even see 60- and 65-year-old women," she said. "That must really be hard. They've already made a lifelong commitment."
This, she said, lets her know the education provided through the center is working.
"They're absorbing it," she said. "It gives them an avenue of escape they didn't have before."
She also sees a lot of women returning to the center for help, often because the new relationship they entered into resulted in abuse.
"A lot of women who get out (of an abusive situation) don't seek counseling," she said. "They get out of the relationship, and after a while, become comfortable again, feel they're okay. Because they feel the need to have someone in their life, they enter into another relationship."
This person, she said, appears nice, caring, and the victims "don't see beyond the niceness."
"It's been so long since a man has cared about them, showed them attention," she said.
Then, they see the "red flags" and begin to question the relationship.
"By then, they're caught up in the same power and control situation, and before long, they find themselves back in the same (type of) relationship again," she said.
These women, she said, need confidence building, and they get this through group counseling.
"This is very important for women," she said. "It lets them know they're not alone."
In the past, many of the perpetrators of domestic violence were never punished for their crimes. Today, Raviscioni said, she sees more and more abusers convicted.
"Of those that go to court, there are a lot of convictions," she said. "It's not always the sentence we feel they deserve, but they are being convicted."
Mary Ariz, victim advocate for the center, said out of the last 10 cases she worked on, four of the victims testified against their abuser, something which doesn't often occur.
Many cases, she said, never reach the courtroom.
"Some are dismissed for lack of evidence, some (defendants) plead-out, and some get to court," she said. "Some are dismissed, too, because the victim won't testify."
It is not uncommon for the battered woman to back out at the last moment. She does this, Ariz said, out of fear of retaliation.
"She's afraid that he won't be put in jail, or that when he comes out, he's going to come after her," she said.
But there are programs which help the victims through to the bitter end, and women can help themselves by planning for trouble in advance.
"I can't emphasize enough how much these women need a safety plan," Ariz said. "A 'What happens if' plan. And not because of the same abuser, but this could be with a new relationship. They need to know the warning signs."
Those warning signs, she said, are taught through programs the center offers.
"They need a plan. Just like a fire plan," she said. "They need to know how to escape that home."
She added that women should let the neighbors know about the potential problem of domestic violence, and come up with some sort of "key word" which will tip the neighbors off in the event of abuse.
The neighbor can then contact law enforcement, and provide a safe haven for the children until officers arrive. They can also contact the center's 24-hour crisis line at 1-800-355-8989.
According to statistics, four women are murdered by boyfriends or husbands every day, the leading cause of injuries to women is abuse, and women are most likely to be killed when attempting to leave the abuser. Additionally, abusive husbands and partners harass 74 percent of employed, battered women at work, either in person or over the phone, resulting in 20 percent of these women losing their jobs.
The center provides information and services for rape and sexual assault, and they have a victim witness program as well as the domestic violence program. These programs are:
- Rape/Sexual Assault Victims Program: This program outlines protective measures women can take to help prevent rape and sexual assault. These measures focus on awareness in the home, the car and on the street. It also covers the emotional side of rape. The program covers the victim's legal rights, and what measures to take in the event of rape that will help ensure prosecution of the perpetrator.
- Domestic Violence Assistance Program: This program includes crisis intervention, a 24-hour crisis line, individual counseling, law enforcement, medical and court accompaniment, referral services and community education.
- The Keys to Self Defense: A study conducted by the National Victim Center states that 1.3 women age 18 and older are forcibly raped each minute. Between 1973 and 1987, over 2 million women reported sexual assaults, and 71 percent avoided being raped because they had taken self defense measures against the rape. This program teaches awareness, trust in personal instincts, how to avoid places and situations which mark women as "easy prey," and physical techniques of self defense.
- Victim/Witness Assistance Program: This program offers crisis intervention through the crisis line, counseling on local resources available to women and children, advocates to accompany the victim into court, child care, and victim compensation to help with burial and medical costs.