I’ve heard the myths about domestic violence for years. People say, ‘Oh, it’s not really a problem in comfortable communities, places that are middle class or prosperous.’
That’s just flat out wrong. With October being Domestic Violence Awareness month, it’s a particularly apt time to call out this misconception.
Domestic violence may be under-reported, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. It is, and too many victims suffer in silence. In fact, abuse by perpetrators who are more affluent, more sophisticated, can be particularly hard to confront and combat.
To help those who are confronting spousal abuse or domestic violence in our area, I proposed County support for WomenSV, or Women Silicon Valley, which specifically supports women facing intimate partner violence from abusers who use financial, emotional, legal, and technological means of coercion and control.
I’m gratified that my Board colleagues voted unanimously in support of this funding, which WomenSV has committed to matching through community fundraising. This support will allow to WomenSV to advocate for more clients and strengthen its organizational infrastructure to identify best practices in serving domestic violence survivors, leadership, and long-term sustainability.
Statistics highlight the secrecy, stigma, and terror that permeate domestic violence: it’s the most under-reported crime in the country, with the actual incidence five times higher than is reported, according to the County’s Family Violence Division. Of the assaults that are reported, the U.S. Department of Justice calculated that 95% are committed by men against women.
As of January 2021, covert abuse and coercive control – which includes emotional, mental and physical abuse, harassment, financial abuse / extortion, and malicious communications – have been formally recognized through state legislation (SB 1141) as criminal offenses within the definition of domestic violence in the California Family Code.
Ruth Darlene, Founder and Executive Director of WomenSV, received the Midpen Media Center’s Hero Award this spring. She told me that the public acknowledgement of coercive control as a form of domestic violence has resulted in a significant increase in requests – from survivors as well as nonprofits and partner agencies – for their services.
Since its founding in 2011, WomenSV reports it has served over 1,000 women, helping them to build paths to healthier lives for themselves and their children with one-on-one and group counseling, referrals to specialty services, support addressing basic needs, and connections to other domestic violence agencies as needed.
According to WomenSV, approximately 35% of their clients have experienced the most lethal form of coercive control: strangulation. But patterns of abuse – which often escalate over time – come in many less obvious forms than physical injury and abuse:
- Sexual: calling vulgar names, criticizing body parts or sensuality, forced or pressured sexual acts, including rape.
- Emotional: assaults against self-esteem
- Verbal: name-calling, threats, put-downs.
- Psychological: causing one to feel as if they are "going crazy."
- Spiritual: attacking spiritual or religious beliefs.
- Financial: controlling and manipulating by threatening economic status and basic needs.
- Homophobic: threatening to "out" someone to people who do not know that person's sexual orientation.
- Immigration: using immigration status and fear of deportation to control.
- Destructive: acts actual or threatened assault of property or pets to scare.
WomenSV has expertise to help women who are facing dangerous and restrictive/oppressive circumstances, and augments other vital domestic violence services in the County. I’m pleased that our County is in a position to help this organization grow and strengthen, and be a resource for those in need for years to come.
If you or someone you know in the area needs help, please contact WomenSV: 833-WOMENSV (833-966-3678) or womensv.org. The National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), is available 24/7 for individuals experiencing domestic violence, seeking resources or information, or questioning unhealthy aspects of their relationship.
Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors
This article was originally published in The Outlook on October 2021.