Stopping the Madness

A disease has reached epidemic proportions in Orange County. It’s known by many names, including domestic violence, relationship abuse, intimate partner violence. But no matter which term you choose, it’s a malady that scars and kills.

Last year in Orange County, there were 25 deaths related to domestic violence, 11 of those in one month. Domestic violence calls to 911 numbered more than 8,700; Harbor House of Central Florida, which provides shelter and prevention programs, served more than 6,000 victims face to face, plus thousands of others through its hotline. A total of 1,128 survivors, including victims’ children, resided in emergency shelters. Currently, injunctions against abusers are running at a clip of 200 filed a week, a 35 percent increase over last year, says Harbor House CEO Carol Wick, whose nonprofit group helps victims navigate the process.

Have we lost our minds? Or have we simply come to see domestic violence as somehow acceptable, just like we viewed drunk driving a few decades ago? Whatever the case, we need to rid ourselves of the stereotypical vision of an abuse victim—the lower-income mom with kids living in a high-crime neighborhood. While some do fit that description, a person enduring abuse could just as well be a doctor, a lawyer, a fellow churchgoer, a student—even a sister or daughter.

Ninety percent of domestic violence victims are women, and the downward spiral can start innocently enough. “The whole idea of love at first sight may in fact be one of the primary warning signs that you’re headed for an abusive relationship,’’ Wick says.  “It’s that attention, that very quick, very intense relationship that sweeps you off your feet.’’ The pair might start living together, but then the abuser starts controlling the partner’s movements, her friendships, her finances. Yet when the first punch comes, Wick says, the victim is often taken by surprise and might feel at fault because the relationship didn’t seem that bad. “They may be very ashamed this has happened, and they keep it quiet.’’

Wick and others are working to change that by encouraging people to be “active bystanders” who can help the victims when they can’t, or won’t, help themselves. “We don’t want people to just know what abuse is,’’ she says. “We want them to know that it’s okay to act.’’ Bystanders, like the victims, can call the Harbor House hotline at 407-886-2856. The organization also has developed an app called R3; it features a four-question screening tool that Wick says is 90 percent effective in identifying someone in  an abusive relationship. It also has a ZIP code listing of every domestic violence intervention provider in the country.

And there’s another hopeful sign. Orange County’s government-appointed Domestic Violence Commission, a panel that Wick serves on, recently came up with a host of recommendations that are about to be implemented, from providing more advocates to guide and counsel victims, to fixing a system in which 95 percent of those arrested for domestic violence suffer no consequences.

How can you lend immediate support? Harbor House is holding its annual Purple Door Luncheon at noon on October 11 at SeaWorld’s Ports of Call (go to to register). Guest speaker at the fundraiser will be Sharon Love, mother of Yeardley Love, a University of Virginia student murdered in 2010 by a former boyfriend. Love and her daughter Lexie established the One Love Foundation after Yeardley’s death with the mission of ending relationship violence through education and digital technology, with the effort targeted primarily at women ages 16 to 24. “We’re hoping to shine a light and say this is not okay so that society will stand up against domestic violence in the same way MADD did against drunk driving,’’ Love says.

Certainly, the battle is difficult. But with leaders like Wick, Love and the domestic violence panel keeping the issue at the forefront, perhaps the day is approaching soon when we refuse to turn a blind eye to something as abhorrent as domestic violence—and as a society are touched by the better angels of our nature.


Categories: Column