Nathalie Favre-Gilly and Deborah Collins-Gousby

The edge of darkness

By Nathalie Favre-Gilly and Deborah Collins-Gousby
July 14, 2010

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IN 2008, as filming wrapped on Mel Gibson’s “Edge of Darkness’’ in Boston, he made a surprise $25,000 donation to Casa Myrna Vazquez, the city’s largest provider of shelter and supportive services to victims of domestic violence. It was not a random choice: his location scouts had briefly considered one of Casa Myrna’s shelters for some exterior shots in the film. We were grateful to him for supporting our work, and told him so.

Two years later, we’re grateful again — but for a very different reason. He’s making the case for our work, and proving our oft-repeated point that domestic violence crosses all socio-economic, ethnic and cultural divides. Gibson is making headlines for the violent, hate-filled litany of slurs and abuse he spews at girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva, which she recorded on tapes whose authenticity do not seem to be in question. When she references the fact that he hit her, not once but twice and while she was holding their infant daughter, he makes no attempt to deny it. Instead, he tells her that she deserved it.

Can there still be people who think this way, talk this way, behave this way? In a word, yes. Lots of them. Behind closed doors, they generate fear, misery and despair on a daily basis.

They don’t garner national attention like the Mel Gibsons, the Charlie Sheens or the Chris Browns. We’ll never see photos of the bruises they inflict on their victims, or hear audiotapes of their abuse. Their victims won’t be front page news unless they happen to die at the hands of their abusers. And yet the toll these abusers exact on their victims, and our society, is enormous.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, nearly 5.3 million incidents of domestic violence occur each year among U.S. women ages 18 and older. Imagine Mel Gibson’s rant repeated over 5 million times. That’s the reality on the ground. Intimidation. Insults. Physical violence. Death threats. It will happen to one in four women in their lifetimes.

The financial statistics, also compiled by the CDC, are equally alarming. The costs of domestic violence against women exceed an estimated $5.8 billion every year. That figure includes nearly $4.1 billion in the direct costs of medical and mental health care and another $1.8 billion in the indirect costs of lost productivity. Victims of domestic violence lose a total of nearly 8 million days of paid work - the equivalent of more than 32,000 full-time jobs - and nearly 5.6 million days of household productivity each year as a result of the violence they endure.

Then there’s the moral question. What does it say about us as a society that we continue to view domestic violence as a problem that can’t be fixed? One of the things we’ve learned over the years is that, like so many of society’s deeply ingrained social problems, domestic violence is often an intergenerational problem. If it’s part of your life today, chances are it will be part of your children’s lives tomorrow. That means sons grow up to be abusers, daughters grow up to be victims. And the cycle continues, destroying lives, families and whole communities.

We can do better. Mel Gibson’s tape is a stark reminder that we still have a long way to go in embracing the simple but powerful message that domestic violence is wrong. Always. It’s also a reminder that we need to impart that lesson to our children, both in what we say and in what we do. It needs to be an ongoing conversation, because teaching lifelong lessons about respectful behavior in relationships is not a one-shot deal. Think the kids in your life are too young to be a part of this conversation?

Think again. You’re never too young to learn that there is a right way and a wrong way to behave toward a partner in a relationship. Babies, toddlers, and pre-schoolers learn from adults. If what they’re learning at home is violence and abuse, be prepared: those lessons last a lifetime. Instead of allowing the intergenerational cycle of domestic violence to be perpetuated in our homes and families, we should be teaching our young people that there is no excuse for abuse. Ever. Maybe our celebrities will get the message too.

Nathalie Favre-Gilly and Deborah Collins-Gousby are co-executive directors of Casa Myrna Vazquez. The SafeLink hotline is 877-785-2020.

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