Friday, April 8, 2011

The reality of domestic violence

By Bob Confer

The problem with reality TV is that it has mutated our sense of reality. That form of so-called entertainment has us finding enjoyment in other people’s misery; ratings are good if the principals have significant tension between them. This sickness started 22 years ago when “Cops” hit the airwaves. That show emphasizes the short-term causes and effects of broken relationships and, therefore, broken homes. Like train wrecks, we just can’t seem to take our eyes (and the producers can’t take their cameras) off of them and we revel in the scale of their destruction. You’d be hard pressed to find an American who hasn’t laughed at the poor souls, especially when they tell the policemen why the situation escalated to the point that it did.

Maybe we find humor in it because we think that we’re protected, that domestic violence (in either the verbal or physical form) won’t happen in our neighborhood or homes. We’re only kidding ourselves because chances are it has happened or will happen in one or both of those environments. Domestic violence is more common than you think. And, it’s never funny.

Listen to a police scanner (“reality radio”) on any given evening and the weekends. It seems that the calls for domestic situations are endless. Our officers have to be peacekeepers in homes as much as on the streets. They are called to calm altercations playing themselves out before young children, keep women from verbally abusing their men, or prevent husbands from following through on their threats to their wives. On a recent weekend one fellow threatened to put a bullet in his girlfriend’s head while another chased his around a woodlot with a baseball bat.

Those last two police calls are extreme circumstances, but the other situations are not. They’re common. According to 2009 data provided by the New York Division of Criminal Justice Services, all police departments within Niagara County reported 1,488 instances of domestic violence, among them 1,203 cases of simple assault and 42 sexual offenses against a family member, 27 of which were not the intimate partner. Among the cases was a fatal stabbing of a Gasport man by his girlfriend on Christmas morning. That one instance proves that domestic violence knows no sex (men can be victims, too), boundaries (it’s just not an urban issue), limitations (assault can escalate to murder) or rest (even the holiest of days is not off limits).

Now mind you, those are just the cases recorded as actual arrests. There were thousands of 911 calls and tips for domestic arguments and other forms of verbal abuse (that victims will say is just as painful as hitting). In 2009, the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office alone responded to 3,600 such calls. There were thousands more covered by the city police in Niagara Falls, North Tonawanda, and Lockport. And, remember, most victims and witnesses remain silent; there are tens of thousands of situations that go unreported.

Does any of that seem even remotely funny like it may have on the television? Absolutely not. It’s on the other end of the emotional spectrum: It’s sad. If you’re human, you can’t help but feel for those affected by such monstrosities, especially the kids raised in such unloving homes. The vitality and morality of a society can be measured by the strength of the family unit and how it treats its children. You cannot help but wonder where we as a people are going if we allow such abuses to widely occur or broken homes to fester, because, more often than not, a child raised in such misery repeats the same later in his or her adult life. It’s a never-ending cycle of hate in environments that should create and inspire love and respect.

So, the next time you find yourself laughing aloud at the conflict you see on TV, stop and think about it. Count yourself lucky that it’s not a reflection of your life or that of people close to you. Hopefully it’s not, but if it is, ponder what you, your family and friends can do to change Tomorrow.

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at

This column originally ran in the 11 April 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers

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