To the Editor:
Understanding why domestic violence occurs is critical if we are to succeed at the enormous challenge of ending it. Domestic violence is rooted in a long history of oppression. Misogynist social values and beliefs have long supported the notions that women and children are the property of men, that men have the right to control their wives and children, that men have the right to have sex with their wives, and that husbands can give their wives "correction" as necessary to maintain family order and their own authority.
This patriarchal belief system prevailed in other arenas, such as religion. In marriage, a father "gave away" his daughter to the groom, representing the transfer of property from one male to another. Rape was not a crime against the female victim but a crime against the father or husband. (This is still true today in other parts of the world, where women who are raped are subsequently murdered in "honor killings" because they have brought dishonor to the family.)
About 150 years ago, people began to move toward finding violence against women unacceptable. By the 1880s, many states in the United States had laws restricting rights of men to "chastise" wives and children, but usually, either the laws were not enforced, or those in violation of the law were not punished. In 1920, the 19th Amendment was adopted, giving women the right to vote. Interestingly, the suffrage and prohibition movements occurred simultaneously, as temperance leaders believed the organized suffragists could help them achieve their goals, and women reformers thought alcohol was a causal factor in wife beating and child abuse, which it is not.
In the 1960s, child abuse began to be addressed as a major social issue through programming, legislation and policy initiatives. The abuse of women by their partners however, remained in the shadows. The attitude prevailed that women somehow brought the abuse on themselves and, unlike abused children, women were thought to be responsible for the violence perpetrated against them.
In the early 1970s, women began to create a grassroots, informal network of services, safe homes and local domestic violence hotlines to provide support to the growing number of women being battered who were calling rape crisis hotlines seeking help and safety. As the magnitude of the problem became clear, a range of services, including a network of shelters, was developed to begin to address the safety needs of victims of domestic violence. In its initial stages, these services were almost entirely volunteer efforts, with little or no stable funding.
Locally, in 1978, the North Country Women’s Shelter opened at 3 Chapel Street in Canton. It was created from the feminist women’s movement in the North Country called North Country Women. But, due to the lack of funding, the North Country Women’s Center, Inc. announced that the Women’s Shelter would officially close on February 15, 1981. Soon after, a group of citizens, who were concerned about the lack of services for victims, held open forums and developed a task force to address the problem. It was from this task force that St. Lawrence Valley Renewal House for Victims of Family Violence, Inc. (Renewal House) was founded to provide the much needed service for domestic violence victims in St. Lawrence County. In May of 1982, Renewal House became incorporated.
October is domestic violence awareness month. It’s a time when communities across the country will mourn those whose lives were taken by domestic violence, celebrate the tremendous progress victim advocates have made over the years, and connect with one another with a true sense of unity to end domestic violence.
This year, Renewal House celebrates 35 years providing services to domestic violence victims. We are excited to share with our community that Lynda Clements, one of the original task force members and member of our founding Board of Directors, will be our guest speaker and honoree at our annual dinner on October 11th. It was her foresight and dedication to the well-being of those in our community that successfully established an agency that is now a stable and safe space for all those needing supportive housing and services; an agency that now proudly serves both domestic violence and sexual assault victims.
Ilene J Burke,
Renewal House Executive Director (Canton)