In Our Own Back Yard

1115domesticviolenceTwenty years after the gavel heard around the world acquitting O.J. Simpson of murdering his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, Jewish Federation & Family Services and Nicole’s youngest sister Tanya Brown are giving a voice to women who are victims of domestic violence.

The judgment may have declared Simpson innocent and free, but it began a litany of conversations on how to best approach the issue of domestic violence. According to Brown, “October was the 20th anniversary of the acquittal… it gives us the chance to leverage the media hype and speak out against domestic violence.”

That is what Brown has made her life about.

“No one ever thought Nicole was going to be killed. When you get in a fight and it gets heated, you slap each other, but no one thinks your going to kill anyone… But now we know differently. It is a trajectory,” says Brown.

This is the first time for Brown to reach out in her own back yard. She usually finds herself speaking to communities outside of California. “It is time for me to reach out in my own community, because there is a lot happening here—and no one talks about it.”

According to a recent National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 32.9% of women living in California have, at some point in their lives, been the victim of violence, sexual violence, or stalking by an intimate partner. More than 4.5 million women now living in California have experienced domestic violence at some point in their lives.

Bringing the statistics closer to home, in 2014, there were 7,928 total calls made regarding domestic violence in Orange County (these statistics include women and men), of those, 1,136 involved some kind of weapon.

Domestic violence takes place in all communities, including the Jewish community. The rate in the Jewish community is about the same as the greater community—15 to 20 percent. That means in a community of approximately 100,000 Jews (the estimate count of Orange County’s Jewish community), as many as 20,000 will experience domestic violence. Some may think Jewish values or observance may mitigate violence; however, it does not start and stop with observance or lack of observance. Abuse takes place in all socioeconomic levels, it affects all genders, all ages, all denominations, and those who do not have any affiliation.

As Brown said, no one talks about domestic violence in our back yard, and we especially do not want to admit that something so terrible takes place in our own Jewish community. But the numbers are there, domestic violence does not discriminate and it is here, in Orange County, in our Jewish community. That being said, The Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse reminds us there are cultural implications to consider:

Shalom Bayit: Peace in the home, a central tenet of Judaism often makes it hard for a wife or husband to report abuse. Many victims of abuse begin to believe that peace must be kept at all costs: to avoid looking like an insufficient parent or partner or sometimes to avoid backlash.

• Denial: “this cannot be happening to me.” Men and women often deny they can be victims of abuse. This is especially true when abuse leaves no physical mark. Financial, emotional, mental, and verbal abuse are serious components of domestic violence and part of a trajectory that can lead to physical violence and sometimes death.

• Religious observance can make it difficult for someone to leave a situation due to issues of kashruth and Shabbat observance when it is necessary to stay at a shelter or a safe place.

• Shame and secretiveness emanate from the idea that domestic violence cannot possibly happen in the Jewish community. Many victims of domestic violence are fearful and embarrassed to tell friends and loved ones they are experiencing abuse.  There is also hesitation in telling clergy or community members for fear of not being believed.

• Socioeconomic issues come into play when a victim is financially and emotionally dependent on the abuser. Many victims of abuse cannot support his or her family’s standard of living on their own. They may have limited knowledge of finances and limited access to bank, investment and credit card accounts. There may be a threat of parental rights being severed as well, creating a situation that makes it very difficult for an abused parent to leave with children who may be vulnerable to abuse if left in the home.

Domestic violence is a topic that may be difficult to discuss, but it is necessary to discuss. Brown spoke to attendees at an intimate evening about the 20-year journey that was the platform for her second book. “People were not getting it [domestic violence]…”  Hence she created characters in the book based on clients she had worked with in her domestic violence advocacy. The book, Seven Characters of Abuse: Domestic Violence, Where It Starts And Where It Can End, provides questions and scenarios for the different faces of abuse. According to Brown, “The book compares what is healthy with what is unhealthy.” In addition to scenarios, the book provides resources and referrals to help those who need to reach out. Brown also discussed her journey through depression and suicide, which she details in the book, “Finding Peace Amid the Chaos: My Escape from Depression and Suicide.”

Why domestic violence? Why now? Why the Jewish community? According to Allison Johnson, MFT and Director, Client Services of JFFS, “Domestic violence is one of those things people just don’t want to talk about, that they don’t want to admit exists. However, it is still a serious issue in our society. It can be anything from physical, emotional, verbal, financial abuse and more. Our event on October 14th helped raise awareness on this issue in Orange County, and educate the community on the resources available.”

In addition to speaking about her books, and advocating for victims of domestic violence, Brown is launching “Big Hugs Not Hits” to educate sports programs on domestic violence. Additionally, a scholarship in Nicole Brown Simpson’s name was announced at the October 14 event, and will provide funding for Brown’s speaking engagements.

To find out more about what Tanya Brown is doing to end domestic violence go to www.tanyabrown.net.  

Lisa Grajewski, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist, with JFFS and has a private practice in Irvine.  She is also an adjunct Assistant Professor at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. She has been a contributing writer for Jlife magazine since 2004.

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