Silence breeds violence

Joe Burns warns of the consequences that silence causes, in a Harwich-based paper When is enough and what is enough? That is what a jury may one day have to decide should Dr. Ann Gryboski be brought to trial for killing her husband.

The Barnstable physician, her face badly bruised from the previous night’s beating, shot her husband when, she said, he came after her again.

Gryboski said he had abused her for years, and her lawyer has said he plans to use “battered woman syndrome” as a defense, should that become necessary.

Killing is a solution of last resort, an action to be undertaken in self-defense only when imminent danger leaves no other alternative. Some will say that Gryboski had alternatives. They will argue that as a doctor with a successful practice on Cape Cod, she had the means to leave her abusive husband but chose to stay. Others will counter that even when economic reasons aren’t apparent, there can be psychological reasons for remaining, and that fear can be an overpowering force. Some studies have shown that women who leave their abusers are at greater risk of being killed by their abuser than women who stay, particularly during the first two months of separation.

Another option is a restraining order. It has been reported that Gryboski hadn’t filed any domestic abuse complaints in the past nor sought a restraining order against her husband. But a restraining order isn’t a guarantee of safety. According to an ABC News report, 28,760 restraint orders were issued in Massachusetts in 2005. Fifteen percent of those orders were violated.

Violence as a means of stopping violence is an act of desperation, but desperation is an all too common condition for many women. According to Jane Doe, Inc., 13 women were killed in Massachusetts from October 2005 to September 2006 as a result of domestic violence. Nationally, three women are murderedevery day by a boyfriend or a husband.

The bottom line is that in this nation, in this state, in this county and at this time, a woman is more likely to be beaten or killed by someone she loved and trusted than by a stranger. Can there be any greater betrayal or greater danger than to live in fear of someone you once held dear?

One would like to believe that the vast majority of men wouldn’t behave this way, and statistics say that is the case. But the culture that says it’s OK for a woman to be a subject of domination or a scapegoat for venting frustration is still with us.

“One of the things I’ve been struck with is not only isn’t domestic violence going away, but the violence seems to be more violent,” says Carol Chichetto, director of outreach and education for the Clothesline Project, a national movement, begun on Cape Cod, that seeks to educate the public and to combat violence against women.

“Sexism is the root that’s still in the ground, and we keep topping the top off and it still grows back because we’re not getting to the root cause,” Chichetto says.

Those roots are fed by a steady stream of sexist behavior. We read of athletes and celebrities, our so-called role models, who beat their spouses and girlfriends. We’re subjected to the misogynous lyrics and attitudes found in contemporary pop music; we hear of women who, for the sake of a laugh, are denigrated in public, as radio talk show personality Don Imus did recently to the members of the Rutgers women’s basketball team.

Chichetto says that the men who behave violently toward women represent only a tiny percentage of the male population, but the abuse inflicted by men such as them will not abate “unless we get every man who wants this to stop, helping us to make it stop.” One organization working in this direction is A Call to Men (acalltomen.com), a national group that holds to the premise that ending violence against women is primarily the responsibility of men. Included in its list of 10 things men can do to stop violence against women is “remember that our silence is affirming. When we choose not to speak out against men’s violence, we are supporting it.”

It’s time that men heeded that call and pledged their support to stop the violence. Our mothers and daughters, grandmothers and granddaughters, sisters, wives, lovers and friends need us.

One way we can help is by supporting programs such as A Call to Men, the Clothesline Project and Jane Doe, Inc. On Mother’s Day, May 13, Independence House, a program that assists survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence and their children, is organizing a 5-kilometer walk. The walk, which begins at the Four Points by Sheraton in Hyannis at 9 a.m., will be to honor the victims and celebrate the survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence and to raise funds for the program. Participants are asked to gather pledges. Those interested in walking or making a pledge can do so by signing up online at IndependenceHouse.org.