Family Justice 

The scourge of domestic violence continues to grow.

My grandpa and grandma were married for more than 60 years. They met at the start of the "Roaring Twenties" in Chicago. They used their wits and creativity, including the production of bath tub gin in the prohibition era, to build a comfortable life together.

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Like all couples who experience that type of admirable longevity, their relationship didn't come without highs and lows. Long before the television show Green Acres, we knew grandpa and grandma were exact opposites when it came to preferring an urban or rural setting. Grandma loved overseeing the apartment properties they'd acquired in the Windy City. Grandpa was happy to stay on the farm he bought in central Missouri in the early 1960s.

Periodically, grandma would bite the bullet and make a visit to the farm that would usually extend through the summer. Since the rest of my family had made the move with grandpa, having our feisty and opinionated grandmother there sometimes seemed to put everybody a little on edge. It prompted me to ask grandpa once if he'd ever felt mad enough to hit her. A warm smile came across his face and he replied, "Why would I do that? I love her. I've always loved her."

His words were rolling around in my head as I reported on a two-day conference sponsored by the Family Safety Center, discussing the challenges of domestic violence in Memphis and Shelby County. Ironically, the conference came just hours after a Cordova nail salon owner and her estranged husband had been found shot to death in an incident authorities determined was a domestic murder/suicide.

I'll be honest. I originally went to the event to track down Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich to pepper her with more questions about untested rape kits. But, while the kits and what's being done with them is a vital public interest story, domestic violence is a continuing scourge of the human condition, just as startling, just as horrifying. It's perplexing that it continues to go almost unnoticed, except to those who deal with the often reluctant-to-testify victims.

Casey Gwinn, president of the national Family Justice Center Alliance, laid out some of the compelling statistics. He said that if a husband or boyfriend puts his hands around his wife's or girlfriend's neck in anger one time, the chances are 80 percent that the woman will be the victim of a homicide. Children who grow up witnessing that type of violence stand a much higher chance of becoming victims or perpetrators of domestic violence when they reach adulthood.

Reported domestic violence cases in Memphis, Shelby County, and the state of Tennessee are among the highest in the nation. And that's only the reported cases. As Gwinn observed, most of our statistics on this issue come from studies on white and black victims and perpetrators. Language and cultural barriers probably preclude us from getting the real numbers on Hispanic, Asian, and other ethnic groups, where silence often serves as a shroud for suffering.

This is where we come in. I know, these days, no one wants to get into anybody else's business because of fear of retribution. But, reflect back on the days when neighbors took care of neighbors. Not seeing them on their porch, walking their dog, or in church, or observing a change in their daily patterns was met with concern. I'm not talking about being nosy. I'm saying be observant.

And if the time comes when a domestic violence victim confides in you, be more than a shoulder to cry on. Alert them to the avenues of help available at the Family Safety Center. Their first objective isn't to prosecute, but to provide hope and healing and protection. For victims, it's often not easy to initiate the first step. As the center's executive director, Olliette Murray-Drabot, told me: "Domestic violence goes beyond a criminal issue. It's emotional. There are relationships. You've got husbands and wives, and girlfriends and boyfriends who have built lives together. So that makes it more challenging."

Of course, the challenge has forever been how to define "love" in any relationship. Observing my grandparents and their unique approach to crafting a relationship, I can only say it worked for them. They may not have always understood where the other was coming from, but they accepted each other's differences. And they never failed to end a day together without those three little words that cement any relationship —I love you.

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