Even when when it’s discussed in a safe and controlled setting, it’s an indication of the sensitivity–if not the prevalence–of domestic violence that as Trish Giaccone was welcoming the nearly 50 people who attended Flagler County’s first annual conference on domestic violence awareness this morning, she felt compelled to reassure them.
“When we’re talking about domestic violence, particularly if we work in the field, we kind of forget our own personal triggers until somebody says something, or they bring up a story that really affects you,” Giaccone, the CEO of the Family Life Center, told the audience. “And so if you need to take the time to walk out and take care of yourself, then by all means, please make sure you do that. That is something that we really adhere to. We want you to be healthy throughout this entire process.”
The six panels in the four-hour conference at the Palm Coast campus of Daytona State College this morning had potential trigger points, whether it was the story of the woman murdered by her ex just as she was about to testify against him in a domestic violence case–the story was told by a Flagler County sheriff’s detective; it was not a local case–or the numerous ways another panel illustrated how women in religious congregations could be further victimized by the clergy’s culture of silence, denial or complicity in domestic violence (and of course sexual abuse). Or as a brief video documented the cases of women victimized at home and again by the silence of conventions:
“He always hit me where it wouldn’t show.”
“I was leaving my husband and the church would tell me it’s wrong.”
“I just couldn’t understand how these men could send me in a small child back into a home with someone who became just violently enraged, and especially now that I had provoked his anger and let the secret out.”
“The police were called by neighbors. And when the police would show up, we would lie. We would all lie. I was so humiliated. Just the presence of a police officer in my home, it was so not real, because Jewish families don’t have the cops show up to find out why there’s been screaming and thumping, things falling downstairs.”
There was the case of the woman who’d finally left her abusing husband, only for him to call her within hours and let her know she didn’t have to worry about the dog anymore. He’d strangled him.
” I lost my entire family, half of them to domestic violence, half to violence in general,” one of the panelists from the Family Life Center said.
And there were the stats–women nine times out of 10 being the victims of domestic violence, how “31 percent of all women killed are murdered by their husbands, ex-spouses or boyfriends,” according to the clip prefacing the video about houses of worships’ silence. ” Recently, domestic violence was recognized as the number one health threat to U.S. women, causing more injuries than automobile accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. What has been the response of our churches and synagogues to this epidemic of violence?”
Giaccone and several partners in the field has been appearing before local government boards–she did so at the Flagler Beach City Commission Thursday evening–this month to highlight proclamations marking Domestic Violence Awareness Month, running through the end of October.
The conference, called Rise Up 2021, was organized by Daytona State College and the Flagler County Domestic Violence Task Force, headed by the Family Center, the county’s lone domestic violence shelter. Giaccone–who was recognized this month as the Volusia-Flagler area’s “Most Influential Woman of the Year” by the News-Journal–hopes it’ll be an annual event.
“The aim of the conference is really to educate our community members and community stakeholders, both in the field and outside of the field of the various aspects of domestic violence, just so that they can see it from different lens,” Giaccone said. What she wants people to take away from it is “first and foremost, to know that Flagler County is not afraid to have a conference about domestic violence and that there are resources available, because each entity offers services free to the community members. The second thing is, they’re going to walk away with really an understanding that domestic violence isn’t an isolated incident, that it really permeates all aspects of our life. And so they’ll probably look at their relationships a little differently, whether they’re a victim of potential perpetrator.”
Palm Coast Mayor David Alfin was in attendance at the beginning of the conference. “There are many, many reasons to be here today,” he said. “The reason I’m here is that I feel in the city of Palm Coast in particular, because of our demographics, we have an older community. This may be one of the–I don’t want to sound extreme, but one of the silent killers that people are not aware of. So I’m here to help create awareness, to make myself more informed, and to try to find a way to figure out how to reach out to those victims that will not step forward on their own. And I’m really talking about the older community in particular. Not that there aren’t many other age groups affected. But that’s my personal reason for being here.”
Students, lay persons, service workers, law enforcement, government officials were all part of the mix of some 50 people in attendance. The conference consisted of six panels: “Not In My Church,” on the silence discussed above, “Now You See Me/Now You Don’t” a panel hosted by Fiona Ebrill, the sheriff’s detective assigned exclusively to domestic violence cases, who spoke of the characteristics of stalking, “Handle With Care,” on how schools handle students involved in domestic violence situations, “Trauma Effects on Children,” and two other panels on injunctions and the definitions of domestic violence.
The 90-minute sessions all ran twice, allowing people in attendance to attend two of them.
Chaplain Jeffrey Peppers, a lieutenant colonel with the Army National Guard, led “Not In My Church.” “He’s passionate about talking about domestic violence in within the context of the church, and the importance of letting people know that the Bible doesn’t subscribe to abuse,” Giaccone said (an arguable assertion). Giaccone herself led the panel on the effects of domestic violence traumas on children, who are either the witnesses of violence, and therefore its psychological victims, or at times its direct, physical victims.
Those in attendance, some of them prominent members of the community, were encouraged to take part in the discussions, with many discussion points aimed at upending false assumptions. “One of the myths is that domestic violence is conflict run amok, that it’s really about someone getting angry and losing control, when just the opposite is true,” one of the experts quoted in a video clip, said. “Domestic violence is an issue of power and control. […] abusers use domestic violence, they use these tactics of control when they’re not angry, but when they want to get something, when they want to get their own way in those relationships.”
Texts, emails, notes left on the windshield that say “I love you,” “I miss you,” can be expressions of that control, in abusive relationships mere degrees away from “I hate you” and “I’ll kill you.”
One missing component at the conference: “I do think it’s important that we have the voice of perpetrators of violence as well. But in this session,” Giaccone said, “we were not able to get anyone who would admit to that behavior and then come here and speak. So maybe future conferences.”