By Alice Gerard
A person's home is not always a peaceful sanctuary. Sometimes, the home becomes the setting for shocking acts of violence, said Mary Travers Murphy, executive director of the Family Justice Center in Buffalo. The violence is committed, not by a random stranger who breaks into the home, but by the victim's intimate partner. Murphy spoke about domestic violence in Western New York at the World Day of Prayer on March 6 at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church, 25877 Baseline Road.
The World Day of Prayer is an annual event, held on the first Friday of March. Each year, a committee of women from a nation chosen to be the "host nation" writes the service. They are given a theme by the international executive committee of the World Day of Prayer. This year, the host country was the Bahamas, and the theme was Jesus washing the feet of his disciples and asking them, "Do you know what I have done to you?"
The committee from the Bahamas identified several issues that were important in their community and invited people organizing World Day of Prayer events to focus on one of those issues. These issues include HIV/AIDS, domestic violence, and the role of women in the workplace. In Grand Island, the issue that was chosen was domestic violence, which is pervasive both locally and across the world. According to information gathered by the United Nations, more than two out of three women will experience violence. In the United States, one out of every four women will become a victim of domestic violence.
Murphy explained that abusers hurt their victims physically, with kicks, slaps and punches, or psychologically, with words that belittle. Often, the victims, who feel ashamed, don't let anyone know that they have been victimized. When they go to work, they cover their bruises so that no one can see them.
Sometimes, the abusers kill their victims. Murphy, who formerly worked as a consumer affairs reporter for WKBW-TV, related that her co-worker, Aasiya Hassan, was beheaded by her husband, Muzzammil Hassan, in 2009. He was convicted of second-degree murder in 2011 and is now serving a 25-year-to-life sentence in state prison.
"She was my friend. She worked at Eyewitness News for 20 years. She was movie star pretty. She was an architect and she was drafting the plans for realizing her dreams," Murphy said.
Aasiya was the founder of Bridges TV, the first English-language Muslim TV station in the United States.
The violent death of her friend "haunts me daily," Murphy said.
Hassan was not alone. In the United States, approximately 4,000 persons are killed by their intimate partners each year. Domestic violence is a crime committed in rich and poor communities alike. "Abusive relationships do not stop at age, race or socio-economic status," Murphy said, adding that the three communities reporting the highest rates of domestic violence in Erie County are Springville, Clarence and Grand Island. The majority of victims are women, but there are some male clients at the Family Justice Center.
Domestic abuse involves "one person trying to have power and control over another person by using emotional and psychological tactics," Murphy said. She explained that many victims say that they are in a "difficult relationship." Victims feel that they deserve it (the abuse). They may ask, "What did I do to make him turn on me this way?" These feelings are reinforced by a perpetrator saying to the victim, "If you just did what I said, this wouldn't happen." The victims are "brainwashed by the abusers into believing that the abuse is their fault," Murphy said. "Most victims don't recognize themselves as victims until you put a checklist (of signs of abuse) in front of them."
Domestic violence also affects the children in abusive relationships, even if they are not directly targeted by the abuser. It "rewires their brains," Murphy said. "The children suffer as a result of the trauma, and infants have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Leaving an abusive relationship is difficult, with victims making seven to eight attempts to flee. Murphy said that victims' comments demonstrate the power that abusers have over them: "He would hunt me down to the ends of the earth and kill me," "He said he will kill the kids," "He told me that I was a crazy, unfit, whack job of a mother and that I would never see my kids again," and "You have no job skills; you're finished."
Help is available to domestic violence victims at the Family Justice Center in downtown Buffalo, Murphy said. There is a satellite office in Orchard Park, which opened in February 2011, on the second anniversary of Aasiya Hassan's death, Murphy said. A day later, at 8 a.m., the first client, a victim of an attempted strangulation, arrived at the office. More recently, a satellite office opened in Williamsville.
Murphy said that she travels around Western New York to tell victims of domestic violence, "This relationship has a name and the name is abuse. This is not your fault. You are not responsible, and you do not deserve this."
Murphy said that getting the word out about domestic violence is her passion. "I want to get everyone talking about domestic violence." She wants to get the message into movie theaters and on scoreboards at sporting events.
"I want people to become educated about the warning signs of domestic abuse, she said. "I want to use social media to get the message to young people," Murphy said. According to the Erie County Sheriff's Office, young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rates of domestic violence.
Murphy said she travels everywhere to talk about the problem of abusive relationships. She distributes palm cards and offers tours of the Family Justice Center. "We have a lot of work to do," Murphy said.