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'Paradigm shift' urged at domestic violence panel

Sandra Larson | 3/17/2010, 4:59 a.m.
Evelyn Johnson (right), Boston Police Department victim advocate, explains the restraining order process at a domestic violence panel discussion last week at the Hyde Square Task Force in Jamaica Plain. Looking on are fellow panelists Dr. Katherine Morrison (left) of Curry College and Attorney Mardi Chadwick (center), director of Passageway, a domestic violence intervention program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Sandra Larson

“The victim’s most pressing concern might be keeping the kids in their school,” Chadwick said, or maintaining the family income in order to stay housed. “We think safety is her biggest concern…but we have to respect her needs and understand what she is ready to do.”

Domestic violence discussions generally focus on women, but Chadwick said it’s important to get help for the men as well.

“Sometimes jail is the only solution,” she said, “but that’s not the majority. And even if the couple separates, they’ll be interacting because they have kids together. So the more we can get the perpetrators into some sort of treatment and education, the better it’s going to be for the children. If we’re intervening now in one family, hopefully we’re keeping it from cycling generation to generation.”

She urged the audience to work toward a “paradigm shift” in thinking about domestic violence.

Society needs to treat it as a health issue, not just a criminal justice and social services issue, she said.

And communities have to change their thinking and stop stigmatizing victims, which makes women hesitate to speak out. “Once those kinds of beliefs change, there’s a ripple effect,” she said.

“So next time you’re talking about a domestic violence case,” said Chadwick, “and people are saying, ‘Why does she go back to him, why does she stay?’ you can say, ‘Why does he do that? Why do we allow that?’ Stand up and challenge people to think differently. You can make a big difference.”