Saturday, January 20, 2018
Opinion

Silence is not the answer to domestic violence

Six months into his first term as a Pasco County commissioner, Ted Schrader persuaded his colleagues to give $250,000 to Sunrise, a domestic violence and sexual assault center, so the agency could acquire a building.

Opening the public purse in 2001 for a worthwhile cause was one thing; acknowledging the relevance to his own life has proven to be another. A dozen years after the public benevolence, Schrader stands accused of domestic battery.

Deputies arrested him a week ago after Julia Schrader, his wife of 30 years, said Schrader forcefully grabbed her arm and leg as she lay in bed trying to avoid a confrontation. Schrader acknowledged to deputies he grabbed his wife and authorities said there were bruises on her forearm and wrist.

According to the sheriff's report, the couple argued Friday evening. The physical contact occurred at 9 a.m. Saturday, and Julia Schrader reported it to authorities 35 hours later at which time deputies investigated and arrested the commissioner. Monday afternoon, a judge granted Julia Schrader's request for a no-contact order. The commissioner cannot stay in their San Antonio house, and he cannot drink alcohol.

Tuesday morning, Schrader read a prepared statement apologizing for the embarrassment to his wife, commissioners, county employees and constituents. It was a good start, except he failed to accept specific responsibility for his actions that preceded the arrest and he called the case a personal and private matter.

Wrong.

Silence is part of the problem. Time and again it's been shown that the secrecy shrouding domestic violence can allow it to escalate to more severe physical confrontations and tragic consequences. Silence also bolsters society's illusion that domestic violence is not a more significant social problem, further isolating victims and abusers from getting help.

Check the research conducted by Sunrise two years ago. It analyzed 17 domestic violence homicides in Pasco County over a seven-year period. In three-quarters of the cases, friends, families or acquaintances had concerns about the relationship, but they didn't know what to do to help.

It's why Sunrise started a public awareness campaign to encourage intervention, rather than silent ambivalence. The campaign is based on two simple questions.

If not us, who?

If not now, when?

Certainly, we have plenty of opportunities to ask those questions. In Pasco County, deputies handle an average of nine domestic violence cases each day.

Schrader's arrest also emphasizes an often-overlooked point. He is a multimillionaire and four-term county commissioner. Domestic violence knows no socio-economic boundaries and it is ignorant to believe abuse is absent from high-end homes. There have been other high-profile examples both here and in neighboring counties.

Three years ago in Hernando County, prominent osteopathic physician Robert Blackburn killed his wife and then himself in their sprawling lakeside mansion. Blackburn savagely beat and strangled his wife before shooting her in the head. Just 13 days later, there was another murder-suicide of a Spring Hill couple who lived in gated golf course community.

In Wesley Chapel last summer, authorities arrested prominent developer J.D. Porter after an ugly confrontation in which, deputies said, Porter spit tobacco juice on his girlfriend, set a pile of her clothes on fire and shattered the rear window of her car with a barrel. Authorities later dropped the criminal mischief and domestic battery case when the girlfriend declined to press charges.

Schrader's attorney, Chip Mander, predicted last week his client's case would have a similar outcome.

If that is accurate, Schrader should reconsider his characterization of the case as personal and private. As a public figure, he should talk openly and honestly about abuse and appropriate non-combative responses in domestic disagreements.

He can encourage others to ask: If not us, who? If not now, when? He can tell people they can intervene by calling the toll-free domestic violence hot line at 1-888-668-7273.

Silence is not the answer. "Personal and private'' must disappear from the vernacular — particularly from an elected leader. Helping to prevent future cases of abuse can be a much greater legacy than a $250,000 building for a domestic violence center.

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