The death of Veronica Scott still pulls at domestic violence activists. Scott, 48, was shot and killed by her husband in a May 2009 murder-suicide in the garage of their Mount Vernon Road home in Dade City. Scott had filed for divorce 10 days earlier after years of emotional abuse and the discovery of her husband's infidelity.
Afterward, an acquaintance confessed to Penny Morrill, CEO of Sunrise of Pasco Inc., that she knew something was troublesome about the couple's relationship but hadn't spoken up about it.
Now, during domestic violence awareness month in October, Sunrise, a domestic violence and sexual assault shelter, is trying to avoid a repeat and to get bystanders to end their silence. At the heart of the timely public awareness campaign are two questions:
If not us, who?
If not now, when?
They are imperative inquiries that could save someone's life. The outreach is spurred by a Sunrise analysis of 17 domestic violence homicides in Pasco County over a several-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.
The first step is to call the toll-free domestic violence hot line at 1-888-668-RAPE (7273). Callers will be asked for information and will be advised how to proceed accordingly. Close friends of the suspected victim might be instructed to help develop a safety plan and might be advised how to approach the victim safely when the abuser is not around. Or, if the caller is a neighbor and the danger is imminent, the caller might be told to dial 911.
The aim is simple. People "can't ignore this problem anymore,'' said Morrill.
Indeed. Annual crime statistics for 2009 showed a spike in domestic violence crimes in Pasco and across the state even though the overall crime rate was down. Last year, the Sheriff's Office handled an average of nine domestic violence cases each day. The death of Scott was one of six domestic violence homicides in Pasco County, double the previous year's total.
Much of the increase was attributed to the down economy that saw couples staying together for monetary reasons. They simply could not afford to separate and finance two households. In the meantime, friends and families should assume some personal responsibility for the well-being of the people they know.
Who? Us. When? Now.
It's preferable to the alternative of wondering after a tragedy "what should I have done?''