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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Editor's note: ENP columnist Bob Confer took the week off from "Exploring the Niagara Frontier" to write a column for the final week of Domestic Violence Awareness Month." His regular column will return next week.

Reality TV is anything but reality. It has mutated our very understanding of the human existence to the point that this so-called “entertainment” has us finding enjoyment in other people’s misery. Ratings are good only if the shows participants have significant tension between them.

This sickness started 27 years ago when the TV show “Cops” hit the airwaves. That show emphasizes the short-term causes and effects of broken relationships and, therefore, broken homes. Like train wrecks, we just can’t seem to take our eyes (and the producers can’t take their cameras) off of them and we revel in the scale of their destruction. You’d be hard pressed to find an American who hasn’t laughed at the poor souls, especially when they tell the policemen why the situation escalated to the point that it did.

This reveling in the collapse of relationships and human dignity extends to all sorts of shows across the dial. Look at a show like “Couples Therapy”. It would not survive were it not for some of its stars, supposedly in love, mentally abusing and/or manipulating their significant other.

Maybe we as a society find humor and enjoyment in all of this because we think that we’re protected, that domestic violence (in either the verbal or physical form) won’t happen in our neighborhood or homes. But, we’re only kidding ourselves. The chances are good that it has happened or will happen in one or both of those environments.

Domestic violence is more common than you think.

And, it’s never funny.

Listen to a police scanner (“reality radio”) on any given evening and the weekends. It seems that the calls for domestic situations are endless. Our officers have to be peacekeepers in homes as much as on the streets. They are called to calm altercations playing themselves out before young children, keep women from verbally abusing their men, or prevent husbands from following through on their threats of violence to their wives. On one particularly-frightening Saturday a few years ago, one fellow threatened to put a bullet in his girlfriend’s head while another chased his around a woodlot with a baseball bat.

Those last two police calls are extreme circumstances, but the other situations are not. They’re common.
According to data provided by the New York Division of Criminal Justice Services, all police departments within Niagara County reported 1,673 arrests for domestic violence in 2013. Among them were 1,428 cases of simple assault and 45 sexual offenses against a family member, 33 of which were not the intimate partner.
What makes these numbers even more disturbing is the fact that the total number of arrests represents a 12.5% increase over that from just 4 years ago. We have a declining population, but acts of violence against those who are allegedly loved by the perpetrators is on the rise.

Mind you, those are just the cases recorded as actual arrests. There were thousands of 911 calls and tips for domestic arguments and other forms of verbal abuse (victims will tell you it is just as painful as hitting). The Niagara County Sheriff’s Office alone responds to 4,000 such calls every year. There were thousands more covered by the city police in Niagara Falls, North Tonawanda, and Lockport. And, remember, most victims and witnesses remain silent; there are tens of thousands of situations that go unreported.

Realize, too, that this is not just men berating or beating women. Domestic violence does not discriminate at any level. Just think back to 2009, when among the cases was a fatal stabbing of a Gasport man by his girlfriend on Christmas morning. That one instance proves that domestic violence knows no sex (men can be victims, too), boundaries (it’s just not an urban issue), limitations (assault can escalate to murder) or rest (even the holiest of days is not off limits).

Does any of that seem even remotely funny like it may have on the television? Absolutely not. It’s on the other end of the emotional spectrum: It’s sad.

If you’re human, you can’t help but feel for those affected by such monstrosities, especially the kids raised in such unloving homes. The vitality and morality of a society can be measured by the strength of the family unit and how it treats its children. You cannot help but wonder where we as a people are going if we allow such abuses to widely occur or broken homes to fester, because, more often than not, a child raised in such misery repeats the same later in his or her adult life. It’s a never-ending cycle of hate in environments that should create and inspire love and respect.

So, the next time you find yourself laughing aloud at the conflict you see on TV, stop and think about what you’re watching. Change the channel and count yourself lucky that it’s not a reflection of your life or that of people close to you.

If, on the other hand, that reality show is close to what you consider reality whether in your home or a neighbor’s, do something about it. Change reality for the better. Ending domestic violence starts with you. Don’t be a participant. Don’t be a bystander.

It can be tough, but the power of love and respect can and always will beat the power of the fist.

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident. He can be reached at or on Twitter @bobconfer.

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