Violence top health threat to women

Published 5:53 pm Tuesday, September 6, 2005

By By JOHN EBY / Cassopolis Vigilant
NILES - Half of all marriages experience domestic violence.
One of every four murder victims is a woman "and the vast majority were killed by someone they knew very well. Very few are killed by strangers," Polly's Place Executive Director Alina Baltazar told Niles-Buchanan Rotary Club members Monday at the Millennium Steak House. "Violence is the number-one health threat to adult women - more so than car accidents, muggings or cancer combined."
While 85 percent of domestic violence cases victimize women, 15 percent of those hurt are men.
Family violence's impact seeps into the workplace and affects productivity through missed time from injuries and illness, emotional fallout such as depression and stress, lowers self-esteem, causes developmental delays in children who act out aggressively in class or withdraw.
Domestic violence manifests itself in physical complaints by kids of stomach aches, headaches or sore legs.
Polly's Place, founded in 1997 by Seventh-day Adventists and providing 12 beds in a six-bedroom farmhouse, is a faith-based response to domestic violence and related abuse.
Baltazar said head injuries are common among those who seek refuge in a shelter for battered women. "Twenty-five percent of women who go to shelters have closed-head injuries."
Also, she said, "They don't want to be the one to break up the marriage, but in reality it's the abuser who broke the vows. 'My kids need a father.' We had a lady who came to Polly's Place who used to say, 'My boyfriend's a good dad.' If he's beating you up, he can't be that good a dad. We work on that with the family" with counseling, support groups and educational programs.
Religious beliefs can also muddle someone's desire to flee an abusive relatonship.
Women can also find themselves economically dependent on providers.
Baltazar said Rotarians interested in helping can start by being informed. "Know what resources there are. Listen with a sympathetic ear. And know what to say and what not to say. Try to be understanding - even about why they stay and why they don't want to leave. But you can guide them to community services that are available. Support them and let them know they're not alone. There is help. When you're in that situation, your self-esteem is being pounded regularly. Encourage them that they're strong enough to get help and confront them with the danger. You can help them develop a safety plan if they're thinking about leaving - a suitcase with an ID, Social Security and birth certificate stored at your house so they can leave right away. We have women come with the clothes on their back, but it makes it difficult to apply for work. Be aware, this is a dangerous time. If they show up on your doorstep, you are putting yourself at risk. That's why shelters are at undisclosed locations and have security systems. It isn't a family problem. Call the police. We are a non-profit and can use volunteers and mentors if you want to get involved."
The national domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-7233; Michigan's hotline can be phoned at 1-800-548-2480.
Polly's Place can be called at 269/687-9822 or toll-free at 866/889-6636. The website is found at
There are two other Polly's Places in Washington state, where Dunbar moved, Baltazar said.
Polly's Place, Niles, is a division of Polly's Place Network (PPN), by which Baltazar initially became involved as a researcher.
Polly's Place is named for Polly Westman, donor of the horse farm.
Baltazar, C.S.W., A.C.S.W., executive director since June, received her bachelor's degree in psychology at Andrews University and master's degree in social work from the University of Michigan.
The Berrien Springs resident is also an on-call social worker for Lakeland Psychiatric Services.