Articles, Statistics, Events, and Resources in Hawaii

One of the most significant social problems facing Hawaii today is the growing epidemic of domestic violence. While intimate violence may not seem like an issue which affects our state significantly, such abuse is actually extremely common, with far-reaching ramifications for this island group which is widely believed to be a tranquil tropical paradise.

While battering most obviously effects women---who compromise approximately 98% of all victims---its direct or indirect impact is felt every day throughout our state by females and males in every cultural, religious, socio-economic and age group. In places as diverse as classrooms, courtrooms, and emergency rooms, victims and their children struggle to overcome the debilitating results of chronic violence in their homes. Due to the lack of a coordinated statewide data collection system, it is difficult to know exactly how many people in Hawaii are actually affected by domestic violence. Even if the police, hospitals, courts, the military, and other potential sources of information did eventually begin collaborating to compile statistics, the data would undoubtedly be woefully incomplete due to the secretive nature and under-reporting of partner abuse. Facts which are currently available, however, suggest an enormous problem in Hawaii, leading local experts to believe that reported cases reflect merely the "tip of the iceberg," For instance:

  • Nine 24-hour spouse abuse shelters exist statewide, and all are usually full to capacity.
  • On Oahu alone, the police receive over 1,000 calls per month reporting domestic violence.
  • Domestic violence murders are increasing at an alarming rate. Twenty-three people were killed on Oahu alone in one recent 12-month period.
  • Counseling programs for battering victims and perpetrators are overwhelmed by clients needing services. Clients are often placed on long waiting lists for weeks or months.
  • Family Court calendars for abuse cases are notoriously backlogged, causing cases to be dismissed due to the lack of a speedy trial.

The inescapable conclusion which must be drawn from these facts is that to a great many of Hawaii's people, our state is no "paradise." The challenge arising from this reality holds no simple solutions for those concerned with appropriately addressing this enormous public problem. Solutions do exist, however. Through ongoing massive public education efforts, and widely available intervention programs, family violence could be significantly diminished. However, without certain attitudinal changes in society at large, and without an unwavering philosophical and financial commitment from state leadership, a truly effective and coordinated systems-wide response is unlikely to become a reality in Hawaii.
Should it eventually develop, though, I believe the process would have to begin with statewide educational efforts which acknowledge both the pervasiveness and the randomness of intimate violence abuse. An additionally critical initial step would be the promotion of the understanding of domestic violence as a learned pattern of controlling behavior which one person uses to manipulate another.

Any public education efforts would necessarily have to address the many commonly held misconceptions regarding domestic violence. Popular myths such as those which mistakenly place the cause of partner abuse on "sickness", "anger", alcohol or drug abuse", or "stress" would need to be effectively debunked before the violence could be properly addressed on any level. In addition, misconceptions regarding victims who "must like the abuse" and abusers who "were probably provoked" would have to be replaced with realities regarding the terrifying hostage-like nature of battering relationships. Just effecting a shift in society's focus from the victim's response ("Why does she stay?") to the abuser's use of violence ("Why does he hit?") would be a significant contribution towards facilitating appropriate response mechanisms.

Interrupting cycles of violence in more families would also be possible if identification, intervention, and support programs were continually and fully funded by a state government focused on and committed to providing safety for victims of domestic violence.

But even these efforts would not be enough to prevent the development of new abusive relationships, since many youngsters will continue to grow up with violent role models at home. To paraphrase Gloria Steinem, "It is not enough to stand on the riverbank rescuing people who are drowning. In the next decade, some of us will have to go to the head of the river to keep people from falling in."

In the same vein, there must be an on-going state commitment to provide consistent, fully funded, educational efforts in every school for the purpose of instilling in each child the deeply rooted values of partnership, gender equality, and non-violent conflict resolution.

Without such on-going prevention efforts, there is little hope for real change in Hawaii, for ultimately, only by preventing the development if abusers can we hope to prevent the development of abuse.


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