- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

The three orphaned children of Ernestine Bunn Dyson, 32, will bury their mother today.
Mrs. Dyson's 17-year-old son came home from school one week ago only to find the bloodied bodies of his mother, who had a fatal gunshot wound in her head, and her husband of one year, Tyrone Dyson, who had turned the handgun on himself.
Not 24 hours earlier, Mr. Dyson, 32, was released from Prince George's County District Court after spending 44 days behind bars for repeatedly threatening his estranged wife's life. Prosecutors, now under scrutiny, freed the habitual abuser with his wife's hurried consent.
The dangerous thing about unchecked abusers of any sort sexual, physical, verbal or emotional is that their offenses escalate until they inflict serious harm. Mr. Dyson pulled the trigger, but Mrs. Dyson, also 32, was killed by ignorance and misplaced tolerance. Domestic violence is society's dirty little secret. But the Dyson deaths cry out to us.
"Domestic violence does not simply affect individuals, it affects the entire community, and it must be attacked on a community level," said Ashley Adams, executive director of Services to Abused Families (SAFE Inc.) which serves domestic victims in Culpeper, Fauquier and western Virginia counties.
"Women can't be quiet about it, men can't be tolerant of it and the community as a whole has to be educated about the dynamics of domestic violence," Ms. Adams said. Domestic violence does not discriminate. It crosses all ethnic, economic and educational lines. All too often the institutions designed to deter domestic abuse fail the abused as well as the abuser.
Only one-seventh of all domestic assaults are even brought to the attention of police. Neighbors often have a tin ear and turn a blind eye. Studies compiled by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence indicate that nearly one of three women experiences at least one physical assault by a partner during adulthood. An estimated one-fifth to one-third of teenagers are regularly abusing or being abused verbally, mentally, emotionally, sexually and or physically by their partners.
Further, emergency-room statistics researched by SAFE staffers indicate that the average cost of medical treatment to abused women, children and elders is about $1,630 per person annually. Businesses pay an estimated $3 billion to $5 billion a year in medical expenses and an additional $100 million in losses due to absenteeism and reduced productivity. Like Mrs. Dyson, women are at their biggest risk when they attempt a breakup because 70 percent of domestic-violence fatalities occur after the woman has left her abuser.
At its crux, domestic violence is a crime about control and isolation. Ms. Adams said abusers "become progressively violent the longer they are in a relationship." She said the abuse can start off with a negative comment, then escalate until ultimately the battering occurs.
The "cycle of domestic violence" begins with the tension-building phase, when the victim "walks on eggshells," trying not to upset or provoke the abuser. Next comes the battering incident. Finally, the "honeymoon" or rebonding phase takes over when the abuser becomes apologetic, attempts to make amends by buying gifts or altering his behavior and makes promises not to strike again.
"It's at this point that women see the man they fell in love with and begin to hope that he will change," she said. Unfortunately, the abusers don't stop without professional help for what experts contend is learned behavior. Many abusers have themselves been abused or lived in abusive homes as children.
Nor do the abused find the courage or the wherewithal to leave without support and resources, although Mrs. Dyson had just been promoted at an Alexandria security firm. Statistics also indicate that many abused women make several attempts at leaving before they are successful.
That's where the isolation comes into play, because most of Ms. Adams' clients speak to their feelings of unworthiness and aloneness.
"We have to let them know that there is help and support available," said Ms. Adams.
SAFE, with its lighthouse logo denoting a beacon of help, recently opened a satellite office in Warrenton, Va., to handle the growing demand for services in the area. The nonprofit agency's programs include a 24-hour crisis hot line, emergency shelter, legal assistance, peer counseling, support groups, transitional housing, intervention, and educational and public-awareness campaigns geared primarily to children and teens. In the wake of the Dyson deaths, Prince George's County officials, led by County Executive Jack B. Johnson and State's Attorney Glenn C. Ivey, at yesterday's news conference indicated the steps they will take to address the breakdown in the county's domestic-violence services.
"The case on [March 11] made us push domestic violence to the front burner," said Walter Dozier, a spokesman for Mr. Johnson. Meanwhile, at the Ark of Safety Church in Oxon Hill this noontime, the death of Ernestine Bunn Dyson cannot be explained or justified to her orphaned children.
The SAFE toll-free hot line is 877/825-8876. The National Domestic Violence hot line is 800/799-1233.


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