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Sharon Meers's picture

David Paterson is keeping me up at night. Whether he remains New York’s governor is not my worry - I live across the country and even liked how he confessed his own foibles while taking office. Since then, the governor’s decline and alleged misuse of power have been sad. But what really troubles me is a more far-reaching sin: Paterson’s failure to stand up against violence. Asked about his girl-friend-choking aid, Paterson minimized, telling The New York Times that what happened was “like breakups you hear about all the time.”

Paterson’s right about one thing: relationship abuse is ubiquitous -- and so are bystanders who, like the governor, don’t do enough to stop it. My grandmother, a teen-age single mom, fell into the arms of a pathologically violent man. The results were so dire that my dad ran away as a 9th grader. I’m lucky my father found a useful outlet for most of his trauma - he put himself in therapy, became a mental health worker and devoted his career to the many patients whose ills start with abuse. But pain still lives in my dad’s eyes. And I ask myself how many bystanders had the power to step in, to protect my grandmother and her children -- but did not.

I know the urge to look away, the feeling of “I can’t deal with this now, how could I help anyway?” I saw it in myself, in how long it took me to read, Crazy Love, a riveting book by my college classmate Leslie Morgan-Steiner, about her marriage to a charming, intelligent man whose rage almost killed her. It was also hard to face the fact that we Gen X’ers aren’t that much better than our parents. As a group, we still don’t acknowledge this violence for the horror that it is. Knowing what Morgan-Steiner’s ex-husband haddone, people still invited him to parties and into their homes, as if saying “well, these things happen.”

In the book, a psychologist explains that abusers often come by their disease honestly -- as victims of cruelty themselves. Because of this, predators often live in extreme denial, believing that their brutality is justified or just plain normal. And how much are we each doing to disabuse them of that notion?

"Domestic violence is a brutal crime that shatters millions of lives every year, transcending race, ethnicity, social class and even gender," said Rudy Giuliani ten years ago. While Rudy’s politics differ from mine, I admire his words and wonder what it takes for more of us to speak -- and act on -- them. How many bosses want law-breakers on the payroll? What if more abusers knew that violence could cost them their job? Imagine if Paterson had handed his aid a note: “I care about you. Call this number - get professional help. If it happens again, you’re fired.”

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