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Can Domestic Violence Be Prevented? 

North Carolina leads in efforts to stop the abuse before it starts

Page 4 of 5

On this night nearly three years later, Bumgarner drives from her home in Durham to a ceremony at the State Capitol in Raleigh to mark National Crime Victim's Rights Week. There, she hopes to meet Cordae's mother, Phyllis McEleney, who has become a close friend and a fellow spokeswoman for violence prevention.

Bumgarner doesn't see McEleney in the crowd making its way up the winding staircase to the restored legislative chamber on the top floor. So we take our seats behind one of the polished wooden desks in the circular room. It's unsettling to realize that most everyone is here because they've lost someone. Like Bumgarner, many in the audience hold silver spoons marked with the names of loved ones — a symbol of empty places at the table.

"People ask all the time if talking about this is healing," says Bumgarner, a tall woman with stylishly short silver hair, as we wait for the ceremony to start. "I don't think it's healing. But it's all we have left to do."

For her, the strongest argument for prevention is that nobody is immune from family violence. "You know Gates was raised in a violent home," she says. "They need to get this into the schools and get it early on. There are people who say this is too much for children to talk about, but there are children who are already living with this."

During the ceremony, there are God-and-country speeches and a children's choir that sings a song about "crying American tears." At the end, the names of crime victims — including Kendall and Cordae — are read aloud. It's a welcome moment for Bumgarner but something about the event feels like a slowly deflating party balloon. Invitees don't even get to keep the spoons. They return them to a display case on the ground floor.

Outside, we run into McEleney and the two women exchange hugs. Bumgarner lights up a cigarette. McEleney smooths her elegant, pulled-back hair and takes a seat on a nearby park bench.

We talk about how it's been for them the past three years. The nightmares. The depression. The domestic rifts. The memories — both terrible and precious.

For these two friends, the question is not how can we prevent domestic violence, but why aren't we doing more? They understand the public health perspective on a gut-wrenching level. Right now, family violence is too often tolerated they say, because too many people think they're safe from it. And the losses are immeasurable.

"Every day I pick up the paper and watch the news and we add more people to the list. But what do we do about it?" McEleney asks. "I never thought my daughter would be murdered. People have to learn you don't have to be in an abusive family for this to happen. It's kind of too late by the time they grow up. People just don't realize the damage this does."

Bumgarner breathes out a wreath of smoke in silent assent. Nobody says anything for a minute. Then, the two women make their way through the darkening streets to their cars as the lights go out at the capitol.

A slightly longer version of this story first appeared in The Independent, Durham's alternative newsweekly.

A HARD SELL AT CMS

Getting domestic violence prevention to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' students hasn't been easy, said Jane Taylor of the Shelter for Battered Women. She had urged school officials for at least five years to adopt systemwide prevention curriculum before they finally allowed advocates to instruct ninth-graders on the don'ts of domestic violence.

Still, she said, prevention needs to start in earlier grades to be effective. "You can't go in a middle school classroom and not find kids who know someone who's in an abusive relationship," she told Creative Loafing.

Bureaucratic bungling and an undercurrent of opposition have kept the nonprofit agency out of most grades, she said. While some individual principals may welcome the help offered in teaching students how to avoid abusive relationships, system-level approval has eluded them, in part out of fear of touching on, well, touchy subjects like sex. Fortunately, she said, lawmakers last year passed a bill requiring state officials to study domestic violence prevention programs in schools.

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