Summit to spotlight domestic violence in Palo Alto | News | Palo Alto Online |


Summit to spotlight domestic violence in Palo Alto

Human Relations Commission event on Oct. 28 to examine relationship violence amid the wealthy

Domestic violence is the kind of issue that is often thought to afflict women in less economically well-off communities. But this often-hidden crime reveals itself in black and white in the Palo Alto police log.

In 2014, police received 96 calls reporting domestic violence; 34 resulted in arrests, Human Relations Commissioner Shelly Gordon Gray said at the commission meeting on Oct. 8.

"That's like one every other week. I would call that significant," Commissioner Daryl Savage said.

Palo Alto police say that domestic violence calls are among the most dangerous for responding officers. When they arrive, the perpetrator might have a gun or other weapon.

The number of cases are likely much higher, mental health professionals say. The majority of domestic violence victims don't report the crimes -- particularly in a community such as Palo Alto, where people of high stature are too embarrassed to come forward, Gray said.

"We'd really like to help people," she said.

On Oct. 28, the commission will host a community forum entitled "Domestic Violence: It Couldn't Happen Here -- Could It?" The free event will take place from 7-9 p.m. at Mitchell Park Community Center, El Palo Alto Room, 3700 Middlefield Road.

It will feature a seven-member panel of advocacy, law enforcement, legal and psychology experts. An abuse survivor will tell her story, and there will be information and resources for victims on escaping an abusive relationship and for others on how to safely help someone who is being abused. Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez will be the keynote speaker.

The commissioners said they hope the event will spur victims of domestic violence to reach out for help. Under consideration for the event is an anonymous poll that would enable the city to identify the demographics of Palo Alto's victims of domestic abuse.

"Domestic violence is a very sensitive topic. This is all about providing a safe space," Commission Chairwoman Jill O'Nan said.

For more information or to RSVP for the vent, persons should contact Mary Constantino at 650-463-4906 or at

Editor's note: Daryl Savage is also a columnist for the Palo Alto Weekly.

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21 people like this
Posted by Magali
a resident of another community
on Oct 9, 2015 at 10:51 am

It's been known for some considerable time: domestic violence is by no means restricted to the underprivileged classes (euphemism). It's just like bed bugs. . . .

3 people like this
Posted by YSK
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 9, 2015 at 1:07 pm

I had been a victim of dv for years. In my experience, the most help I received from law enforcement was when I moved to Palo Alto. The Palo Alto PD was very responsive. Most of 'em, anyway.

36 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2015 at 5:17 pm

We had a child abuser living next door to us for eight years. The family had two children, a little girl who was two and a boy who was five when they moved in.

They had 't even been here a month before the little girl was being locked out of her house, even on cold winter nights ( what could she possibly have done?). Sometimes, I would see the mother throw her, physically, onto the porch. The little girl would cry and scream and pound the door begging to be let in. The mother would open the door, scream something in Japanese, then slam the door and lock it!

At that point, I called the police, who went and talked to the mother. The mistreatment stopped for a while, but resumed eventually. Other neighbors, especially the one on the other side of their house and the one behind it--began calling the police to report child a use. After about six months, the family returned to Japan for a month, and we neighbors breathed a sigh of relief.

The family returned and the process started again. One neighbor gave up on calling PAPD, and thoughtfully called Child Protective Services. Then I called them, and the mother and both children disappeared for awhile. All was quiet, and we assumed the mother might be in prison. Eventually, she returned home, but sans the children. So we assumed they were in a shelter of foster home, hopefully together.

A few months later the little boy returned home, but the little girl didn't return for quote a while, perhaps another six months. All
Seemed well for about a year.

This process repeated itself over and over until the family put a "for sale" sign on their house, and suddenly painted, cleaned, and started taking care of the yard. The father informed another neighbor that they were leaving for Japan--for good--and that the children wanted to stay in America, as did he. A psychiatrist had advised the father that his wife was not "handling" America very well ( she did speak English, though not as well as her husband and children).

We like to think that the abuse stopped when they returned to Japan, but, then again, in Japan it is considered no one's business but your own how you treat your children. (We lived there for six years, BTW, before living in Palo Alto, as well as two years in Singapore.). Some women in Japan, especially after a divorce, have killed their children and the committed suicide. Sometimes the mother chickens out or survives the attempt--but she is not prosecuted in Japan.

I often wonder if the father divorced his wife ( fathers NEVER gain custody in Japan) and if she murdered her daughter--or worse, both children-- before ending her own life. Or if the abuse simply goes on and on to this day, unimpeded.

4 people like this
Posted by Community
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2015 at 10:47 am

It's easy to be judgmental - Did you ever think of getting to know the mother and offering support? A person who has no connections, may have physical or mental issues already that are further strained by being alone in a foreign country, may be dealing with two children without spousal help - Did it ever occur to you to invite them to community events, organize other families to help them, etc? Maybe you were witnessing the perfect storm of effects when addressing any one might have changed everything. I know a woman who told me she used to become practically homicidal when she was premenstrual. Her husband noticed too, like living with Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde. She finally got helpful medical care that evened out her hormonal spikes. She was a different person.

The person who seems the crazy one may really cracking from psychological abuse in an uneven power dynamic - this can be the case from a spouse, or institutions like a boss or even schools. When people are made to feel helpless and abused emotionally for long enough, it could come out explosively. The abuser usually seems the model of loveliness to outsiders or even others in the same social circle. Abusers often find ways of dusconnecting the abused from social connections so they have total control of the abused.

Your making the effort might have been a lifeline to the mother and changed everything. In an emergency, call authorities. But why didnt you ever make the effort short of that over what was a long period of time? Or contact a faith community or counseling community to do the same if you were so concerned?

26 people like this
Posted by Broken-heart
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2015 at 12:54 pm

The last post really broke my heart because it is an echo of my life experience. I am so glad that "Neighbor" intervened, but it seems that things are still not fully resolved. I hope and pray for help and healing for that family.

I have been on both sides - both as an advocate for immigrant women victims and as someone who was a victim as a small child.

That little girl's experience is the story of my own upbringing. My depressed immigrant mother handled her social isolation and our family's poverty badly and did not have the emotional skills to cope. I now imagine that it was how she was treated as a child, otherwise where does a mother get the idea to lock out a child in the cold or to shove/beat a child. I wish there had been culturally appropriate or language services to help my mother because she could not speak English. My father, who worked 2-3 jobs, had little visibility to these episodes. I was too ashamed to tell him and sometimes I actually believed that I deserved those beatings.

The emotional trauma still haunts my deepest relationships and how I relate to others. To this day, I am deathly afraid of criticism and conflict and I will work the rest of my life to not be a defensive person. Today my mother and I have a good adult relationship as I have developed compassion for her human frailties and understand that she was doing the best she could under the circumstance. After years of therapy, I finally know that I never deserved those beatings or to be abandoned in that way.

Today, there are better services for Asian immigrant women in their own languages. I would encourage the Palo Alto police and the community to connect that Japanese immigrant family to get in touch with culturally appropriate mental health services like AACI, Maitri, the Asian Women's Shelter for Asian communities. As the demographics in Palo Alto changes over time, we need to find ways to better link to such services for our new immigrant communities. There are unique challenges that make it more difficult to get help.

I would also like to finally echo again that domestic violence does cut across all socio-economic groups and sometimes it is the better hidden in our affluent communities.

11 people like this
Posted by Community
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2015 at 1:16 pm

@Broken heart,
I am so sorry for your exoerience but in admiration for your turning it into a way to help others.

In reading one of my parents' memoirs recently, I was struck by how hard the poverty and circumstances were on the children in the middle of war and dislocation. My parent hardly knew my grandfather, who was a stranger when he got out of concentration camp after the war. My grandfather was apparently traumatized, changed, distant, prone to outbursts. There were so many kids, the way they were kept in line was through pretty harsh treatment. My grandfather fled to this country where things hardly got better because of red baiting. The saving grace for my parent and the whole family, including my grandfather, was people who made connections. People who gave my parent the benefit of the doubt even when it didn't seem warranted. People who showed love or compassion. There were many points when the thoughtless, prejudiced, or even criminal acts of others even threatened survival, but the kindness of strangers, friends, and family at key points in life made all the difference. My parent never blamed my grandparents, even though my grandmother would say things like, if you leave, that's one less child I gave birth to.

It breaks my heart to hear ypur story, but also to hear the previous story in which someone clearly knew but didnt really try to make a positive difference. We arent in the middle of war or starvation. It's sad when there is less impulse to community even than during war.

31 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2015 at 2:12 pm

Actually, my husband, who speaks better Japanese than I do, went to the mother AND father on one of the rare occasions when both were home. He talked to them and gave them some written information ( which he had gotten online) about Asian immigrant support groups and stress hotlines, free mental health sessions for Asian women, etc.

The husband's reaction was total denial ( there is NO problem here ). Both parents ( the kids were hiding) thanked us and politely told my husband to mind his own business.

A few years later, the children had poked all the knotholes out of our new fence, and were poking sticks at my dogs and teasing them through these holes. I went over to ask them to tell their children not to tease the dogs, it could teach them to bite ( they loved kids, I didn't want that to change ). The mother scowled at first, then smiled and said she would talk to them.

A few minutes later, I could hear the little girl, then age six, screaming and crying. When the father came home hours later, I heard what sounded like the boy being hit or whipped with something, and the sound of his screams. I felt AWFUL.

Incidentally, mothers cannot punish boys in Japan--only fathers are allowed to discipline their sons. Both parents can discipline girls, though.

In Japan, grandparents, especially grandfathers, spend a lot of time with their grandchildren--fathers are often working long hours. This family had no relatives even to visit them here; probably a contribution to the stress of parenthood. However, once the children started school, there were parents of school mates driving them to and from school and soccer practice, because the mother could not drive.

I never found out what the full story of this family was, though they seemed quite well-off financially, if unhappy.

5 people like this
Posted by Community
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2015 at 8:41 pm

I don't want to be judgmental of you while I'm suggesting to withhold judgment, so I want to be clear that I am pointing out a different perspective, not criticizing you. Because no one should be in the position you were in. But think how you would feel if some people you didn't know came over and told you where you could go to get counseling, etc. Instead of offering friendship and support yourself. If your neighbors had made an effort to befriend the family and help, it might have made a difference to the kids and the family. How was your interaction with them supposed to end if you assumed they were inveterate abusers and you were offering them a way for them to go out of their way to get ... what? More burdened and judged (if that was the problem)? If you thought they were so terrible, and this was confirmed by eight years of living next door, it does make me wonder why you would complain to the mother rather than just address the children? Or find a way to deal with the situation without having to complain to the neighbor at all?

Again, someone else's treatment of their child is not your responsibility. But, from the "it takes a village standpoint", I do think if you were worried, friendship and support should have been the first resort. My family took in a truly abused friend of one of my siblings - we're talking SERIOUS physical and emotional abuse - who became a member of the family and changed a life.

If people truly try to get to know people and help, it's also less likely that incidents that might be disturbing but normal/not rising to abuse might be overblown and misconstrued. (But then, I was raised in an era of corporal punishment and don't condone it now but realize there are still cultural differences - I love It's a Wonderful Life that way because nice Jimmy Stewart loses it and yells at his kids and his kid's teacher. That happens with real people.) I can remember before my cousin's wife had kids, what she described as neglect by a mother she witnessed made the mothers in the room snicker behind their hands. Again, I'm not saying you didn't know what you saw. I'm just saying, reaching out to people in friendship as a first resort might have helped, especially since it sounds like the mother really was very isolated. If you know people, it's also more likely that if there is abuse, your support will be accepted and actually lead to helping. Or at the very least, provide a connection so the isolated KIDS feel loved anyway.

30 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 11, 2015 at 12:51 pm

Actually, several stay-at-home moms in the neighborhood, and eventually, at the children's school, offered to take one or both kids for a day or a weekend, but we're always, ALWAYS rebuffed by the mother and/ or father. I offered once, the first year they lived here, and was also rebuffed. After that, as my business took off, I no longer had time ( working 6 days/week ).

It seemed that they did not want friends ( unusual for Japanese, in my experience, who usually form deep, lifelong friendships), or any other people in their lives except to cart their kids around.

The only conclusion I have come to is that they were just a "rogue" family. We never had problems when we lived in Japan, other than lack of sitters ( culturally, the Japanese feel that childcare and babysitters are family-only concerns; only bad parents use commercial sitters--perhaps my neighbors revulsions to offers). We could not go out without kids unless we had visiting relatives to watch them for us. Babysitters were non-existent then, are still in very short supply today even with the advent of so many working mothers.

It helped us, though, that we studied Asian cultures before traveling and living overseas. I don't think our neighbors did that before coming here.

12 people like this
Posted by Shelly
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 11, 2015 at 8:12 pm

I hope you will all consider attending the Domestic Violence Forum on Oct 28. One of the goals of this conference is to learn how to safely intervene when you suspect a neighbor, friend, coworker, relative, etc. is being abused by a partner or parent. Very important information will be shared by Santa Clara County experts in the domestic violence network.

3 people like this
Posted by Family and Children Services of Silicon Valley
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 13, 2015 at 7:01 pm

We are so excited to see that the issue of domestic violence and its impacts on all communities will be discussed at the summit. We also appreciate that it will be highlighting how domestic violence crosses all barriers of socioeconomic status. Family and Children Services of Silicon Valley offers confidential crisis counseling, support and resource services, advocacy, and counseling for all populations that have been impacted by domestic violence. If you or someone you know could benefit from our services, please call (650) 326-6576.

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