For the interest in and the purpose of shining a new light on an old problem, the following is respectfully submitted.

Shunned as a taboo topic, political football, fodder for tabloid television, no one is exempt from either the effects of or personal damage from IT. Everyone, whether they know it or not, knows someone who has experienced it, first-hand or indirectly. Although the subject is dismissed, covered up or ignored, at the right moment, it is headline news. Mostly it is relegated to clinicians, authorities and social workers so versed and immersed in it that they are trained to detach from it.

Should the term domestic violence be brought up, it can instantly close ears and divert interest. Understandably, people don't want to be contaminated by what is familiarly known as a social ill. Yet if it were to be defined by a broader brushstroke, we would find that more than just a personal problem, the effects and manifestations of this disease affect more people and in more intricate ways than all the cancers and diseases commonly accepted as devastating but socially acceptable illnesses.

Once usually recognized as a woman wearing dark glasses and long-sleeved shirts to hide the bruises, there are no confines to the limits of description. No economic class, social status, gender or age are spared. Unlimited participation allows for druggies or clergy, those from broken homes, as well as from good families. It can sound like a friendly hello or appear to be a withdrawn greeting.

Not confined to physical abuse or restricted to domestic situations, it can be an ongoing lifelong quiet destruction inflicted by the employment of: control, harassment, bullying, manipulation, deception, stalking and menacing. Just as toxic are: verbal assault, emotional battering, mental bludgeoning and includes withholding intimacy, acknowledgment and affection. "The human element cannot withstand sustained psychological poison without physical collapse."

The damage wrought by cruelty is just as lethal as a bullet. We all hope for some measure of safety in our lives, and to come home and detox from the day. But when the chief source of the brutality in your life lies behind your own front door, in your neighborhood, the business you work at or the school you attend, then yes, you do have the right to stand up and say no.

Historically, the act of opposition to oppression invites only more trouble. This is why so many prefer to live a walking death. The consequences of a major life change can be daunting and can deter someone from escaping.

So a slow, soundless erosion of the heart and mind can eventually reduce a capable woman to an inept creature. A friendly man lives in fear of his wife because he stops into a neighbors for a cup of coffee. A child is terrified of his parents because he hasn't been able to control his bodily functions yet. Pets must be included because they are subject to the same tyrannical and sometimes lethal outcomes.

Abusers are not always readily identifiable. A rude patron in a restaurant hurling insults at a waitress can be sitting across the room from a seemingly amiable man, equally poisonous to his wife in private. If obviously the woman hammering away at her child's self-esteem, more obliquely the woman spreading slander about a congregant in her church.

Victims of these crimes can likewise be just as hard to spot. Conversely, they will be the ones protecting the abusers. Interestingly, the hardest thing for them is not to endure the abuse but ask for help. The guilty deny responsibility, avoid accountability, fend off any appearance of misconduct by casting blame or suspicion away from themselves. A malignant, "that's fine with me," is hardly an acceptable response to a plea to stop their destructive behavior. A wife leaves, a child runs away, good employees quit. Teachers look the other way when they know bullying is happening. It is absolutely true, people are afraid to take a stand because the laws protect the guilty more often than they help the victim.

The day really did exist once, that neighbors looked out for each other and trouble wasn't necessary to have a nice time. When we were allowed to pray and weren't hijacked into accepting the truly offensive. We are all invested in a better life. But we must not forget that our lives are intertwined with those of everyone else. Every person and creature is born with a measure of dignity. It's how we honor that, to each other, and to ourselves, that matters. But most of all to the One who put us here in the first place, and who, without exemption or excuses, we will all be standing in front of us someday, asking for a little kindness.

Karen Richards formerly lived in the Midcoast and now resides in Montana.