October is national breast cancer awareness month, but you might not know it is also national domestic violence awareness month. Two issues that greatly affect women. Breast cancer awareness has come along way, people are willing to talk about it now due to the pioneers of women who fought to make this issue public. There are pink ribbons, pink kitchen appliances, you can easily make donations when you go to your local grocery store during the month of October, or join a race to run for a cure. Women have come along way quickly to raise awareness of Breast Cancer, one of my dear friends is a breast cancer survivor and I am among those that is fighting for a cure. And this fight is not over we still need to find one. And please go here to find out how to do a self breast examination and do one monthly!
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the issue of domestic violence (DV), it is still something that people aren't so willing to talk about publicly; unless it is in the face of a tragic event, which is usually homicide, then we can talk about it for half a second on the nightly news. But it is an issue that we need to be aware of. Sadly it is an uncomfortable topic for people, so most people are unaware that there is even a National DV awareness month. I don't think it is because people don't care, I think it is because it's scary and as I said, just uncomfortable. However, one in four women are affected by this or have been at some point in their lives. Children that witness abuse are more likely to go on to be abused or become abuser themselves. And like breast cancer it is an issue that affects so, so many.
In my past employment, I was a domestic violence advocate and director of a local domestic violence shelter. So DV is kind of my expertise and my cause, which also includes child abuse. Of course child abuse is, as society, not tolerated and it is a much easier thing for us to get behind and take a stand on, but a good thing to remember is if someone is being abused and there are children involved those children are also being abused. This doesn't necessarily mean physically but emotionally and mentally. If a parent is abusing another parent they are also abusing their children by doing so. So many times a person that is in a violent relationship will say "but he/she is such a good parent." This isn't a true statement. It also doesn't mean abusers don't have good qualities or good moments. Of course most do and this, this fact is what makes it so, so difficult. But a parent or partner who is abusing someone else in the house is not being a good parent. Violence is learned, it is passed down and finds it's way into peoples lives through depression, insecurity, violence being a known place no one should know, anxiety, drug and alcohol addiction, and through violent behaviors themselves.
Domestic Violence does not only affect women or married couples. It can affect anyone of any age, in any type of relationship, any background or socioeconomic status and any sex or sexual orientation. It is a cycle of abuse where one person exerts power and control over another (see power and control wheel). This includes physical, sexual, mental and emotional violence.
It is a very important issue to learn about, especially if you have children of your own. It is often a cyclical pattern and raising awareness can help break these patterns and reduce the occurrence of abuse. If you do educate yourself and talk to your own children about having healthy relationships and what that looks like. Calling names is not okay, stalking is not okay, controlling behaviors is not ok, slapping, pushing, shoving is not ok. And once you have raised your awareness help them understand warning signs of domestic abuse and dating violence. One of the most difficult parts about it is that it develops slowly over time and often by the time a person realizes they are in an abusive relationship it is very difficult to get out of that relationship.
Do you know someone who is in a violent relationship? If so, I know it can be really difficult for those people who are in a supportive role for those that are victims of domestic violence. When I worked at the shelter I had countless calls to the crisis line from friends and family who were "fed up" with the victim, which resulted often in that victim getting further victimized by being put down or put out by their family and friends. It takes the average victim 7 or 8 times of leaving the abuser to actually break free. Telling a victim what she/he should do isn't actually helpful, even when it can seem so obvious of what they need to do, which is to get out of abusive relationships. It is important to keep in mind when you are the victim of DV your power has been stripped from you. The victim needs to be empowered. The victim also needs to unlearn these patterns of behaviors in a relationship and begin to understand what a healthy relationship looks like.With that said learn your own limitations as a supportive role, find ways you can help and keep boundaries so you do not get burnt out on that supportive role. Find out what your local DV crisis line number is and give it to your friend or family member. Let them know you love them and support them, but be honest when you are feeling burnt out and refer them to a crisis line, assure them they can call and it will be kept confidential.
So what can you do to help? First, you must help to educate yourself on all the complexities of what it is like for the victim in a DV relationship and the risks involved for a person attempting to leave an abusive relationship. First, find information and gather information for the victim. Pamphlets or books on DV can be great places to start, and you can also offer to keep these for them so they don't get "caught" with this information by the abuser. Offer to keep copies of important records or documents and a bag of clothes at your house so when the victim chooses to leave, they can do so knowing they have copies of important paperwork and enough clothes for a few days if they need to leave their home quickly. Find local DV support groups or a counselor that specializes in DV, offer to drive them or babysit so they can attend. Offer this information and then let it be. The victim may deny the abuse at first or down play once they feel like they are being put into a position of having to take some action for themselves, and know this is very conflicting and can be scary for the victim to accept all this. But if you aren't pushy or disappointed in their acceptance of this help right away, they will trust you and go to you when you are ready. Keeping these items and offering this information does not make you responsible for their choices, it only makes it available. The victim needs to be encouraged to put their control back in their hands. A supportive role is just that, find ways that you can support but the victim has to do the work and make their own decisions. Remember when a victim does leave her abuser this is the most dangerous time. If the abuser knows where you live and knows you are helping may not feel comfortable with the victim at your house and this is OK. Make this clear from the beginning too. Let the victim know the ways you are willing to help, that you will help him/her find a hotel room or shelter and will bring items or give them a ride to a safer location. This is all "Safety Planning" and a victim of abuse needs to safety plan in order to get out of the relationship. If children are involved it's important to talk about safety planning with them too; where can they go if things get out of control? Is there a safe neighbor or teacher at school? Talk to the parent about their making a safety plan with/for their children.
Other ways to help in the community: you can try to volunteer at a local shelter or crisis line. Keep in mind 40 hours of training is needed before you can volunteer. You can find out about these opportunities by calling your local shelter or crisis line. Other ways to help are to supply much needed items to those who have recently left an abusive relationship. At the shelter what we needed most were bus passes and bus tickets. This, hands down, was our most needed item. Other ways to help are gift certificates to places like Target where they can get most anything, clothing, diapers, tampons. Most people that end up in a DV shelter have nothing, no job, no car, no savings. So the goal at the shelter as an advocate are to get started on acquiring these things so victims can go on to be independent.
If you yourself find that you are in an abusive relationship, first learn to accept that you are never at blame for violent actions towards you, again this includes putdowns, threats, isolation, sexual abuse, and of course, physical violence. Call a hotline and start taking steps to gain your freedom and independence. Crisis line workers can help you make a Safety Plan. Love has nothing to do with being abused and someone who has a true capability for loving you will not hurt you.
National Domestic Violence Crisis Line: 1.800.799.SAFE
Here is a link for a SAFETY PLAN
Susan G Komen for the Cure