This October, for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, our emphasis has been about inspiring conversation about domestic violence and healthy relationships in our communities, including faith communities. This blog post originally appeared as a guest blog post for the Boston Faith and Justice Network.
- It happens. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 33% of women and 28% of men will experience some form of physical violence at the hands of a partner during their lifetime. Domestic Violence is an epidemic that thrives in silence and stigma. The more we talk about it, the more we diminish the stigma associated with it and make it easier for those experiencing it to tell someone.
- It happens everywhere. Domestic Violence isn’t a problem that’s limited to certain communities, ethnicities, or socioeconomic groups. It can and does happen in all types of communities, including our own.
- Abusers can be charming, respected, upstanding members of the community. The more survivors I get to know, whose stories I hear, a common thread emerges: their abuser had everyone else fooled. Abusers are master manipulators. No one starts dating a person who is outwardly cruel, harsh, and controlling from day one. Who would date such a person? Abusers start off by being engaging and charismatic, and usually remain so to the outside world. It’s often only behind closed doors that the Jekyll and Hyde phenomenon starts to emerge. And yet somehow this ‘monster myth’ persists – we all think we can spot an abuser at 20 paces.
- Abuse is more than just physical – and NONE of it is OK. My church (and hopefully many others in this day and age of heightened awareness) is pretty clear on the fact that physical abuse is unacceptable. But abuse is not just physical. It can be emotional, psychological, financial, and cultural. Does your partner call you names, put you down, or make you feel worthless? Do they control what you do, who you see, where you go, what you wear, or how you spend your money? Do they threaten you or make you feel afraid? These are important questions to ask, because they can uncover other types of abuse – the scars of which can sometimes last long after the physical marks have healed.
- You are not responsible for the behavior of others, no matter how you dress. This can be a tricky one for churches. What’s wrong with giving kids guidelines on how to dress to promote an environment of modesty? The problem is with the underlying messages that we send – messages that get internalized from a very young age. When we tell young girls that they have a responsibility to dress in such a way as to not ‘lead boys into sin,’ we convey that young men aren’t accountable for their own actions. If you carry this line of thinking to its conclusion, it’s not such a stretch to start blaming sexual assault on the way a woman was dressed, or to ask (whether out loud or just thinking it) what an abuse victim did to ‘provoke’ their abuser.
- We can prevent it. I’ll admit it: before coming to work for a DV agency, I probably considered domestic violence one of those scourges on society that we were basically just stuck with – something that would always be there and there wasn’t much we could do about it. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Strong community ties have been shown to be a preventative factor against domestic violence. So something as simple as getting to know your neighbors can be a step in the right direction. The way we talk to kids about relationships – all relationships – from a very young age can make a difference. “Surprises” instead of “secrets,” defining personal boundaries and teaching them it’s ok to say no, fostering openness and communication, learning to ask the right questions…all of these can promote healthy relationships in young people. We can learn to recognize warning signs, learn what to say to a friend who might be experiencing OR perpetrating violence (see #3), and be part of the changing of social norms that excuse abusive behavior or implicitly or explicitly victim-blame. It’s not inevitable.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I recently asked a group of survivors (members of our Survivor Speakers Bureau) why they thought we needed a whole month dedicated to DV awareness. One survivor summed it up especially well: “We need to make the world understand domestic violence is real. It can happen to someone close to you and you don’t even know about it, but if you are aware of a red flag you could save their life.”
I’d encourage you to be a part of this effort to just talk about domestic violence, and help us bring it out of the shadows. If you’d like to take this conversation to your faith community, your place of business, or your child’s school, REACH can help. Email our Director of Prevention Programs at email@example.com for more information.