All domestic violence survivors need to know that they are not alone, it is never their fault, and that we are here to help.
Throughout October, we observe Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which is an important time to raise awareness about the issue. It is also a time for us to share that peace is possible. Throughout this month, and beyond, I encourage you to reflect on the lives we have lost, and think about the ways we can honor them by preventing future abuse. Collectively, there are many things we can do to help promote a safe, healthy, and peaceful community.
At Sojourner, we believe that safety is a basic human and fundamental right. Everyone, all of us, should live in safety. Our bodies, our homes, our neighborhoods, our city, our state, and our country should be places of refuge. They should be places that build us up instead of tearing us down.
Unfortunately, many in our community are still suffering. Nationwide, one in four women will experience intimate partner violence in her lifetime. On average, an American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds, and one out of every 10 rape victims are male*.
Our community is still hurting. Violence in our homes creates vulnerability for our entire community. Domestic violence thrives when we are silent, but if we take a stand and work together, we can break the cycle of violence and isolation that many survivors in our community face.
It is imperative that we understand that domestic violence can happen to anyone. Domestic violence crosses all boundaries of culture, age, race, sex, education, and socioeconomic status. No one deserves to be abused, no matter what the circumstances.
I encourage us all to be cognizant of the warning signs that may be evidence that violence is happening in someone’s life. These can include frequent, unexplainable injuries, unusual absences from work/school, low self-esteem and/or a sense of powerlessness, personality changes, a fear of starting conflict, isolation from family/friends, and stress-related problems like poor sleep, stomach problems, and/or chronic headaches. It is important for those of us supporting someone who has been impacted by violence to be aware of our own feelings and experiences. Witnessing violence, and being powerless to change the situation, can be difficult and you must care for yourself as you are loving the person who has been hurt.
We must consciously create a culture of support for ourselves, our friends, family, and colleagues. The safer the environment, the more likely domestic violence survivors are to disclose their situations or seek support and assistance. When someone confides in you about an abusive situation, listen and believe them. Tell the survivor that violence is never okay and it is never their fault. Take the individual’s safety seriously, provide community resources, and respect the survivor’s story and their confidentiality. Encourage individuals to call 911 if the situation is urgent and life-threatening.
It does not help a survivor if you tell them to just leave the abuser, or to go back to an abuser and try harder. It does not help if you talk to the abusive partner about the situation, or lose patience if the survivor leaves an abusive relationship and then goes back to the abuser. It does not help a survivor feel safe if you do not take their story or situation seriously, or if you violate their confidentiality and share information with others.
When supporting someone, it is important to remember:
1) Victims often do not want the relationship to end; they want the violence to end
2) Let them know you are available to listen, and continue to ask and show concern.
Above all else, be sure to reiterate to any loved one who seeks assistance that you will not leave them alone in this situation. Get connected to a domestic violence agency in your area and education yourself about the resources that are available. Dealing with domestic violence is often complicated and several strategies are sometimes needed to achieve safety.
You do not have to advocate for someone’s safety on your own; Sojourner Family Peace Center is here to help you and help those who are experiencing domestic violence. If you, someone you know, or you yourself are hurting someone, please call our confidential, 24-Hour Domestic Violence Hotline at 414-933-2722. No survivor in our community should have to take the courageous step of leaving an abusive relationship without safety and support.
Together, we can transform our lives, our homes, our city, our state, and our country. We can be the hope we need.
* Statistics taken from RAINN at https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In observance, we are highlighting some of our agency program partners doing great work in this area. Check out our blog with Advocates of Ozaukee.