October was domestic violence awareness month, and our community responded by hosting a number of domestic-violence awareness events. As I worked on some of these events, I realized that many community members are unaware of what domestic violence really is. How can we be “aware” of something that we don’t fully understand? I challenge you to become “aware” that domestic violence affects many lives, directly and collaterally, every day.
Domestic violence can be described as behaviors used by one person in a relationship to control the other. Physical abuse is its most obvious form, but it can manifest itself through emotional, psychological or financial abuse. Domestic abuse is a staggeringly prevalent social problem. From 2000 to 2012 there were more than 1,320 domestic violence-related fatalities in Pennsylvania. Most of us have friends, family, neighbors and co-workers who are victims of domestic violence. Nearly 74 percent of Americans know someone who has been a victim of domestic violence.
Anybody can be a victim of domestic violence, and many people who experience it do not appear “victim-like.” My law professor has described some victims as wealthy professional women and strong, young men. Some victims are victim advocates themselves working in this field, feeling even more trapped and humiliated by finding themselves in the situation similar to those they strive to fight daily. Partners in abusive relationships can be married, separated or unmarried, living together or casually dating. Victims of domestic violence can be any age, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, income or education level. Men or women can be abused, although more than 85 percent of domestic violence survivors are women victimized by male partners.
One in three women in the United States is physically or sexually abused by a partner at some point in their lives. Factor in those victims of emotional or financial abuse, and it becomes clear that domestic violence touches the lives of a large part of our community.
So how can we help? How can we take our “awareness” of the prevalence of domestic violence in the lives of those around us and do something? Educating ourselves about the issue, recognizing that many of those around us may be victims, being open and nonjudgmental, and maybe even offering to help are huge steps.
Letting domestic violence victims know they are not alone and sharing resources with them is a crucial step to showing awareness of domestic violence. This alone helps victims feel safe and comfortable enough to reach out and get help.
While we all may not be able to directly relate to the issues victims of domestic violence face on a daily basis, being aware of the issue and being compassionate toward victims is a step in the right direction in helping domestic violence victims and survivors.
Post these resources at work, at your church and on your fridge:
• Centre County Women’s Resources Center, 814-234-5050
• MidPenn Legal Services, 814-238-4958
• National Domestic Violence Hotline, 800-799-7233
• Futures Without Violence, 415-250-8900
• The Legal Resource Center on Violence Against Women, 800-556-4053
• National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 303-839-1852