Oct. 1 marked the 21st Domestic Violence Awareness Month I have observed in my tenure as the executive director of the Centre County Women’s Resource Center, now known as Centre Safe. Twenty-one years of remembering those who have died as a result of domestic violence; 21 years of celebrating the courage of survivors to build new lives; 21 years of helping the community learn the realities of domestic and sexual violence; 21 years of trying to work myself out of a job.
But as the Talmud says, “you are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it,” so in spite of the fact that the work of empowering survivors and eliminating violence is not yet complete, we continue it.
While certainly not complete, much has changed in the ways we approach the work on behalf of survivors of domestic and sexual violence. We have learned that the only way to make lasting change in communities is to work together — victim services, law enforcement, the judicial system, health care providers, workplaces and schools.
A holistic and collaborative approach creates multiple points of access to those systems which can provide support to victims of domestic and sexual violence. A holistic and collaborative approach takes seriously the reality that relationship and sexual violence occur in a variety of settings and require a coordinated community response to address adequately. Perhaps as importantly, a collaborative approach signals to victims that help will be available whenever and wherever they seek it.
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We have learned that domestic and sexual violence are less about a specific gender than they are about who has power in our society and who chooses to use it to impose their will on another. So while it continues to be true that the majority of victims of domestic and sexual violence are women and the majority of perpetrators are men, this is not true in all circumstances.
Men do experience both sexual and domestic violence — and the numbers of men sexually abused as children is approximately one in six, much more significant than the numbers seeking services might indicate. This is, in part, why the CCWRC made the decision to change our name to Centre Safe. Our mission, to serve all victims of sexual and relationship violence and to work toward the elimination of all forms of violence, has always included men and women, adults and children. And now our name reflects the inclusivity of our mission.
We also have learned over time that this journey often moves two steps forward then one step back. We have seen that those who blame victims of violence for their own victimization will become louder and more strident as the society begins to understand the realities of domestic and sexual violence and says to victims, “We believe you” and “You are not alone.”
But in spite of the occasional set back, or the times when it appears that nothing has been learned in the past 20 years, we continue the work to empower survivors and eliminate violence. We do this because we know, in the words of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.”
So in this Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we will remember victims and honor survivors with hope and with a renewed commitment to continue the work that victims, survivors, and our community need us to do.