The headlines of the newspapers have chronicled the tragic and fatal domestic violence incident that happened in Ballston Spa last week. My heart and my prayers go out to the daughters who in an unfathomable instant lost both parents. May we grant them privacy and peace to grieve and hopefully find a way to heal.
A friend told me she had heard of the incident at the hairdresser, where customers who did not know the family were asking, “How could this happen? People must know … why didn’t anyone do something?” And that’s where this blog becomes not about this tragedy, but about the realities of domestic violence.
One in four women is victimized by domestic violence in her lifetime*, yet this abuse often happens behind closed doors. Many victims call our hotline and say, “I’ve never told anyone this is happening… not even my sister.” Or they may say, “A friend gave me your number, but I’m not sure I should be calling you. I’ve never been hit.” People live each day with intimidation, verbal and emotional abuse, psychological control, financial abuse, and physical abuse… live in fear in their own homes.
And this is where the problem gets perplexing. If abuse is wrong… if it’s illegal…why do we have this problem? And that’s where we get stuck. One reason is we’re not sure how to help. I know I’ve been in the situation in my personal life where I was wondering if a friend was in an abusive relationship, but didn’t know if I should ask or how I should ask. I’d never actually seen abuse, but I had that funny feeling in my stomach that something wasn’t right. What if my intuition was wrong? Should I wait for my friend to say something to me… after all we’re friends and share all kinds of fears, frustrations, concerns, joys whenever we’re together. Wouldn’t she say something to me? Why wouldn’t a close friend confide in me?
A survey done by Bellingham Whatcom County in Minnesota identified reasons victims of intimate partner violence don’t disclose to medical or service providers:
§ One half weren’t sure if what was happening to them qualifies as abuse; this is especially true when the abuse is emotional, psychological, financial, or isolation rather than physical. (Are you familiar with less visible forms of abuse? The Power and Control Wheel identifies various forms of abuse.)
§ Two thirds of domestic violence victims reported they think it’s best to manage the situation by themselves. Sometimes victims are afraid that if they tell someone, people who are trying to help may make the situation worse or they’ll be whisked away into a shelter and lose control over their decisions.
§ Half of the respondents would not disclose due to shame, guilt, or embarrassment. Indeed stigma is a common deterrent to getting help… and all of us can work to remove this obstacle.
I recall twenty years ago when breast cancer was something spoken about in hushed whispers and embarrassed survivors battled the illness quietly in solitude. Now during October the eggs I make my morning omelet with each weekend have pink ribbons stamped on them, there are community walks to raise funds and promote awareness, and neighbors rally to support those battling the illness. We can do the same for domestic violence. A crime that affects one in four women is not a personal issue to be ashamed of…. it is a community issue that impacts our society and can only end when we bring it out of the shadows… when we open those doors and work together to find solutions.
We need to make societal changes to end abuse… and we need to be there to help victims who are currently in abusive relationships. Help is available 24 hours a day… it’s free … it’s confidential. And we won’t whisk you away to a shelter against your will. We won’t make your decisions for you-- decisions about calling the police, using the courts, or even leaving the relationship. At DVRC, we help the person to identify needs and obstacles to safety… and help her/him to make choices to minimize the risk of future victimization. Indeed, giving victims information and the ability to choose is the first step in healing.
If you are a victim of domestic violence or you are concerned for a loved one:
You Are Not Alone…
there is help
Call our 24 hour hotline 518-584-8188
Upcoming blogs about domestic violence this week:
When to get help
How to offer support to a friend
*Males can also be victims of domestic violence in both heterosexual and same sex relationships. Male victims have the same fears and safety concerns, but may be even less likely to disclose due to shame, stigma, and fear that they won’t be believed. Thus while domestic violence is underreported, we can assume that male victims are even more underrepresented in public statistics. DVRC provides services to victims of domestic violence regardless of gender.