Domestic violence has been on the nation’s consciousness for the past five decades for good reason. More than one in three women (35.6%) and more than one in four men (28.5%) in the U.S. report having experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Nearly three out of four Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence. Domestic violence costs an estimated $8.3 billion annually in medical care, mental health services and lost productivity on the job. Women, men and children living with domestic violence suffer higher rates of physical injuries, chronic health problems, depression, PTSD, attempted suicide, substance abuse, behavior problems for children and homelessness.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and is used to rally communities to come together around tackling the issue. Although domestic violence and abuse often happen behind closed doors, local and national nonprofits have heroically brought the issue to light and launched programs to reverse these trends. In fact, between 1993 and 2010, the overall rate of domestic violence dropped nearly two-thirds and laws have been passed to address issues such as dating abuse in the workplace, stalking and employment discrimination.
But, as the times change, the movement continues to fight new threats, such as online abuse. To that end, Futures Without Violence, in partnership with the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women and the Advertising Council, launched a public service announcement called “That’s Not Cool” aimed at starting the conversation about dating violence and abuse earlier – with teens – and covering topics such as digital dating abuse. Watch the video or take the Cool/Not Cool quiz to learn more.
We know that domestic violence affects people of all ages from all races and socio-economic levels. With an estimated 20 to 30 percent of women experiencing domestic abuse (defined as a pattern of coercive, controlling behavior that is a pervasive life-threatening crime) in their lifetime, it is likely that victims, survivors and even batterers are among those we see every day. Abuse takes many forms: physical, emotional, economic, spiritual, stalking and harassment, and sexual. To support an end to domestic violence and abuse, we must employ a variety of techniques and follow the research. Here are a few examples:
Stopping Batterers’ Abuse
Why Abuse? Portrayals of domestic violence too often ask, “Why didn’t the victim just leave?” when we should be asking, “Why did the batterer abuse?” Unlike what is often said in the media, ending domestic violence is not simply a matter of anger management.
The causes of domestic violence are rooted in cultural, social, economic and psychological factors that affect a batterer’s perception of control, gender roles, belief systems, appropriate responses to emotions and more. There is also research connecting domestic violence and child abuse and domestic violence and mass shootings.
What Can We Do? Battery is learned, not innate, and can be changed, if not after the fact, before. The prevailing strategy for addressing violence after the fact is the Batterer Intervention Program (BIP). However, it has achieved only mixed success because it attempts to change the ingrained behaviors of batterers after they have already perpetrated violence. Prevention is key in ending domestic violence and abuse. A CALL TO MEN, an internationally renowned nonprofit, offers training and education for boys and men to help them develop a healthy, respectful manhood and to shift attitudes and behaviors that devalue women and girls. Their programs have shown promise in helping identify and address the behaviors that lead to violence and abuse.
To stop violence and abuse, we must also address systemic and legal issues that allow batterers to continue their abusive behavior. For example, the mass shooter who gunned down 26 people at a Texas church in March 2019 had been released from his military duties for assaulting his wife and child, but the local jurisdiction was not informed of the risk to properly take action to protect his family or the community. Through cross-jurisdictional efforts, this loophole was eliminated by the passage of legislation that makes domestic violence a separate crime under military law.
Empowering Victims of Abuse
#WhyIStayed/#WhyILeft When domestic violence survivor and writer Beverly Gooden started the campaign #WhyIStayed in 2014, she changed the tone of the national conversation around why victims stay in abusive relationships. Now, with a joint hashtag #WhyILeft, stories from the campaign shed light on the lack of social support or heavy financial obligations that compel victims to stay. The campaign has brought forth many stories of how batterers isolate their partners from their family and friends and deny them access to bank accounts so they develop dependency. Our response to ensure the safety of all requires that we believe and support all victims.
What Can We Do? In the U.S., our system for supporting survivors is much more developed than our system to prevent violence and abuse. Best practices to support victims of domestic abuse have been developed in crisis intervention, advocacy, safe homes, shelters, counseling, case management and children’s programming. In combination, these services start to address why victims stay by developing networks to help them get to safety and become self-sufficient.
This month, we invite you to do #1Thing to turn our “awareness+action=social change.” And we ask you that you share your wisdom with us on domestic violence and abuse initiatives that have worked in your community. We hope this issue moves from behind closed doors to a movement that inspires us to action, where what happens to one of us happens to all of us.