As a pastor, spiritual advisor, and member of both our NewChurch community and our local community, becoming aware of and learning about the issues that impact both individual members of our community and our community as a whole is an essential part of my role and life. For that reason, it’s especially important to me that we recognize and honor October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
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What is Domestic Violence Awareness Month?
Much like our own community goal, one goal of Domestic Violence Awareness Month is to join people together and unify them. The month helps gather together the individuals, communities, and organizations who all work on issues related to domestic violence and provides education and resources for those who need more information or help. The final goal is to make more individuals aware of domestic violence and how it may be impacting their community or people in their lives.
One of the ways we’re helping to draw attention to this issue, in addition to this blog, is through our podcast. We took time to explore the topic of domestic violence and look at healthy vs. unhealthy relationships, and how people may find themselves in one of those situations. We have the honor of discussing the topic with one of our very own community members, a survivor of domestic violence.
Why is Domestic Violence Awareness Month Needed?
More than ⅓ of all women and ¼ of all men have experienced domestic violence. That’s a pretty stunning statistic and means, for many of us, someone in our lives is impacted by this violent crime.
Further, 15% of all violent crime occurs in an intimate relationship and while there’s a lot of media and other focus on violent crime elsewhere, domestic violence is often discussed less with many people reluctant to even talk about it for fear that it involves them in someone else’s personal relationships.
Sadly, one sign of domestic violence and tactic of domestic abusers is isolating the victim. In short, we are first reluctant to discuss difficult topics, but we are also worried about either escalating violence or getting too deeply involved, and it is difficult for the victim to seek help and connection. Domestic Violence Awareness Month seeks to assist in all of those areas.
It’s about more than just our communities or those currently surviving through domestic abuse. Through education and awareness, individuals and communities can learn the signs and learn the best ways to protect themselves while also offering support and help for victims. Through community events and discussions as well as the month-long focus on the topic, victims may be able to see a support network when they feared there was none and identify community organizations and individuals who can help.
What is Domestic Violence?
One of the first places we need to start as both community leaders and members is understanding that domestic violence takes many shapes. For many, there’s a false assumption that domestic violence is always physical and, often, visible. Unfortunately, neither of these is true.
Domestic violence is any repeated behavior that seeks to exert power or control over one person in the relationship. Those behaviors may be physical, psychological, emotional, sexual, or even economic. Further, domestic violence may include any or all of the above behaviors. It can include physical attacks, verbal abuse, stalking, rape, and other methods of controlling or limiting a person’s freedoms.
Who is Impacted by Domestic Violence
One of the primary challenges regarding domestic violence and those working to reduce its occurrence is the myths regarding who is impacted by it. There are so many myths that only serve to protect our own sense of security and, often, ensure our silence. Afterall, that can’t possibly be what’s happening in our community.
However, domestic violence is not limited to any sex, gender, socioeconomic class, race, or community. Domestic violence doesn’t impact just one demographic nor do demographics protect anyone.
It’s also incredibly important to understand that the impact of domestic violence stretches well beyond the victim. In cases where there are children, extended family, or others in the home, they are also traumatized. Friends, acquaintances and coworkers may also in fact, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, “Domestic violence is linked to immediate and long-term health, social, and economic consequences, not only for the victims but for anyone who witnesses it.”
Finally, the entire community is impacted in a cascading series of potential consequences that may end with demands on law enforcement and other social services. There are financial, psychological, and emotional tolls on everyone in the community.
How Can a Community Help Reduce Domestic Violence
Because domestic violence is a whole community issue, and because one of the most dangerous aspects of these situations is the isolation a victim feels, understanding the role we can play to help decrease violence in our community is crucial.
One of the biggest and best things we can do is to support the organizations and agencies that provide support to victims. That means making ourselves aware of the realities of domestic violence in our own communities and lifting up the voices that support all victims and their families. The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence has identified the following community initiatives to help reduce domestic violence and abuse:
- Community education
- Creating support networks through social programming
- Building a coalition among stakeholders to stimulate prevention efforts
- Creating events and organizations to challenge violence, at all levels, in our communities
- Empowering individuals to safely challenge societal norms regarding violence
- Advocating for accountability throughout our communities
- Nurturing grassroots community leadership to enhance long-term violence prevention efforts
As a community, both locally and virtual, NewChurch Live is invested in ensuring we can help promote these ideas and ideals as we hope to create healthier, happier individuals, families, and communities.
How You Can Help a Friend Through Domestic Violence
Witnessing a friend experiencing domestic violence can be difficult and scary. Not only are you concerned with protecting your friend, but protecting yourself is also, for most, a major fear. However, there are still quite a few things you can do to help.
The Office of Women’s Health notes that one of the first things you can do is learn to recognize signals and signs of abuse. Should you believe a friend is being abused, the best thing you can do is remain open and non-judgmental. It is okay to express that you are concerned about their safety or well-being as that may open up the door to a conversation. However, it also means listening to be supportive, not necessarily to judge, blame, or even step in and help unless your friend asks specifically for help. Additionally, suggesting someone “just leave” may also be dangerous, so connecting them with local resources, like the ones at the end of this blog, is advisable.
And what might that help look like? It may be:
- Offering to help with children or pets
- Providing transportation
- Assisting with the creation of a safety plan
- Connecting your friend with community resources
- Encourage your friend to connect with domestic violence counselors
- Help them maintain social connections
- Listening, regardless of the way the victim feels, and being supportive
The hardest part of being a support network is listening without judgment. Your friend is experiencing a lot of difficult and confusing feelings, some of which may be contradictory. As those feelings get sorted out and as your friend navigates through this tough situation, your support and ability to listen without blaming or judging is the most important gift you can give.
What to Do If You’re a Victim of Domestic Violence
The most important thing to do, if you are a victim of domestic violence, is to understand that there are no circumstances that make your being in danger physically, emotionally, psychologically, or economically okay. Being compassionate with yourself is extremely important to your survival, your healing, and your path to self-forgiveness. Next, reach out to local or national support. Most reputable organizations are keenly aware of the risk you may be facing by simply reaching out and are prepared to help you navigate that.
Further, no reputable organization is going to force you to do something you are not ready to do. When dealing with abusers, there are a lot of behaviors that are inherently risky, support organizations and networks are prepared to help you navigate and mitigate those risks. The first step, however, is reaching out to a trusted partner, whether it’s a friend, a family member, a pastor, or a domestic violence organization.
If you are in immediate danger, you should call 911. If you are seeking help, the national hotline is anonymous and confidential. The National Domestic Violence Hotline number is 800-799-7233. They can provide counseling and support across the country.
The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence can help you find local support here.
Domestic Shelters can help you find a local shelter and provide additional resources. Additional national and local resources include:
As part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it’s important that we raise awareness about the issue and urge you to watch a video interview with community member and domestic abuse survivor, Betty Lindberg. We would also like let our community, big and small, know that we are a resource and, if you need help for you or a friend, we are here for you. Much of what we do and achieve we do as a community, preventing domestic violence is something we can and should do together.