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October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Since 1981, October has been National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The month calls us to reflect on somber statistics: 10 million people a year are physically abused by an intimate partner; 20,000 calls are placed a day to domestic violence hotlines; and there were 496 gun related domestic fatalities this year alone, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV).

In Connecticut, organizations like the Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Domestic Violence Crisis Center in Stamford work to lead Connecticut’s response to domestic violence through avenues including public awareness, policy, and advocacy and provide direct services for survivors.

Domestic violence agencies also assist victims in crisis by providing safe house sheltering, safety plans, counseling, advocacy with the police and emergency legal information.

The Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV) reports that there were 32,744 crisis services cases statewide in 2017 and a 9% increase in Lethality Assessment Screenings by law enforcement. There is a 27% increase in domestic violence crisis services over the last decade, and 15% over the last five years. Domestic violence in Connecticut has increased and more women are coming forward for help, CCADV reports.

Part of the work that will help bring domestic violence to light while supporting all survivors of inter relational abuse is recognizing how widespread it is. This will help to create an environment where survivors feel more open to speaking out in the way that survivors of sexual assault have been. When the #MeToo movement, which was founded by Tarana Burke, gained global attention over the past year, many survivors felt empowered and supported in telling others about their experience.

In a New York Times article titled “Domestic Violence Hasn’t Caught Up With #MeToo. Here’s Why,” NCADV Chief Executive and President Ruth M. Glenn said that the #SurvivorSpeaks hashtag that the coalition created did not spread the way #MeToo did. 

Glenn said that there is a strong stigma around domestic violence, including many people's immediate reaction of, “Why don’t you just leave?” This form of victim blaming adds to domestic violence survivors’ decision to stay silent about their abuse. Ebony Johnson, the founder of the Next Chapter Corporation, a support group that works with survivors of sexual and domestic violence in Maryland and Washington, D.C., said in the Times article that #MeToo has the added empowerment of strength in numbers.

The New York Times article states that in most instances of assault, it takes multiple women coming forward for a man to be held accountable, if he is even held accountable at all.

While millions of people have experienced domestic violence, Johnson said that that’s difficult to replicate holding people accountable in cases of domestic violence, because in most instances there is one victim experiencing abuse in an isolated relationship. This person is also unlikely to be aware of any past abuse, Johnson said.

None of this is to discredit the #MeToo movement, which is an embodiment of accountability that has taken far too long to reach mainstream society. It is overdue for the same energy and inclusiveness that is being received by many people towards the #MeToo movement to gain traction with hashtags such as #WhyIStayed and #SurvivorsSpeak.

Chief Executive of the National Domestic Violence Hotline Katie Ray-Jones told the New York Times that she thinks the #MeToo movement is part of the reason that this year, the hotline and its youth outreach effort have experienced a 30 percent increase in calls, texts, and chats compared to last year.

Ray-Jones said that she believes that domestic violence victims identify with the national conversation, but may feel more comfortable speaking in confidentiality rather than sharing publicly on social media.

Acknowledging that one in four women and one in seven men have experienced severe physical abuse by a partner and giving them the platform and support to raise their voices is a way to stand with survivors and hold abusers accountable.

During Domestic Violence Awareness month, consider donating to organizations that work to end domestic violence while providing resources for survivors. The NCADV, for example, collaborates with other national organizations to promote legislation and policies that serve and protect survivors of domestic violence while working to change the narrative surrounding domestic violence. It also helps to provide direct services to survivors.

There will always be victim blamers, but creating a more inclusive and safe environment for all survivors of domestic violence is a step in the right direction as a society.

When someone tells us #WhyIStayed, it is our job to pay attention and become more informed, not to stigmatize or blame them. When someone says #SurvivorsSpeak; listen.

By Megan Krementowski at 22 Oct 2018, 13:36 PM



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