This month is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. At a time when domestic violence facts are shocking -- 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, among other distressing statistics put out by the Domestic Violence Resource Center -- and many insurers are excluding domestic violence as a pre-existing condition, understanding domestic violence is crucial. Domestic violence is on the rise despite the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (co-sponsored by then Senator Biden).
On October 1, President Obama issued a proclamation (included in its entirety at the end of this article) for National Domestic Awareness Month 2009
Initiatives such as Violence UnSilenced -- with its mission to shed light on the epidemic of domestic violence and sexual assault by providing online space for survivors and victims to connect, reach out and help one another as well as guidance for how to get help -- are important efforts to give women a voice, help them feel less alone, and get safe access to help and support.
Maggie, the founder and moderator of the Violence UnSilenced project, offered some insight and perspective in an interview about domestic violence and the awareness month.
Domestic violence reports are increasing. Do you think more women are feeling more empowered to report, thanks to the courage of projects like yours?
I firmly believe in the power of speaking out, in calling domestic violence what it is. Adequate funding and effective advocacy programs are critical, yes, but I truly believe each one of us has a mandate to empower survivors by stripping abusers of their favorite weapons: secrecy and shame. I believe we can do this by talking about it constantly. Normalizing it. Really listening to and supporting those who speak out.
Do you also worry that the culture of anxiety and the recession have created an atmosphere where domestic violence is more likely?
Reporters need to name domestic violence for what it is; they need to use those words--that's part of what will help people understand how brutally common domestic violence is. "Murder-Suicide" is probably my biggest pet peeve when it comes to DV reporting. It makes it sound like what happened was a weird, isolated incident when in reality, it's almost always the final result of a longtime cycle of emotional or physical abuse. Abused women are six times more likely to be killed while they are leaving their abusers, or afterward. Not during the relationship.
So, while the current economy may indeed be creating more volitile homefronts that potentially foster abuse, it's important to remember that these situations are all around you all the time, regardless. One in four women will be a victim of domestic violence in her lifetime.
Also--and very few people realize this--advocates tell me they wish every newspaper/magazine/online article on a DV situation had the National Domestic Violence hotline printed on it, because many abusers use those articles to further terrorize their victims. They will post clippings of articles like that on their parter's refrigerator, in his/her mailbox, on the windshield--all to drive home a message that if they speak out, the same thing could/will happen to them. If articles called it what it was, and if they posted information for help, it's hard to imagine abusers would still use them in that way.
What do you think are important steps people need to take to control anger and avoid violence, or the most important thing for women to consider if they find themselves in a violent situation?
The thing is, it's not up to the abused person to take control, to avoid anything, to "walk on eggshells" if you will; the onus needs to be on the abuser. For too many years we have put too much responsibility and blame on the victim (ie "Why doesn't she just leave?") when we really need to focus on the abuser. He should leave. He should have to figure it out.
It's not like an abuser walks up to a woman on the first date and punches her in the face. These things develop slowly, insidiously, gradually, and often after a very romantic, intense courtship. Women aren't stupid for finding themselves in these relationships. They are not to blame.
We need a society that calls out abusers, that calls domestic violence what it is, that isn't ashamed to talk about it and support survivors. Little boys and little girls need to know from the start that violence in a relationship is unacceptable. We need to keep the conversation alive every month of the year, not just October. We are the ones who perpetuate a culture of silence and shame, and we are the ones who can reverse it.
Violence UnSilenced runs regular, true stories from real women about their stories, and Maggie encourages people to visit the site and leave supportive comments for each story.
For women visiting the site, it offers a quick click get away and this helpful warning, "Computer use can be monitored and is impossible to completely clear. If you are in danger, please use a safer computer, call your local hotline, and/or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. Click here to learn how to erase your computer's browsing history."
If you are in need, or know someone who is, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.
President Obama's proclamation:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release October 1, 2009
NATIONAL DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AWARENESS MONTH, 2009
- - - - - - -
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Domestic violence touches the lives of Americans of all
ages, leaving a devastating impact on women, men, and children
of every background and circumstance. A family's home becomes
a place of fear, hopelessness, and desperation when a woman is
battered by her partner, a child witnesses the abuse of a loved
one, or a senior is victimized by family members. Since the 1994
passage of the landmark Violence Against Women Act, championed by
then Senator Joe Biden, our Nation has strengthened its response
to this crime and increased services for victims. Still, far too
many women and families in this country and around the world are
affected by domestic violence. During National Domestic Violence
Awareness Month, we recommit ourselves to ending violence within
our homes, our communities, and our country.
To effectively respond to domestic violence, we must provide
assistance and support that meets the immediate needs of victims.
Facing social isolation, victims can find it difficult to protect
themselves and their children. They require safe shelter and
housing, medical care, access to justice, culturally specific
services, and economic opportunity. The Family Violence
Prevention and Services Act supports emergency shelters, crisis
intervention programs, and community education about domestic
In the best of economic times, victims worry about finding a
job and housing, and providing for their children; these problems
only intensify during periods of financial stress. That is why
the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provides $325 million
for the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and the Victims of
Crime Act (VOCA). This funding will supplement the Federal VAWA
and VOCA dollars that flow to communities every year, and enable
States, local governments, tribes, and victim service providers
to retain and hire personnel that can serve victims and hold
offenders accountable. These funds will also bring relief to
victims seeking a safe place to live for themselves and their
Victims of violence often suffer in silence, not knowing
where to turn, with little or no guidance and support. Sadly,
this tragedy does not just affect adults. Even when children
are not directly injured by violence, exposure to violence in
the home can contribute to behavioral, social, and emotional
problems. High school students who report having experienced
physical violence in a dating relationship are more likely to
use drugs and alcohol, are at greater risk of suicide, and may
carry patterns of abuse into future relationships. Our efforts
to address domestic violence must include these young victims.
During this month, we rededicate ourselves to breaking the
cycle of violence. By providing young people with education
about healthy relationships, and by changing attitudes that
support violence, we recognize that domestic violence can be
prevented. We must build the capacity of our Nation's victim
service providers to reach and serve those in need. We urge
community leaders to raise awareness and bring attention to
this quiet crisis. And across America, we encourage victims and
their families to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at
1-800-799-SAFE. Together, we must ensure that, in America, no
victim of domestic violence ever struggles alone.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the
United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested
in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States,
do hereby proclaim October 2009, as National Domestic Violence
Awareness Month. I ask all Americans to do their part to
end domestic violence in this country by supporting their
communities' efforts to assist victims in finding the help
and healing they need.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this
first day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine,
and of the Independence of the United States of America the
two hundred and thirty-fourth.
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