October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM). If you do some research on domestic violence, (also referred to as domestic abuse or family violence) you are going to find that there is a little bit of variation in the ways it’s defined. Overall, domestic violence is commonly understood as a pattern of a person trying to dominate or control another, typically occurring within a household. Domestic violence is an umbrella term for many categories of abuse, some of the main ones being physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, and economic abuse (Source). Domestic violence impacts everyone’s lives, whether this impact is direct or indirect. When a child is exposed to any form of domestic violence, they are direct victims of that violence.
The topic of domestic violence has long needed more of our attention, effort, and resources. This need has heightened even more over the past two years. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the impact domestic violence has on our communities. The Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV) reported that in Indiana, between June 2020 and July 2021, domestic violence-related 911 calls increased by 87% and domestic violence-related homicides increased by 181% (Source).
As domestic violence has steeply trended upwards, our capacity to provide resources and support has not increased. The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) compiles annual reports by collecting data from domestic violence programs within each state. In Indiana, in 2019, out of the people who requested housing or emergency shelter services on a single day, 120 of them were turned away due to a lack of resources (Source). In 2021, only two years later, this number more than tripled, with approximately 393 people being turned away in a single day (Source).
To create positive change, we must increase the protective factors for our youth, which includes ending the stigma surrounding domestic violence. The ICADV is utilizing its campaign #InAgainstDA to address the shame, stigma, and judgment that surrounds experiences of domestic abuse and violence. This campaign lifts the voices of survivors who have shared “that they felt judged for being victims, for being poor, and for being perceived as a bad parent,” and “that these experiences of judgment made them feel helpless, angry, isolated, and even responsible for their own experiences of abuse” (Source). Domestic violence inflicts trauma and tears lives apart. This is why lowering the stigma attached to domestic violence can be such a challenging task. How can you decrease the stigma around something so horrible? We can do so with small and intentional steps.
So, what can each of us do to decrease the stigma?
We can point out and correct the judgments that are placed on others. Whether this judgment is in your mind, in a friend’s dialogue, on your television, or structured into policies. How, when, and if you speak of domestic violence is processed by the developing minds around you.
We can recognize that there is not a “one-size fits all” solution. Victims are often expected to follow the steps of ending the relationship, relying on housing services, and looking to law enforcement for safety. This process does not work for everyone, which means that assuming or teaching that it does work for everyone can make victims feel even more isolated when they know it will likely not work for them. The National Domestic Violence Hotline put together a list of 50 Obstacles to Leaving that are helpful in understanding why leaving is a complex and challenging process.
We can shift our view of domestic violence perpetrators. It can feel wrong to empathize with someone who has caused pain, as if we are minimizing the harm they have done. This does not have to be the case. The two following statements can be true at the same time: (1) A perpetrator of domestic violence is the only person responsible for their inexcusable actions. (2) Perpetrators of domestic violence are deserving of safe spaces to be open about their mental health and professional support in their efforts to change. If perpetrators or possible perpetrators could choose for themselves to seek help and receive mental health care, then we would take leaps forward in interrupting the cycle of abuse. Keep in mind, it is not, nor should it be a victim’s role to provide any form of support to their abuser.
At PATH it is our mission to equip, empower, and encourage teens to make healthy choices. Healthy choices are increasingly difficult to make when an individual feels the effects of stigmatization. Small steps taken to end the stigma surrounding domestic violence can be the difference between our youth reaching out or isolating themselves when support is dire.
- Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence 24-Hour Statewide Hotline: 800-332-7385
- Indiana Resources for DV Victims: https://icadvinc.org/domestic-violence-programs/
- IN Resources for Potential/Current DV Perpetrators: https://icadvinc.org/batterers-intervention-programs/
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233 – TTY 800-787-3224 – http://www.thehotline.org/
- National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-4673 – https://www.rainn.org/ *24/7 Live Chat*