In recent weeks, a number of highly publicized stories have captured attention and inspired conversation about domestic violence: the passing of Whitney Houston, a reported victim of domestic violence during her 15 year marriage to Bobby Brown; the both disturbing and encouraging responses to Chris Brown’s return to Grammy glory three years after assaulting then-girlfriend Rihanna on the eve of a Grammy performance; the charges currently pending against one of San Francisco’s top public safety officers, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, of domestic violence battery, child endangerment, and dissuading a witness.
The good about these stories—and others—is that they’ve gotten people talking about a topic often seen as a private matter. The bad is that these stories represent a true epidemic. They represent millions of people around the world whose experiences of domestic violence don’t make headlines, or don’t get acknowledged at all. No one acknowledges that an estimated three women die per day just in the United States— murdered by an intimate partner (Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief, Intimate Partner Violence, 1993-2001, February 2003).
Domestic violence isn’t an isolated issue that occasionally surfaces in the tabloids. It isn’t specific to people of certain races, classes, educational or professional backgrounds, personality traits, or any other characteristics. The issue—often hidden—touches our mothers, sisters, daughters, friends, coworkers, neighbors… and not just the women in our lives. Domestic violence directly and indirectly harms our sons, brothers, fathers. It affects us all.
Those who choose to exert control over their partners—whether physical, emotional, financial, sexual—often blame their behavior on their partner. If their partner didn’t do x-y-z, they wouldn’t have to hurt her or him. They often threaten increased violence or retaliation if their partner leaves or tells anyone about the abuse. So it’s no wonder victims of domestic violence often feel ashamed, afraid, or unable to reach out for help or to report abuse.
But let’s focus on the good—the opportunity that this moment in time represents. We all have the opportunity to participate in creating a society where survivors feel safe coming forward and seeking help, where they hear loudly and clearly that abuse is never your fault. No one deserves to be hurt, so it’s time we stop asking what he or she did to provoke the abuse and instead say to survivors of domestic violence that we—as a community—have their backs.
How can we all be part of this necessary shift? First, we can keep talking about domestic violence. The shame and the hurt thrive when we allow domestic violence to be kept quiet, or when we avoid the topic because it’s uncomfortable, or because we think it’s none of our business. Within our families, friendships, spiritual and cultural organizations, and workplaces, we can show survivors that we’ve got their backs and help increase awareness by talking about what domestic violence is, how it affects people, and where people can seek help if they need it. The need for community dialogue and education is why organizations like La Casa de las Madres provide free workshops and educational sessions. This kind of dialogue also helps to prevent future violence, as people become better equipped to recognize it and seek help.
From dialogue to action, there is a place for each of us in the movement to end domestic violence. Local nonprofits serving survivors of domestic violence, like San Francisco’s La Casa de las Madres, need the community’s help and provide lots of opportunities for involvement. Perhaps it’s volunteering a few hours a week or month to answer calls for help from victims, or to care for children living in an emergency shelter. Or it could be participating in a group volunteering project with your family, workplace, or community group. Financial contributions are always needed help ensure the continued availability of life-saving services, and contributions of needed items—like toiletries and diapers—help meet the basic needs of families fleeing violence.
As a community, together we can create an environment where survivors feel supported and domestic violence is not tolerated.
La Casa de las Madres is a San Francisco-based nonprofit providing shelter and community-based support for victims and survivors of domestic violence of all ages—24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.