Twenty-seven years ago, October was designated Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) as a way to build public consciousness of a pervasive but hidden social problem. Every October, NYLAG and other advocates across the nation who work to end violence against women, rally to raise awareness through special events and community outreach. But this year, it feels different. The firestorm reaction to violent acts committed by NFL players and a federal judge, and the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, has kept domestic violence in the news – and in our conversations – for months now. I think that is a very good thing.
Domestic violence feeds on silence. Victims keep quiet and remain with their batterers for many reasons. Fear of retaliatory physical violence is certainly one of them, but there are others. Economic, psychological, emotional, and sexual abuse are often more subtle forms of control, but can dramatically affect a victim’s ability to break free. And despite the fact that witnessing domestic violence has a significant negative impact on children, many women stay with abusive partners for their kids’ sakes, determined to keep their families together at all costs. The #WhyIStayed hashtag, created after the Ray Rice video surfaced, provides many more pointed reasons from women who know firsthand.
So we begin DV Awareness Month with a head start. I propose that we keep the momentum going. Learn about domestic violence. Talk about it with your children – make sure they are educated too. Challenge your own preconceived notions – such as blaming the victim for staying, rather than blaming the abuser for abusing, or the systems that fail to hold him or her accountable. Be alert to the signs, both physical and behavioral, that can be red flags of an abusive relationship. If you are concerned that someone is being abused, ask. And if the answer is yes, provide emotional support, listen and show you care. Help her, or him, find safety and a chance at a life free of abuse. If you don’t know how to start, resources are available from the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence.
Domestic violence isn’t something that happens somewhere else. It lives right here, in our midst. It lives next door, in the office or the cubicle down the hall, among friends whose lives we think we know, and perhaps inside our own homes. Let’s make this the year we turn awareness into action.
Blog Post by Yisroel Schulman
President & Attorney-in-Charge