Content warning: domestic and sexual violence
For many people, October is the month of Halloween and the beginning of fall, but it’s also National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Whether or not domestic violence awareness is personal to you, October is a great time to learn more about this pervasive issue and immerse yourself in the conversation about what domestic violence means, how we can work against it and how we can educate others.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, domestic violence is “the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another.” This definition reveals how many dimensions there are to the meaning of domestic violence — though intimate partner violence is often primarily thought of as physical, there are many elements that can make a relationship abusive. While having conversations about domestic violence can be difficult, educating yourself and others can make a huge difference in your community. Read on to learn more about how you can spread awareness of domestic violence.
If you have the means, donating to shelters and organizations that provide services for survivors of domestic violence can be a great way to make a tangible difference in your community. Many survivors of violence decide to leave abusive households, so they may be lacking shelter and income to support themselves. Monetary donations to keep shelter facilities running and donations of goods such as clothes and food can make a huge difference in the lives of survivors and their families. There are many shelters to choose from, so do your research. One shelter I have experience working with is Ruby’s Place, a shelter that supports women, men, children and nonbinary folks in finding temporary and permanent housing, counseling and child care. Take some time to find a service that is important to you, and reach out to see how you can help.
Even if you don’t think anyone you know would need services relating to domestic violence, sharing information about resources could help someone who is struggling. For Berkeley locals and campus students, organizations such as Bay Area Women Against Rape (510-845-7273), the Family Violence Law Center (800-947-8301) and the Gender Equity Resource Center (510-642-4786) can provide important resources. UC Berkeley students also have access to the PATH to Care Center’s services, as well as its Care Line (510-643-2005). There are also several national phone lines, such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-7233) and text services such as Love is Respect (text “loveis” to 22522). Spreading awareness of these resources can help struggling individuals understand what kinds of options and services they have access to.
Warning signs and things to keep in mind
Though all relationships are different, signs of an unhealthy relationship include jealousy, manipulation, isolation, possessiveness and control. This isn’t to say that the presence of any of those signs automatically means a relationship is definitively abusive; these are factors and qualities that sometimes indicate a relationship is unsafe. Knowing signs of an unhealthy relationship can prepare you to recognize whether a relationship could be potentially dangerous, both for you and others.
An important thing to keep in mind is how often we idolize relationships in movies, TV and social media. Just because a relationship looks perfect doesn’t mean it is. Affirming someone’s relationship based on glamorous social media posts without considering the reality of any relationship can be extremely damaging. Furthermore, all those relationships in cheesy TV shows that portray the toxic cycle of breaking up and making up aren’t good examples of healthy relationships.
Additionally, domestic violence isn’t limited to the binary. Don’t assume that abuse is only found in cisgender, heterosexual relationships or that men always perpetrate abuse against women. Also, be mindful of the language you use. Consider using the term “survivor” rather than “victim” when referring to someone who has experienced abuse in order to not put them in a box or re-traumatize them. That being said, do your best to work with their preferences in your use of language.
Learn how to respond to someone who confides in you
Though it’s important to learn signs of domestic violence, confronting a friend whom you perceive to be in a toxic relationship is not always the right option. In a relationship in which the survivor of violence is used to being stripped of their power, it’s important to assure them of their autonomy, even if you’re trying to help. Regardless of whether you approach someone or they confide in you, get consent before attempting to assist them; this is as simple as asking if they are comfortable with you helping them. Just because they confided in you doesn’t mean they want your opinion on what to do, and it doesn’t mean they’re ready to move forward with leaving their abuser or reporting the violence. They may be struggling to leave their abuser because they depend on them financially, they deny that the abuse is happening, they blame themselves, there are language or cultural barriers or even because they love their abuser. Don’t force them to break up with their abuser or blame them for not wanting to report. Validate their feelings and experiences, ask how you can best support them and above all listen and assure them that you support them and believe them. Offer them resources if appropriate, but don’t pressure them to use those resources.
Options for survivors of abuse
If you or a friend do want to move forward with options, know that there are many ways to move forward. You can choose to report the abuse to local or campus police or obtain a restraining order. You can make a plan to leave the abuser, and that can involve staying with trusted friends or family or seeking services at a shelter. You also can seek a guidance counselor, therapist or support group. Many agencies and organizations, such as the PATH to Care Center, have services that clearly outline many different options for survivors. Calling an emergency helpline is also always an option.
Though domestic violence can be hard to talk about, spreading awareness can be more than worthwhile. That being said, if these topics harm your mental health, don’t pressure yourself to have these conversations or to spread awareness. Take care of yourself to the best extent possible as you help educate others.
Contact Elysa Dombro at [email protected].