Column: October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Most people know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but far fewer think of October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The first Domestic Violence Awareness Month was held in October 1987. The idea evolved from the first Day of Unity observed in October 1981 by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The intent was to connect domestic violence advocates across the nation working to end violence against women and their children. Congress passed the first Domestic Violence Awareness Month commemorative legislation in 1989 and every year since.

Why is it important to raise awareness about domestic violence? It is important because domestic violence is a social problem that affects all of us. It is in the best interest of an abuser that the rest of us to do absolutely nothing. Secrecy and silence are the abuser's best line of defense. If secrecy fails, a skilled abuser attacks the credibility of the victim using an impressive range of tactics. The methods used may seem believable when faced in isolation but with a supportive community environment it is more difficult for the rest of us to look the other way.

It is important because children and adults have the right to be safe in their homes. An abusive, controlling partner takes away that right from those that are closest and most vulnerable. Abusers are not easy to spot. In public, they may appear friendly and loving to their partner and family. They often only abuse behind closed doors. They create a family life that is guided by fear and where keeping secrets is the norm.

It is important because the women, men, and children who are being traumatized by domestic violence live and work in our community. They are the cashier who smiles at you and tells you to have a nice day. They are the co-worker you eat lunch with every day. They are your child's teacher. They are your family and friends. The people hurt by domestic violence are the people that we see every day.

Although there has been substantial progress in reducing domestic violence, there are still millions of Americans living in daily, silent fear within their own homes. Domestic violence happens in all kinds of families and relationships. Persons of every class, culture, religion, sexual orientation, marital status, age, and sex can be victims or perpetrators of domestic violence. Domestic violence does not always mean black eyes and broken arms. Usually the damage is much more subtle, often times unseen by others. It is constant criticism and harassment. It is control over household finances and isolation. It is painful and deliberate. The batterer will use emotional and psychological abuse as a means of control over the victim. When the batterer feels that this means of abuse is no longer effective, often they will turn to physical abuse as a threat to re-enforce the control the emotional abuse has.

There are many ways to show your support for victims and survivors of domestic violence not only during October but every month. For example, you can:

•Wear purple — the color of Domestic Violence Awareness Month — during the month of October and use this as a way to tell others why ending domestic violence is important to you.

•Cultivate a respectful attitude toward women in your family and at your workplace. Avoid behaviors that demean or control women.

•Learn about domestic violence services in your community. Contribute your time (volunteer), resources or money.

•Call the police if you see or hear violence in progress. Domestic violence is a crime, even when it occurs between people in a relationship or in the same family.

•When you are angry with your partner or children, respond without hurting or humiliating them. Model a nonviolent, respectful response to resolving conflicts in your family.

•Show your support for the survivors of domestic violence living in your community by attending the 14th Annual Project Hope Take Back the Night this Thursday. The event will be held at 6 p.m. at St. John's Episcopal Church in downtown West Point.

As a community, it is important that we understand the significant impact of domestic violence has on all of us. Perpetrators must be given a consistent message that violence in the home will not be tolerated. We all must stop turning a blind eye and act on the knowledge that the solution to the problem of domestic violence lies within the community as a whole. If you or someone you know has been hurt by domestic or sexual violence, call the Project Hope 24-Hour Confidential Hotline at 877-966-4357.

Show your support

Attend the 14th Annual Project Hope Take Back the Night on Thursday. The event will be held at 6 p.m. at St. John's Episcopal Church in downtown West Point.

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