By LA-SHAWN HILL
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month — but, did you know that October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month?
On Oct. 25 at Best Western in Greenville, I attended a panel discussion held by Women In Need (WIN) of Greenville entitled “Even One Is Too Many.” Officiating over the event was W.I.N. Community Education Coordinator Michelle Lee. Participating on the discussion panel were professional advocates of domestic violence, a local law enforcement officer, and even an actual survivor of domestic violence. To say that I learned a lot from attending the event would be an understatement. First of all, I learned that domestic violence is no “respecter of persons.” It affects women and men of all ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.
The panel answered several questions coming from the audience, including why victims of domestic violence stay in their abusive relationships for so long. In response to this question, one of the advocates on the panel read a poem written by an actual domestic violence survivor entitled “Why Did You Stay So Long?”
The poem detailed the subtle transformation of a once-loving man into a “controlling” one ... a man who graduated over a dedicated period of time from mental and verbal abuse into finally physical abuse. And, it is this strong combination of all three kinds of abuse — mental, verbal, and physical — combined with the “personal shame” victims feel as well as the “negative stigma” associated with being a victim of domestic violence that keeps so many victims from leaving their “private hell” and getting help.
The survivor of domestic violence on the panel explained how it’s common for victims of domestic violence to have deep-seated feelings of “insecurity” about themselves. Victims are oftentimes so filled up with “negative self-talk” until they actually believe that they can do no better than the abuser.
Lee added to this theory by saying that the abused can actually develop an “addiction” to their abuser. She said that it’s hard for women, especially, to leave an abuser because they are “nurturers” by nature and may not want to see their abusers — many times, a “good father” to his children — brought to justice.
So, that brought us to the ultimate question: “How and why do victims finally leave their abusive relationship?” Once again, the survivor of domestic violence sitting on the panel jumped at the opportunity to answer this pivotal question. To paraphrase, she said that every victim has his or her own limit and that once they’ve had enough, they will eventually leave the abuser.
She also went on to say that unless the situation at home is life-threatening, then once a victim determines within their minds that they are going to leave then they need to “make an exit plan.” But if the situation does not allow time enough for making a getaway plan, then a victim needs to be prepared to “leave it all.” And while leaving the abuser may not be the most financially advantageous thing to do, “peace of mind” cannot be bought. Additionally, she said a victim needs to take advantage of friends, family, or any other resources that are available to the victim.
To give some statistics, Lee said that every nine seconds a woman is beaten in the United States. Some of these criminal offenses are reported to the police, but many aren’t. And surprisingly, the member of law enforcement sitting on the discussion panel was the first one to admit that many times “the abused” are hauled off to jail right along with their abuser when domestic violence is reported. The officer went on to explain that “dual arrests” are not uncommon since without witnesses they cannot make a definitive determination of guilt in the matter, and so both parties end up going to jail.
A domestic violence survivor sitting in the audience said the “dual arrest” scenario was the exact reason why she finally stopped calling the cops to resolve her domestic violence issues. To his credit, the officer did say that the justice system was not perfect. But, he did go on to say that the number of “dual arrests” have decreased since he and other members of law enforcement have attended training sessions on domestic violence and now realize the potentially “deadly” results of not properly resolving a domestic violence dispute between an abuser and the abused. Many survivors shared their heart-wrenching stories of past domestic violence; the stories were very sobering to the entire audience.
But on a more positive note, what I learned from listening to survivors’ stories was the importance of “self-love” and of fortifying one’s own sense of value and self-worth so that nobody could ever hurt you, whether by “hurtful words” or later on through “painful blows.” And, one final thought to remember: silence is deadly.
Let’s bring more awareness to the issue of domestic violence in our communities. Because “even one victim is one too many.”