It’s difficult to estimate the number of women in the United States who die as a result of domestic violence every year. This report (.pdf) from six years ago puts the estimate between 1,000-1,600. For every women who dies, thousands more are injured, some so seriously that they suffer permanent medical problems. And intimate partner violence does not just involve the partners: it involves the children and other family members in the household, and the animals (animal victims of domestic violence are rarely discussed, but distressingly common).
It’s a problem. And October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, so it’s a problem I want to briefly talk about, although I am generally wary of “awareness months” because I think every month should be awareness month. While this month is, from the perspective of the media, primarily focused on heterosexual domestic violence in which men abuse women, because this makes up the majority of domestic violence complaints, it’s also important to note that intimate partner violence is a problem in same sex relationships, and that women in heterosexual relationships also engage in domestic violence (on a much smaller scale than men do).
This is a problem which involves all of us, even if we are not in abusive relationships. It’s a structural and social problem which has far-reaching ramifications.
And it’s a hugely intersectional problem. Actually, strike that: domestic violence is a freeway interchange of colliding issues. Race, class, gender. And they combine in some very ugly ways, sometimes even among allies who claim to be helping people. For example, I can’t tell you how many times people have asked why people don’t just move out when they are being abused, without a thought to the fact that “just moving out” requires a. financial freedom (often one of the first things taken away from abused partners) and b. substantial money in savings to cover first, last, and deposit, or time in a hotel. And what about when the abused partner has children or pets ou wants to protect? Yeah, it’s never as simple as “just move out.”
I think I don’t need to lecture y’all on domestic violence. You all know it happens, you all know it shouldn’t. I would note that it’s useful to be able to identify warning signs of domestic violence, such as unexplained/frequent injuries, emotional distress, frequent absences/late arrivals to work/school, low self-esteem, the tendency to take the blame for anything which goes wrong, fear of conflict, personality changes, sudden aggression, references to lack of financial freedom. Even recognizing the signs, though, doesn’t necessarily mean that you can help. Domestic violence is complicated, and intervention is not as simple as walking up to someone you see in the office and saying “do you need help”? Which is hard, because it is difficult to recognize something and to understand that your hands are tied.
Intervening in public when you see a partner being abused? A reasonable and good thing to do, but it may also drive the abuser underground, abusing at home where no one will see. Does this mean you shouldn’t intervene? No, but it does illustrate that the situation is fraught with complications. Offering a place to stay for a coworker in an abusive relationship? Are you prepared for the abuser’s appearance at your door at three in the morning? Sometimes the best thing, the only thing, to do is to report suspected abuse to law enforcement.
What we can do, to help, is to contribute to organizations which fight domestic violence. Chances are very high that you have a domestic violence hotline, women’s shelter, counseling program, advocacy program, etc in your community. You can donate to that organization to support their work, to make sure that people with the proper training are available to assist people who need help, and to ensure that people have a safe space to go when they are ready to take that step.
You can also volunteer for said organization. Many organizations use volunteer counselors who receive training so they can work on a crisis line or handle requests for assistance in an office. Volunteers can also do things like supporting fundraisers, organizing awareness campaigns, speaking in schools, and so forth, for people who do not feel comfortable working directly with people experiencing domestic violence.
Donations don’t have to be monetary, either. Many shelters, for example, really appreciate food, clothes, toiletries, etc. Some organizations which help set people up in housing may appreciate furniture and housewares. Donations of services may be appreciated as well. Just ask!