Domestic violence is not a personal concern, but rather a social problem that requires a community response if we are to change the dynamics of abuse relationships. It is commonly defined as the use of power to control another person and — according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Justice — an estimated 24 percent of all women in the United States have been victims at some point in their lifetimes. The Bureau of Justice Statistics further reports that on average more than three women and one man are murdered by their intimate partners in the United States every day.
The health-related costs are equally staggering. Nearly $6 billion is spent annually on health care costs related to domestic violence. Adults, unfortunately, are not the only victims, for children are also heavily affected. Some studies suggest that as many as 10 million children witness some form of domestic violence each year; approximately 50 percent of perpetrators who abuse their partners also abuse their children.
Since the beginning of the battered women’s movement in the 1970s, domestic violence advocates have recognized that the “personal is political,” and have worked diligently for a response that acknowledges the disparity in power that exists in many relationships. Social activist Ellen Pence and social worker Michael Paymar have clearly identified domestic violence as a community problem. Their understanding that domestic violence is the manifestation of cultural systems of power and control within a relationship have, in fact, changed the way service providers respond to the problem.
The development of the coordinated community response intervention and the Duluth Model are culturally relevant and effective interventions that have changed the ways in which we respond to domestic violence. It has also helped us shift our thinking from simply providing resources to victims to figuring out how — as communities — we can hold abusers accountable. The coordinated community response intervention has also changed our perceptions about who bears the responsibility for responding to problems of domestic violence by inviting everyone to the table to be part of ending it.
Service providers, including advocates for domestic abuse victims, police officers and health care workers, continue to work diligently to provide safety to those who are in abusive relationships and to hold those causing the harm accountable. That, unfortunately, is not enough. Because domestic violence is not simply a relationship problem, it becomes everyone’s responsibility to be part of the solution.
How can we — as members of the community — help? As a first step, we must teach ourselves to recognize possible signs, those “red flags” of abusive relationships. These may include such things as jealousy, controlling behavior and isolation. If you recognize these red flags within your own relationship, or in the relationships of those to whom you are close, help is available through local domestic violence organizations, your health care provider and the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which can be reached toll-free at 800-799-SAFE (7233) or on the Internet at www.thehotline.org.
The hotline website can be exited safely without leaving any evidence of a visit on one’s computer. If you recognize any of these red flags as characteristics of a relationship that a friend, family member or co-worker is experiencing, don’t be afraid to let them know that you are concerned for their safety. Acknowledge that this is a difficult, complex, scary situation, but that you are available for support. Don’t try to fix the problem. Recognize it as domestic violence and refer your friend or family member to a local domestic violence agency for help.
Changing the acceptance of domestic violence within our community is everyone’s responsibility. Recognizing the red flags and referring a victim to a domestic violence organization for help may not only save someone’s life; it is also an important step to changing our community.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Stop the violence.
Monica Leisey, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of social work at Salem State University. Her scholarship on domestic violence focuses on the intersection of domestic violence and aging. She is currently partnering with the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs, evaluating cross trainings between domestic violence and rape crisis advocates and Elder Protective Services.