Written by Alison Baxter, an AmeriCorps VISTA and activist
Domestic violence seems like something that could only happen on ‘Law and Order: SVU’. But Mariska Hargitay, known for playing Detective Olivia Benson on the show, has made the reality of domestic violence clear by creating the Joyful Heart Foundation. October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, and simply increasing the public’s recognition of this issue is a big – but necessary – undertaking.
One in four women have been involved in the cycle of domestic abuse. One in three teens know someone who has been physically hurt by a romantic partner. If these were statistics about gang violence, or practically any other type of conflict, there would be international uproar and a call to arms.
But domestic abuse is a “private” issue. It’s “personal”. It’s only the “business” of the people involved. If the situation is so bad, why doesn’t she leave? You’d certainly be able to walk away, right?
Victims of many different types of crimes – from identity theft to burglary – often feel embarrassed, ashamed, somehow believing that they’re to blame. While it’s easy for most to point out that it’s not the victim’s fault, there is a definite stigma against being a victim of domestic violence. We need to ask ourselves why.
Victims stay with partners for reasons which may feel positive: “No one else will love him except me”, “I can help him get better, I just need more time”. Even if a victim tries to get support from family or friends, their social circle often doesn’t know what to do. Intervening could place the victim in real danger. Not intervening could place the victim in real danger. But before any action is taken, we need to acknowledge that victims are real people, not just disconcerting statistics.
Domestic violence is also seen as a strictly “women’s issue”. This is aided by facts such as that while 5 percent of men’s homicides have domestic roots, but the number jumps to over 60 percent. It’s not for women strictly a women’s issue, because most often both men and women are involved (also, homosexual relationships are not immune).
The fact is, you probably know more than four women. So whether you accept it or not, you know someone who is or has suffered, most likely silently. The point of this piece isn’t to educate you on which resources to look up, or what an abuser or victim looks like. The reason for this is to try to convince you that you should admit that domestic violence doesn’t just happen to “them”; other people who won’t ever cross your path, or characters liberated by Olivia Benson. It is more or less guaranteed that you know someone who has suffered through this cycle, and it’s even likely that someone you’re close to has been a victim. The first step in combating domestic violence is for everyone to come to terms with the fact that domestic violence happens to real people, people we know and care about. Domestic violence is a part of your life, what do you think about that?