Monday, October 31, 2011

The Power of Telling Our Story

The end of Domestic Violence Awareness Month is here. Wish that also meant the end of DV. 
I’m tired from the busyness of this month. Worn down because this month more than any other I live with the past, retelling my story many times. Anyone who’s been there knows that memories churn up the old stressful, painful feelings. I really don’t mind sharing my story because it means educating others so they may become empowered and reach out for help if they are in violent relationships. Also, by speaking out listeners learn how to help friends who are living with abuse.
As I spoke to one group of professional women, I noticed many heads bobbing in understanding as I shared my story. Afterwards, several women came up to me and said, “Your story is my story.” Another attendee, stopped me to say, “Look around.” Her hand swept the air to indicate the many small groups of women engaged in conversation. “They’re all talking about what happened to them,” she said. “Sharing their own stories of domestic abuse.”  I felt awed and humbled. Knowing I can make a difference in women's lives is why I continue to speak out.
If DV is going to end, it will be because we:
    • Tell our stories.
    • Teach our children, friends and community about DV.
    • Reach out to one another if we think DV is a part of her life.
    • Demand that we be treated with respect.
    • Raise our sons and daughters with men who treat women with respect.
    • Vote/Elect more women to higher offices in this country.
    • Demand change. 
We can’t wait for someone to make these changes for us, we have to go out and make it happen.
Below are links to only a few of the organizations where you can make a difference. I recommend you check out these and others you find on the internet or from talking with friends. You’ll want to read the mission statement, know who is funding the organization, and how that money is spent. Then get involved by giving your time, vote, or financial support to one or more whose beliefs and goals are compatible with your own. (National Clearinghouse for Defense of Battered Women)
Don’t let the end of Domestic Violence Awareness Month mean you stop thinking about it. Violence against women is here to stay as long as we do nothing to change it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The media reports that the number of cases of abuse is dropping. If you ask those working in the shelters they’ll tell you it’s not. Perhaps the number of deaths due to DV has dropped, for now, but the shelter’s waiting lists are growing, as well as the number of calls to crisis lines. We have good programs in place for those who seek help and dedicated people who work tirelessly to help victims rebuild their lives. Thank God for advocates.
Sometime - no - often, the amount of violence occurring feels overwhelming. I can blame the abuse on the fact that too many of us aren’t brought up in a home or house of worship that teaches kindness and healthy communication skills. I can say that the business world with it’s “dog eat dog” “swim with the sharks” “get them before they get you” attitude teaches lording power over others. And don’t get me started on the messages our kids get from the media and cultural beliefs regarding men and women’s roles. But pointing the finger isn’t going to solve anything. Neither is throwing up our hands in exasperation. 
We can put all our effort into helping after the fact, but until we, as Stephen Covey says in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, hack at the root of the problem, we can’t change anything. A key component to ending violence is educating our kids. Teaching them what healthy relationships look like as well as red flags in relationships. It would be lovely if all parents knew how to raise healthy, kindhearted and self-confident children. I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon. We know that children who have been raised believing that they are worthless and stupid can be turned around - and deserve to be turned around. One loving adult who shows a child that he or she has gifts and a passion that will lead him or her to success can make a difference. In this busy world, where we are all living under stress, it’s hard to take the time to nurture another. But, it’s up to each one of us if we want to change things.
Along with our children, we need to educate society. Let’s face it, deep-seated systematic oppression of women continues even after the feminist movement’s attempt to eradicate it. Also, male privilege is so ingrained in our culture that it’s not even on our radar screen. For an example just look at the commercials on TV.  Their messages have clear gender rolls. It’s up to us, in whatever our walk in life may be, to become sensitive to this issue and work for change by speaking out as well as learn how to reach out to someone we suspect may need help.
We need to stop asking the question “Why does she stay?” and instead ask “Why does [the abuser] do that?” Place the blame where it belongs, on the offender. There are many excellent batterers treatment programs around the country. Getting an abuser there is the problem. And even if we do, will he or she embrace the help and change? We can’t make that decision for the offender. As long as abusing others to get what the offended wants works, why should he or she change? So, it seems to me that we have to find a way to make abusing others undeniably abhorrent to society and not worth the price the offender will pay. 
We have to get serious about ending family violence. Off the top of my head, I can think a few needs:
  1. Society needs to view the offender as the one at fault/stop blaming the victim.
  2. We need to pay attention to those around us and if we suspect abuse, reach out to the victim.
  3. Children need to be educated about dating/family violence and healthy relationships.
  4. Children need to be mentored by an supportive adult who validates their passion in life and helps them develop healthy self-esteem.
  5. Shelters need volunteers.
  6. Shelters need financial support.
  7. Consequences for violence needs to be more severe.
  8. Abusers need incentive to go into treatment and change.
  9. Laws need to be changed to protect victims and children.
  10. Court systems need to re-look at how they handle these cases, require more in-depth investigation, family care and protection.
How to do these thing? Ask those who work in the thick of it for more suggestions. The important thing is that each one of us gets involved in some way. Doing what we can, making a difference where we are able. Can you mentor a child? Volunteer at a shelter? Work with others to change the laws? You don’t have to do it all. Just pick one and take a stand against domestic violence.