Will Averill: 8 things you should know about domestic violence, and 5 ways you can help (Column)

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October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a chance to reflect on how domestic violence impacts our community and learn more about what you can do to help.

I’ve delivered many presentations on domestic violence since joining The Willow, and here are some key facts many people don’t realize:

 1. Domestic violence does not just affect women. Although 1 in 3 women will face some form of abuse in their lives, 1 in 4 men and 30-50% of trans and nonbinary survivors will suffer abuse in their lifetimes. Abuse can happen to anyone.

 2. Abusers come from all backgrounds. We tend to stereotype abusers as middle-aged men in tank tops with giant beer guts and anger issues. The truth is abuse is about maintaining power and control over the abused partner, and abusers are often well-thought-of and respected in their communities.

3. Abuse is not just physical. If someone hit you on a first date, there wouldn’t be a second. Many other forms of abuse can be equally devastating — financial abuse, psychological abuse, emotional damage, threats, and isolation. Often, physical abuse is the final manifestation of a pattern that has been going on for years.

4. Anger management issues do not cause abuse. Although anger may exacerbate the situation, most abusers don’t abuse everyone in their lives. They can keep their anger in check around the workplace, their faith community, and jobs. Anger is not the cause of domestic violence.

5. Domestic violence is not just a personal, family issue. Domestic violence takes a huge toll not just on the survivor and their family but also on their community as well. Nationally, domestic violence costs our county $8.3 billion a year in emergency care, lost earnings, and long-term health effects of domestic violence.

6. Domestic violence is not caused by alcohol or substance abuse. These may be factors that make abuse happen more quickly or explosively, but it is about power and control, and many people use who do not commit acts of abuse.

7. Leaving an abusive relationship is extraordinarily hard. Isolation, financial abuse, and years of psychological abuse can destroy the self-worth and economic independence of the survivor. Often abusers will threaten children or pets. Sometimes, it’s as simple as love, believing that the situation can be improved. Whatever the reason, leaving is extraordinarily difficult, and the 72 hours after leaving are the most dangerous time for abuse survivors.

8. A survivor of abuse may attempt to leave up to seven times before succeeding. The huge barriers to leaving – economic, emotional, and psychological — make the process extraordinarily difficult. It is not uncommon to see survivors leave and return multiple times, and it is essential to continue to be supportive each time. This is not a weakness; survivors often have legitimate reasons for returning, including their own safety, the safety of children and pets, or lack of resources. One of the critical things we attempt to do at The Willow is to break down those barriers so that leaving will become easier.

There are several ways in which you can help, should you believe someone is experiencing abuse.

1. Learn about the dynamics of domestic violence. There are several excellent resources online and free presentations on the dynamics of domestic violence given by The Willow. Take some time to learn about the cycle of violence, myths and facts, and other information. Often, just having the knowledge can make a huge difference.

2. Remember, the survivor is the expert of their own life. If you are helping someone experiencing abuse, leaving might not be the best option. The best thing you can do is listen, support, access resources, and offer to help the survivor get that access.

3. Keep a log if you suspect abuse. If someone you know, a family member or work colleague, is experiencing abuse, keep a record of any events that occur. Lateness, visible bruises or injuries, any concerning events. Often, survivors will minimize the severity and frequency of abuse, and your record may help establish a pattern over time.

4. When in doubt, listen. Listening is the most powerful thing we can do to help. Often, survivors will just need to talk through their situation to process the severity of it. It is tempting to jump in with advice or opinions, but practice just listening and then repeating back to them what you’ve heard. That act alone can be hugely influential.

5. Support local resources. (Disclaimer: This opinion piece is from a DV center!) Remember that those barriers to leaving are often resource-based, so support local organizations that remove those barriers. Food resources, health care resources, and mental health resources may be used by survivors building new lives. Be sure to check them out, know what they do, and how they can be of help.

The Willow Domestic Violence Center hosts a series of events, including tablings, presentations, and a survivor art show throughout October. Join us for Stronger Today Virtual 5K, our awareness-raiser virtual 5K where you can run, walk, roll, or stroll your way to 5K. We’d love to talk to you more about the dynamics of domestic violence. 

Please take a moment right now to put our crisis hotline number, 785-843-3333, on your phone. You may need it at some point. 

For a list of events, see willowdvcenter.org/dvam2021.

— Will Averill is the director of communications for The Willow Domestic Violence Center, which provides shelter, support and services for survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking in Douglas, Franklin and Jefferson counties in Kansas.

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