Opinion

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

GAYLE

ERICKSON

``Are you being . . . controlled, criticized or hurt by anyone?'' Eye-catching words on Eastside Domestic Violence Program's brochure. Many people ask, ``Isn't domestic violence only about shoving, hitting, strangling, even murder?'' Yes, and much more. Domestic violence is about power and control -- in many forms. On the King County Coalition Against Domestic Violence Web site, domestic violence is defined as ``a pattern of behavior that one intimate partner or spouse exerts over another as a means of control.'' So while we often think that domestic violence is only physical violence, it includes many other behaviors used to control a partner, behaviors such as repeated insults, questioning a partner's sense of reality, alienating friends and family, using veiled threats, and displaying possessiveness and jealousy. These abusive tactics are so powerful that people surviving domestic violence often say the emotional and verbal abuse hurt worse than the physical abuse. Bruises go away?

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a time for each of us to recognize that domestic violence is prevalent in our society, including our own community of Mercer Island. As we all know and often hear, our community is unique in many healthy, positive ways. We are not unique, however, with regard to domestic violence. Intimate partner abuse crosses all boundaries of age, gender, race, culture, religion, sexual orientation, class and educational levels. In other words, it can happen to anyone.

At Mercer Island Youth and Family Services, we frequently see domestic violence and its effects upon survivors and their families. We hear about it from our school staff, who see the impact of domestic violence on our children. We hear about it from our teens, in whom we place great hope for creating greater equality and respect among men and women. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, women age 16-20 had higher rates of intimate partner violence than any other age group in 1999. Additionally, according to the King County CADV Web site, ``nearly one out of three women will experience a physical assault by an intimate partner during adulthood.'' And let us not forget that men can also be survivors of domestic violence.

Intimate partner violence historically has been considered by society as a private matter. To begin with, abusers don't tell. The violence remains a secret for other reasons as well, not the least of which is the safety of the survivor and the children. An abuser may threaten to escalate the violence if the survivor talks to anyone about the abuse. In addition, society's judgment and lack of understanding of domestic violence discourages many survivors from seeking help. If there is no physical violence, survivors might be unaware they are in an abusive relationship. They might be feeling crazy but cannot figure out why.

Despite these barriers, however, many survivors do leave abusive relationships and do disclose abuse to others. We, as a community, need to be ready to respond. Many excellent services are already in place for both survivors and abusers. Nevertheless, in order to stop the violence, we all need to participate. Family, friends, neighbors, schools, social services, religious leaders, employers, criminal and civil legal systems, and legislators need to work together to keep our children and families safe from abuse. Let's begin by talking about it.

Domestic Violence Crisis Lines:

If you are being controlled, criticized or hurt by someone, please call a domestic violence program for support and help with safety planning and appropriate resources for your situation.

If you know of someone being abused, and even if you're not sure, please call to learn how you can help.

Eastside Domestic Violence Program (East King County) 425-746-1940 or www.edvp.org. Gayle Erickson is the Clinical Supervisor at Mercer Island Youth and Family Services. She can be reached at 206-236-3525.

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