Another year has passed and once again Domestic Violence Awareness Month has arrived — a time of both action and reflection as we ask what needs to change for us to build communities where violence doesn’t dwell and replace fear with love.
As you read this, many of you may feel relieved that you aren’t in a relationship characterized by violence. You also may feel fortunate, and relieved, because you don’t know anyone who would be violent towards their family. Unfortunately, you’re probably wrong.
One in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
Your friend, neighbor or family member could be wondering at this very moment how and when they will next be assaulted, how they will protect their children, when they should leave, whether they will be killed by the person they love, whether anyone will believe them if they ask for help.
Your friend, neighbor or family member could be wondering at this very moment, how and when they will next be assaulted, how they will protect their children, when should they leave, will they be killed by the person they love, or whether anyone will believe them if they ask for help.
Your relief is a lie; the truth is that we all know someone, and that should anchor our determination and inspire us to action. Let me share two stories that inspire me to carry on.
I met Marva almost 20 years ago in the aftermath of her husband’s arrest for domestic violence. We spoke about options and safety planning, and I tried to connect her with other advocates who could help. A short time later, I saw her name in the paper. Her husband had doused her in gasoline and lit her on fire while her son watched.
She died a few weeks later, and her son will forever be impacted by the trauma of what he witnessed. It’s Marva’s story, and others like it, that carries forward the urgency of the work we must all do so nobody else has to endure what she and her family suffered.
My second story is about Scott, a man who abused his family for years, reducing his wife, in his own words, to “rubble.”
Finally recognizing the effects of his abuse, Scott acknowledged and took responsibility for his actions. He committed to a program that helped him change his behavior, which ultimately transformed his family home into a place of safety rather than fear.
Within these stories’ differences, we find the hope that propels us forward.
While domestic violence organizations are dealing with an increasing number of calls and requests for emergency shelter, South Carolina recently ranked sixth in the nation for women murdered by men, holding its position as one the most dangerous states for women.
So, what must we do to make certain our future does not mirror our past?
We must remove the stigma that keeps this issue hidden and dramatically increase its visibility by fully acknowledging that domestic violence impacts families, businesses, communities and the economy.
We must prioritize education and prevention to ultimately change the culture by moving away from outdated and harmful gender stereotypes that still dominate our society and do nothing except perpetuate violence against women.
We must recognize the intersection of domestic violence with many other issues and create multilayered responses that improve outcomes for survivors. Access to health care, mental health services, substance abuse treatment, legal assistance, housing, and affordable childcare are just some of the areas to be addressed.
We must also acknowledge the flaws and gaps within our existing system responses and the biases that can increase hurdles to accessing meaningful supports for people of color, the LGBTQIA+ community, immigrants, individuals with disabilities, teens and others who may not fit our standard definition of “victim.”
Finally, we must choose hope over despair. Change can be incremental, slow and extremely frustrating. But our ability to choose hope over despair provides us with the strength we need to keep moving forward.
I ask you to join us as we endeavor to move away from South Carolina’s legacy of violence to one filled with hope for future generations.
Sara Barber is executive director of the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.