“Awareness + Action = Social Change”.
I love this quote. Awareness is important, but so is taking action. Change will not happen without both! There are many actions that will, added up together, lead to great social change, but for my first domestic violence awareness month blog I’d like to focus on prevention.
Obviously there are many ways to raise awareness about domestic violence, and there are also many approaches to that message of awareness (I’m not even going to get into the many, many facets of what “awareness” can mean). My own ride is one way; most shelters have outreach and education programs that go to elementary schools and/or high schools to teach kids about healthy relationships. Other people have tried to raise awareness through such means as books and film.
Yet this important message is not consistently reaching those who need it - not just victims, but those who have never experienced it and need to know what to watch for, and those whose friends or family are being abused and need information to help them.
A part of the problem with creating awareness is the simple lack of time and resources for that domestic violence agencies who do such outreach programs already. Yes, most crisis centers (or shelters, if you prefer - but I don’t - that’s for a later blog) do perform some kind of outreach to local schools. Not all do, however. Crisis centers are nearly always overwhelmed in dealing with crises, and even if they have a dedicated outreach staff member, are typically pretty limited in where and how involved they can get in their educational program. Most common are visits to local schools, and it is unusual for a shelter to do any greater community outreach than that.
However, this is not just the job of crisis centers. This is a job for everyone! Here are a few ways - including some very simple ones - that you, too, can help prevent domestic violence.
Better youth outreach - not just to schools, but to youth groups of all kinds. Check with your kids’ school, scouts troop, chess club, sports team, church group, etc to see if they have scheduled someone from your local crisis center to speak to the kids, and if not, encourage the group leader to do so!
Better community outreach - also improve outreach to the community at large, so victims, survivors and their families/friends have the information they need. If you’re helping plan any kind of community event (for your neighborhood, church, club, or town), invite your local crisis center to participate! If you own a business, check into co-hosting an event, ask them about arranging a meeting to teach your employees about DV and how to get help, or even just ask the crisis center for informational material to hang in your business (the bathroom is often recommended as a “safe place” for victims to be able to read such things and even call for help). “Just” an employee? Make a suggestion to your boss to do these things!
Improve the message - there is so much that needs said, that is not being said well or at all! For example, there are still many common misconceptions even among those who’ve been through an abusive relationship, such as whether a relationship can be “domestic abuse” without it being violent (it can), or even about what services are available for victims (actually quite a lot, in most places) and who qualifies to receive them (everyone). I’d like to see shelters review and improve their literature and web resources. For the rest of us, sharing on social media when you see a post about domestic violence is a good start.
Increase the conversation - Domestic violence is still largely a silent problem. Of course people who are still being victimized will continue to stay silent, for their own safety if nothing else. But those of us who have already gotten out, or those who have a good friend or family member who has experienced abuse, should not stay silent. Your experiences can change other people’s lives! Those who haven’t been in an abusive relationship before need to know the truths about it - not just statistics and general facts. You don’t need to write a book or jump on a horse to do this, but do consider sharing your story when an opportunity arises. (And if you do share your story, please don’t downplay it with such statements as “it wasn’t that bad” or “but he never hit me” etc - that does not do justice to yourself or to whoever would be helped by your story).
Speak up - If you meet someone you suspect is a victim, don’t just wonder and be silently sad. There are things you can do. Even if it’s a total stranger, you can discretely give them the info for your local crisis center or the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Some crisis centers print up business cards that don’t say what it’s for, so a victim can safely keep it in their purse until they’re ready to call - ask yours for a few to hand out. If it’s someone you know, make sure they understand you’re there if they need help.
Do you have other ideas to increase awareness and help prevent domestic violence? Please share in the comments below!