The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence defines domestic violence as “the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. It includes physical violence, sexual violence, threats, and emotional abuse. The frequency and severity of domestic violence can vary dramatically.”
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a time when we shine a light on the seemingly intractable problem of domestic violence. One in three women and one in four men over the course of their lifetime will experience domestic violence at the hands of their partner.
Abuse can take many forms, which makes it insidious and difficult to spot. Emotional abuse, isolation, economic control and shaming often exist alongside violence, but generally occur outside the view of friends, relatives and coworkers.
As we think about addressing domestic violence, we also need to think about access to health care, affordable housing and food, which are essential for people who have been cut off from social support networks and family finances. Organizations such as Next Step Domestic Violence Project, which has been serving the communities of Hancock and Washington counties since 1993, are a critical support organization for those seeking shelter from abuse.
In 2020, the Next Step’s hotline received 6,580 calls, 1,291 electronic correspondences and 4,722 face-to-face contacts (which have been limited due to the pandemic). Statewide, from April through June, calls to the state’s domestic violence support agencies rose close to 50 percent compared to the same period last year. And those figures are just the people who sought help. Many more are afraid to take that difficult step.
What can we do about it?
We need to direct funding to these important and life-saving agencies so they can continue to do their important work. We must address this at a local and national level.
We also must educate ourselves and call out abuse when we see it, supporting family members, friends or even strangers when they are trying to get out of an abusive situation.
We all need to become part of the solution.
If you or someone you know is being affected by domestic violence, help is available through the Statewide Domestic Abuse Helpline: 1-866-834-HELP (1-866-834-4357) or by calling Next Step at 1-800-315-5579.