Written by Heather Mullaly, M.S.Ed.
Volunteer Resident Counselor
Don’t worry this is not a trick question like the one associated with the now infamous dress. When asked that question perhaps your thoughts turn to the colors of leaves, pumpkins, or apples; yellow, orange, and red. Another person may think of orange and black for Halloween. For many people the color pink for Breast Cancer Awareness comes to mind. These are all great and correct answers! The color most people don’t think of, or may not be aware of, for October is the color purple for Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Now the question is what is Domestic Violence? When most people think of Domestic Violence they think of hitting, punching, and bruising; physical abuse. Again, these are all correct answers! In fact, domestic violence accounts for 15% of all violent crimes. However, this month is all about increasing awareness of not just the obvious physical abuse associated with Domestic Violence (also known as Intimate Partner Violence) but the other types of abuse; emotional, financial, sexual, reproductive, and digital.
Emotional abuse can range from name calling, continually criticizing, insulting, or humiliating you to actively isolating you from friends and family. One highly effective form of emotional abuse is known as “gaslighting” which is an attempt to cause the individual being abused to question their memories, feelings, and sanity. This is accomplished by the abuser denying or pretending to forget about things that have occurred, countering the victim’s memory of events by stating that the victim never remembers things accurately, dismissing what the victim says or diverting attention away from it, minimizing the victim’s needs or feelings, or completely refusing to listen to the victim at all.
Financial abuse can involve denying you access to your paycheck or other funds, intentionally running up debt in your name and/or not paying bills in an effort to ruin your credit score, or preventing you from working. Being forced to engage in any type of sexual act or having a sexually transmitted disease knowing and intentionally passed to you are types of sexual abuse. Being forced to become pregnant or to become pregnant right after giving birth are examples of reproductive abuse. With the use of cell phones and social media, digital abuse is also something to look out for. This includes things such as demanding access to your social media accounts and/or your cell phone, and frequently texting or calling you making you fear what will happen if you do not answer.
Another aspect of domestic violence to look out for is the pattern correlated with abusive relationships known as the Cycle of Abuse. Typically there are three phases to the cycle: tension building, the incident, and the honeymoon phase. The tension phase is where the relationship becomes strained and communication starts to breakdown. During this phase this victim may feel as if they “are walking on egg shells”, fearful of what may anger the abuser. Next is the incident phase which is often where most of the abuse, physical or otherwise takes place. The honeymoon phase is usually when the abuser apologizes for the abuse and promises that it won’t happen again. Abuse often decreases during this phase but does not necessarily stop; the abuser can also blame the victim for the abuse or attempt to minimize it during this phase. After this phase comes the tension building, thus continuing the cycle.
Here is the last question: What can you do if you are in a domestic violence situation? The important thing to remember is to know that you are NOT to blame. There is nothing that you have done, or could do, that has caused you to be abused. The abuser is the only one responsible for their behavior.
- If you are in immediate danger, call 911!
- Have a safety plan for staying safe during an incident which can includes things such as avoiding rooms with weapons (like the kitchen), avoiding rooms or spaces with no exits (like a closet), keeping car keys and cell phone accessible at all times, and not wearing scarves or jewelry that can used for strangle you. *Keep in mind that safety plans should be created to fit your personal situation. They can, and should, be adapted to include children and possibly pets.
- Keep a small bag packed with essentials such as important personal documents (driver’s license, social security card, insurance cards, paperwork for children, any documentation of the abuse, copies of protection orders, etc), medications, money, keys, and change of clothes. Keep this bag hidden from your abuser or keep it with a trusted friend or relative if possible.
- You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). They have advocates that can assist callers in over 170 different languages and all calls are anonymous and confidential. You can also chat online with an advocate through their website at thehotline.org. They can assist callers who are experiencing all types abuse so please be aware that it does not have to be physical for you to reach out for help.
- The Hotline can help you find a domestic violence shelter in your area or you can go to domesticshelters.org to search for one yourself. In addition to providing you a safe place to stay, they often offer a variety of services including counseling, safety planning, legal advocacy, employment, and housing assistance.
- For more information you can visit the website for The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: ncadv.org. You can also download a new app (free on iTunes and Google Play) called Sojourner Peace which provides domestic violence information and intervention services. The app has a disguised icon, requires a security code, and has a “hide app” button on each screen for safety. (**Please keep in mind if your abuser is digitally abusing you and has access to your phone this app may not be a safe option.)
Raising awareness about this topic is so important because 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will be the victim of some form of intimate partner violence in their lifetime. Adults are not the only ones affected by domestic violence; 1 in 15 children are exposed to it every year and 90% of these children witness violence firsthand. On average over 200,000 phone calls are made to domestic violence hotlines across the United States each year. Domestic Violence affects everyone regardless of race, gender, age, socioeconomic status, level of education, sexual orientation, religion, or nationality.
It is important to educate ourselves and others about the warning signs of Domestic Violence and the ways you, or someone you know, can get help getting away from an abusive relationship. This knowledge can help save your life or the life of someone you know. So along with all the other colors you may associate with October, make purple one of them.