4 Ways You Can Advocate For Domestic Violence Victims
Domestic violence (DV), sometimes referred to as intimate partner violence (IPV), is a complicated and multilayered issue that affects people from various age groups and backgrounds. The COVID-19 pandemic has made things even more challenging for victims and the services that support them.
Here’s how you can become an advocate for people experiencing domestic violence.
1. Believe the Victim
Domestic violence thrives through secrecy. It often takes tremendous courage for people to speak up about their abusers’ actions. One of the complicating factors is that abusers often use charm to win people over. That happens first when they want to impress their partners, usually in the early stages of the relationship. However, the perpetrators often continue the act in public, such as while around the couple’s mutual friends. Domestic abusers frequently engage in gaslighting, too. They’ll degrade and manipulate victims, often making them think what they know is not true and that they’re “crazy.” That’s why it’ll be especially heartbreaking if someone confides in you and receives a skeptical response. A victim may not want to give you lots of in-depth details at first. It could take them weeks or months to open up about what they’ve suffered. Don’t push them. One of the most valuable ways to help is by making it clear you’re available to listen if and when they want to disclose things.
2. Recognize COVID-19’s Effects
During the pandemic, many local and national leaders said that home was the safest place for people during the pandemic. However, that’s not necessarily true for those at risk of experiencing violence in their residences. One study examined contacts made with domestic violence services in Ohio during 2020. The data indicated a 58% rise in cases involving more severe injuries, including strangulations. People working in such services also mentioned that those needing assistance more frequently had complex situations involving increased lethality. In Philadelphia, 2021 figures showed a 240% jump in domestic violence-related homicide numbers compared to 2020.
Stresses about the fear of becoming ill, caring for sick loved ones, losing one’s job, or adjusting to new pandemic protocols likely were at least partly to blame for the increase. Research from UC-Davis shows domestic violence victims reported more stress than those who did not experience it. Moreover, as perceived stress levels climbed, so did someone’s likelihood of becoming a victim of violence. COVID-19-related changes could make it more difficult for someone to seek help, too. When someone decides to do it, it’s typically safest if the person causing the violence is not home. However, victims have fewer opportunities alone now, with so many people doing remote work and learning.
Substance abuse can also exacerbate partner violence. Heavy substance abuse days make people 11 times more likely to have domestic abuse involvement. The uncertainties and lack of a normal routine during the pandemic could make people more likely to use substances, including as a coping mechanism.
3. Dispel Myths You Hear in Everyday Conversation
Another way to be an advocate is to clarify some of the pervasive myths when you hear them. Doing that helps domestic violence victims and services. Here are some examples of the things you could teach others.
Domestic Violence Affects Men, Too
A United Nations study showed that younger women and females with kids were among the groups most likely to experience domestic violence during COVID-19. However, many people don’t realize men are at risk, too. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that approximately 1 in 7 men has experienced severe physical violence from partners in their lifetimes. The figure is 1 in 5 for women. Those findings highlight how important it is to remind people you know that domestic violence is not just a “women’s problem.”
Domestic Violence Includes Many Types of Abuse and Control
Some people also think domestic violence only happens when people get hit. The reality is that it can encompass numerous actions. Those range from controlling how someone spends the money they earn to dictating what they wear and which friends they see. Emotional abuse is another significant factor. If a person constantly hears they’re worthless or that no one else will ever love them, they may feel less confident in themselves and about ending the relationship.
Many Barriers Discourage Victims From Leaving the Relationship
Another myth is that domestic violence must not be “that bad” if the person experiencing it has not left the relationship. Taking that step is extremely risky for the victim due to the high likelihood of partner retaliation. Additionally, many people fear homelessness, complications of single parenting, or negative reactions from people they know if they leave.
4. Investigate Ways to Support Nearby Domestic Violence Shelters
Engaging with a domestic violence shelter in your area is also a fantastic way to advocate for the cause. There will likely be several ways you can contribute based on the facility’s setup. For example, some services provide counseling as well as emergency accommodations. Other organizations don’t have on-site shelters, but they offer referral services. An easy way to get started is to see if your local shelter accepts donations. Most will take monetary donations and have a simple way to give with a credit card or through PayPal. However, many people arrive at shelters with very few possessions. That’s why many shelters accept community donations of things like toiletries, pajama sets, and non-perishable foods.
Keep your eye out for any events that raise both money and awareness, too. An event called 16 Days of Activism calls on people around the world to do what they can to prevent and eliminate gender-based violence. Many domestic violence shelters mark that period with public events, such as information sessions and charity walks. After getting to know how your local shelter works, you may feel up to inquiring about volunteering opportunities. Those could include taking helpline calls, greeting people who check into the facility, updating the shelter’s social media pages, and much more.
There are also less direct ways you could help. For example, a growing number of domestic violence shelters have pet-fostering programs so victims can know their furry friends are in good hands until their situations stabilize.
Illuminating the Issue Is an Excellent First Step
Although today’s society is progressively more aware of domestic violence, there’s still more work to do. You may not feel ready to start an in-depth discussion about the topic with your friend group. However, a low-pressure alternative is to ask them if they’ve seen “Maid,” a Netflix drama series that accurately portrays the intricacies of domestic violence. It’s also useful to familiarize yourself with some of the warning signs of domestic violence. That way, you can look out for them in people you know and encourage others to do the same. Remember to keep yourself safe if you’re tempted to intervene in suspected domestic violence issues, though. Sometimes, the most practical thing you can do is direct someone to a local resource if you believe they might need help.
Finally, do your best to speak up if someone appears to support domestic violence or indicates they don’t take it seriously. The more people can get the correct information about the matter, the more likely they are to see that domestic violence is everyone’s concern.
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