We tend to think of domestic violence as a moment in time, an incident that occurs which disrupts the normal fabric of a life. If it hasn't affected you personally, it's easy to think of it as something that only happens to other people.
This October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, (DVAM), I encourage you to think of the larger, more pervasive problem of domestic and sexual violence in our community and country. Domestic violence is a common societal trauma that affects people from all walks of life, all religions, races, and socioeconomic groups. Domestic and sexual violence can be kept "secret" for many years due to the shame that those who've been affected often feel. During DVAM, we bring attention to this societal problem in order to shine a light on a trauma that could affect any of our families and loved ones.
Domestic abuse is defined as a pervasive pattern of coercive control used by one person in a relationship to gain power and control over another person. This pattern of behavior can include physical violence, coercion, threats, intimidation, sexual, emotional, psychological, financial, or even religious abuse, as well as numerous other ways that a person might seek to control the behavior of another. The relationship can be an intimate partner or familial. Oftentimes children are used as pawns in abusive households. Sometimes grown children are the abusers.
But the roots of domestic abuse lie in all forms of violence and oppression. Interconnected and deep, all forms of oppression are tied together by the cord of seeking to maintain power and control over another person, group, race, community, or other entity. As humans, we've all been wounded and in turn, we often wound others. Part of understanding the dynamics of oppression is understanding our participation in it and then making a choice to do something about it.
A few weeks back, a young advocate asked my opinion on why after almost 30 years of the Violence Against Women Act, (VAWA), we as a country had not made more progress in "eradicating and ending" domestic violence. My first inclination was to talk about prevention efforts and the lack of resources over the years for adequate and sustained prevention programming. However, this isn’t the only problem. We haven't ended domestic violence with prevention efforts, laws, shelters, or advocacy—although all of these things are absolutely necessary to keep people safe. But keeping people safe does not effectively address why they are in danger in the first place! My answer to the advocate was inconclusive.
The only thing I am certain of is that the real problem festers within us all. The rage and pain never dealt with ends up creating pathways bringing forth more of the same patterns of destruction unexamined and unnamed. The trauma of domestic violence is bigger than individual relationships. Do you remember the first time you experienced hatred, bullying, cruelty or violence? For many people, these experiences begin in childhood. Perhaps witnessing domestic violence in the home or being abused by a parent or caretaker. By the time a child goes to school, he or she may have endured multiple traumas. Children who've endured early traumas are ripe to be picked on by bullies and as they get older often choose unsafe relationships.
Trauma turns some into bullies and abusers and others into their victims. Trauma does not need to define a life though. There is help to break free from abuse and help for those who abuse. There are numerous ways to heal from past traumas, but first, we must make a decision in the present.
The necessary decision is to become aware of all the small and large ways we remain unconscious of creating pain for another. These things may not be as apparent as domestic violence but might include screaming at another driver, Facebook and Twitter fighting, mean put downs, unkind remarks, and all the ways that we as humans diminish other humans. We all have our bad moments. The magic is found in the choice to change that moment.
Please join SAFE of Columbia County in becoming more aware this month. Together we can make a safer, healthier community for everyone.
This piece is part of a longer post found on Medium.com. Here is the link the Medium link.
If you have been or are currently a victim of domestic violence and need help, the SAFE crisis line is 503-397-6161.
Ellyn Bell is the Executive Director of SAFE of Columbia County. She may be reached at 503-397-7110.