Empowering Victims: October Is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

One in four women will be a victim of domestic violence in her lifetime. Three women a day die at the hands of an abuser.

Domestic violence is a crime.

Most of its victims are women and children who are not safe in their own home.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month was created to intervene, educate, empower, and stop this national epidemic. The intent was to connect advocates across the nation who are working to end violence against women and their children. In 1989, the U.S. Congress first passed the law recognizing October as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Let’s look briefly at the facts surrounding domestic violence and discuss what you can do to help empower victims.

What Is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner. The abuse can be physical, emotional, and/or sexual. It can involve:

  • Intimidation
  • Blaming
  • Harassment
  • Name-calling
  • Stalking
  • Threats and other verbal abuse
  • Control over the victim’s movements, friendships, and money

Typically, domestic violence escalates into increasingly more dangerous acts of controlling and abusive behavior. It may start out as verbal abuse and escalate swiftly into physical violence.

Anyone, including men, can be the victim of domestic violence. It crosses racial and ethnic lines, religious beliefs, age groups, socioeconomic groups, and sexual orientation. It affects married, single, and divorced couples.

What Are the Signs of Domestic Violence?

To help yourself or a friend, it’s important to recognize the signs of domestic violence. The most obvious is spotting bruises or other signs of physical violence. But these are not the only telltale signs. Here are some of the most common:

  • Isolation Has your friend become withdrawn? Does she avoid you and other friends she was once close to? Does she see her family? This kind of change could be a clue that something is wrong.
  • Ridicule Does her partner shame her in public? Put her down constantly? Invite others to mock or disrespect her? Call her names? This is abusive behavior.
  • Stalking and controlling behavior Does he check her cell phone messages? Websites she has visited? The mileage on her car? Does he go through her purse and other belongings? Does he call her repeatedly or expect her to check in multiple times throughout the day? Does he drop in or show up unexpectedly when she is meeting family or friends? This is obsessively controlling behavior.
  • Threatening behavior Does he yell? Throw things? Physically intimidate her? Are you concerned for her safety?
  • Changes in children Are there children in this relationship? About 10 million children are witnessing violence in their homes. Children may react to what they see by becoming withdrawn, nervous, or fearful of the abusive parent.

How to Help a Victim of Domestic Violence

Listen without judging. Judging only adds to a victim’s shame. And there is tremendous shame wrapped up in her sense of powerlessness over her situation.

Don’t try to force her to leave now. This could endanger her life. For a domestic violence victim, leaving is not always as simple as just packing and walking out. If her abuser is controlling the money, she might not have the option financially to just leave. For her safety, she also might need an escape plan. Again, don’t judge. Listen to what she needs.

Familiarize yourself with available resources. Find out about websites, local domestic violence laws, shelters, advocates who represent victims in court, how to develop an escape plan, financial resources, and counseling. Your friend may need a lot of help from people who are expert at helping victims reclaim their lives and their safety after surviving domestic violence.

Domestic Violence and Teens

Domestic violence within teenage dating relationships is a major concern. According to the Centers for Disease Control, a 2011 study found that about 9% of high school girls reported being "hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriend or girlfriend" during the previous 12 months.

Victims of teen dating violence are more likely to experience depression, attempt suicide, struggle in school, get into fights, and drink heavily. They are also more likely to experience violence in their adult relationships. Teens who witness violence at home are at higher risk for becoming victims of dating violence or victimizing their dating partners.

Do you have a teenager in your life? Do you know how to start a conversation about teen dating violence? You can find resources that can help at:

How to Get Help for Yourself

First: If your abuser spies on you, don’t use your home computer to get or share information on domestic violence. Abusers can and do monitor their victims’ computer use to control their actions. Through the History menu in your Internet toolbar, they can look at all the websites you have visited on your computer. If you think your actions are being monitored, never use your computer at home to research domestic violence resources.

If you don’t have access to another computer and need another way to learn about your options, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233). It is a 24-hour hotline that can connect you directly to a local domestic violence resource.

If you need emergency shelter, you can see a map of all the California Emergency Management Agency–funded domestic violence shelters (Cal-EMA) here. The agencies are listed by county.

Los Angeles County* also has extensive resources available to help:

This October, during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, take the opportunity to learn the signs of domestic violence and identify local resources available to help.

*Source: California Partnership to End Domestic Violence