Stories of sexual violence have been swirling through the media in recent years. The #MeToo movement began to help women bring forth their repressed stories of abuse and harassment on social media platforms.
This movement has brought to light some of the darker sides of Hollywood, as well as the political sphere. Though the #MeToo movement has been cathartic for those who have been affected by sexual abuse, it is not the proper platform for those who experience abuse from intimate partners.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, nearly 20 people are abused by an intimate partner every minute. When domestic violence is discussed, physical abuse is the most common type of abuse thought of. There are many other types of abuse to consider, according to Marie Washington, Shelter Coordinator for S.H.A.R.E. House Family Violence Crisis Center in Douglasville, GA.
“A lot of times we focus on domestic violence as being physical abuse, but there’s a lot of different types of abuse,” said Washington. “Domestic Violence includes any type of physical, verbal, sexual or financial harm.”
The women accepted into the programs S.H.A.R.E. House offers were affected by many of these forms of abuse by intimate partners or family members, but the women are not the only ones to be concerned about.
“Anyone can be affected by domestic violence. Women are the victims we think of most, but men, children and pets are affected too,” said Washington. “Many times the children fall through the cracks because advocates are focused on getting the mother or father back on their feet. The children will be yelling and screaming, hitting their siblings or hitting other children, and bringing their abusive upbringing into an environment that is supposed to be safe for victims.”
The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) says in their studies that the best way to predict a child becoming a perpetrator or victim of domestic violence in their adult lives is to look at their childhood. If they were abused as a child, they are more likely to become involved in violent situations in the future.
“It’s a cycle,” said Washington. “And it’s vicious and hard to break.”
S.H.A.R.E. House has programs implemented to rehabilitate young victims to prevent them from going back to abusive situations. Sometimes, these programs are not enough.
“I’ve been here a long time,” said Washington. “I’ve seen lots of women and children come through here, work the programs and get out. Fifteen years later, those same kids are back at our front door, in the same situation their mother got them out of.”
Washington says the best way to help these youth is education. She suggests teaching kids as
early as seven how to recognize domestic violence.
“We need people going into schools teaching about domestic violence and teaching these kids that it’s not okay to be yelled at or hurt by someone who is supposed to love you,” said Washington.
Though education is the key to awareness, preventing the problem is a bit more complicated.
“A common misconception of women in domestic violence is that they choose not to leave- that they think it’s okay,” said Washington. “That’s usually not the case. Most women stay because they feel like they have no other choice. Their abuser controls them, threatens her life or her children’s. Or maybe, her kids adore him. Maybe she doesn’t have the money or support system to escape, or enough time alone to leave. It’s never the victim’s fault.”
Washington suggests considering these angles when trying to help someone in need.
“Sometimes they don’t feel like they need or deserve the help,” said Washington. “It can be embarrassing. If you suspect someone is experiencing domestic violence, reach out to them. Don’t accuse them of lying. Instead, have normal conversations with them and ask about their well being. Be a friend.
Washington also suggests being aware of your boundaries.
“Not everyone is an expert in counseling victims, but most everyone has, or can get access to, a phone. Simply say ‘I’m sorry you’re going through this, let me gather some resources for you.’ Then, Google shelters in your area, or call 1- 800-33 Haven. This number will connect you with the closest shelter. If you’re not comfortable with that, the police can assist you in gathering resources for the victim.”
If the victim chooses to not go any further after offering to help find resources, Washington suggests leaving them with a kind word, contact information, and reassurance that they can trust you if they ever need help.
Anyone can be affected by domestic violence. If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, call the Statewide Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-33 HAVEN (4286) or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233.