BY ANNE K. ARD
It seems like just yesterday, or maybe it was a lifetime ago, that this column reflected on yet another homicide in our community and urged us all to find ways to talk about the plague that is domestic violence. Twenty-eight days later, I find myself writing another column following the death of a woman allegedly at the hands of her estranged husband.
The grief and sadness that was explored last month has come closer to home for us at the Centre County Women’s Resource Center. For while we are always saddened and outraged when someone loses her or his life to domestic violence, Natalya was one of ours. She had worked with our advocates to build a new life. She stayed in our shelter to find safety after 40 years of an abusive marriage. And in an instant she is gone. Her friends and co-workers are shaken to the core, wondering — as do we — what else we could have or should have done to prevent her death.
The sad reality is, however, that the only one who could have prevented her death is the one who caused it.
But there is something we can do as individuals and as a community. It seems so small, so insignificant, but it can make all the difference to someone who is drowning in an avalanche of violence, convinced that no one will understand or help. We can talk about it. We can be clear that domestic violence has no place in our community. We can say, “no more.”
Far from being irrelevant or insignificant, talking about domestic violence actually keeps people safer. Here’s how:
• Expressing concern for a friend or co-worker’s safety when you think that she or he is being abused communicates that you care, that your friend or co-worker is not alone, and gives permission for them to talk about what is happening in their lives. Yes, you might be wrong, but what is the worst that could happen then? If you are right, you will give your friend or co-worker a life-line.
• Knowing and talking about community resources like the CCWRC gives people information they need. Not everyone knows that an emergency shelter is available or that it is free. Not everyone knows that it is possible to get an order of protection, what it can do and how to make happen. And you might not know that either — but the volunteers and staff of the CCWRC do.
• Talking through how to leave safely is critical. As we’ve seen all too clearly, leaving an abusive relationship is often the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence. Talking it through, planning how and when to leave can help.
Hard as it is to believe, talking about domestic violence is critical to eliminating it in our community. We know this because it works. It has worked for every victim who has been able to find the safety she or he needs and deserves in shelter; who has been able to leave an abusive relationship; who has been able to build a new life free from violence. It has worked for thousands of victims who have become survivors as they passed through the doors of the CCWRC. So as deeply as we mourn the losses of Natalya, Nuria, Traci, Amy and others whose lives have been lost, we also give thanks for those who were able to find the safety and peace they deserved because someone, maybe you, had the courage to talk about domestic violence.
Anne K. Ard is the executive director of the Centre County Women’s Resource Center, 140 W. Nittany Ave., State College. Contact her at 238-7066 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.