Together We Can Break the Silence to End Domestic Violence

In 2013, as in every year, domestic violence spared no age, socioeconomic class or educational level.

In Pennsylvania the 107 fatalities of domestic violence included a college math professor, a paramedic, a nurse, a high school senior set to graduate in two weeks, a college student, a florist, five women over age 80, single mothers and a bride on the way to the final fitting of her wedding dress. The youngest victim was age 2.  The oldest victim was age 91

Domestic violence is defined as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.  Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.

Domestic violence can happen to anyone regardless of race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender. Domestic violence affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels. Domestic violence occurs in both opposite-sex and same-sex relationships and can happen to intimate partners who are married, living together, or dating.

Domestic violence not only affects those who are abused, but also has a substantial effect on family members, friends, co-workers, other witnesses, and the community at large. Children, who grow up witnessing domestic violence, are among those seriously affected by this crime. Frequent exposure to violence in the home not only predisposes children to numerous social and physical problems, but also teaches them that violence is a normal way of life – therefore, increasing their risk of becoming society’s next generation of victims and abusers.

A question much too frequently asked is “Why does she stay?” or  “Why doesn’t she leave?”

You know why she stays? Sometimes it’s because she looks in the mirror and sees a stranger staring back at her. Eyes devoid of spirit. No remnants of a smile anywhere on her face. A blank, colorless mask covering the strong, independent person she used to be. She has no idea who she is anymore. Everything she thought she knew about herself has been stripped. She knows only the screams of condemnation. “You’re no good. You’re stupid. You’re selfish. Who else could ever love you?”

You know why she stays? Sometimes she stays because she can’t afford to go. She’s given up her life to be at home. To be a mom. To be a robot for someone who hurls insults and threats as soon as she attempts to do anything for herself. She couldn’t possibly support herself, could she? Not financially. Not even emotionally. What would her parents think? What would her friends say? What would her family do?

You know why she stays?  Because she’d rather take the abuse than have it heaped onto her children. If she does what she’s told, if she absorbs the blows, be them physical or emotional, at least she can do so being the shield for her children. She’ll do anything to protect them.

The following are quotes from the mouths of victims, Why did I stay?

Because my pastor said I made a commitment and needed to stick it out through the worse as well as the better.

—Because I thought I didn’t deserve any better

—I thought if I could just be a better cook, kept a cleaner home, lost a few lbs he wouldn’t hurt me anymore.

—I stayed because my pastor told me that God hates divorce. It didn’t cross my mind that God might hate abuse, too.

—He said he would change. He promised it was the last time. I believed him. He lied.

—I had to plan my escape for months before I even had a place to go and money for the bus to get there.

—He controlled our finances – I had no money for gas.

Why did I stay? 

I stayed because I thought love was enough to conquer all.

—I stayed because I was halfway across the country, isolated from my friends and family. And there was no one to help me.

I honestly don’t know. I was embarrassed and in denial.

—He made me believe no one else would understand.

—I kept hoping it was a phase and that things would get better.

—I was determined to make it work, wanted kids to have their dad, convinced myself that what he did to me wasn’t affecting them.

—My mom stayed because she had 3 young kids, a mortgage, and a PT job. My dad had a FT paycheck, our church behind him, and bigger fists.

Why did I stay??

—Because after being stuck in an abusive relationship for a while I started to believe I deserved all of it.

—When you live in a rural area and run outside – there’s nowhere to go. When you scream there’s no one to hear you.

—He told me I was damaged goods and that no one would want me and I believed him.

—It must be my fault – he loved me once.

—I was scared to death. Period.

Let’s stop asking this question. Let’s not ask why she stays. Let’s not judge her.

Instead, we should be asking  “Why does he do that?” “Why don’t we do more as a society to put an end to domestic violence?”

In 2013, 1,096 adults and children were recipients of domestic violence services in Centre County. Almost 200 victims were assisted with Protection for Abuse Orders and court accompaniment. Just under 3,000 hotline calls were answered which were related to domestic violence.  Did you know that the most dangerous time for a person in an abusive relationship is when they decide to leave?

 How can you help?

—  Listen without judgment

—  Share resources, hotline numbers, shelter numbers

—  Say what you see

—  Ask “How can I help you?”

—  Believe victims

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month – a time to mourn those who died, celebrate those who have survived, promote the availability of free and confidential help, and encourage community members to get involved in efforts to stop the violence.

Together we can Break the Silence and help to end               Domestic Violence.

Jody K. Althouse, Director of Outreach & Education