Thursday, September 27, 2012

Domestic Abuse Awareness - Pa Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Stand Up and Speak Out

Milestones Communications is a small PR firm that works with groups large and small, corporate and non-profit. We also are active in community service, volunteerism and working pro bono for causes near and dear.
This year, we wanted to commit to helping raise awareness about domestic abuse. Why this cause and why now? Because we believe our homes should be a place of safety, love, respect and admiration – for all.   

Putting an End to Domestic Abuse

We were moved to action after seeing an Associated Press report that indicated 1 in 4 women had suffered at the hands of someone they loved and trusted, someone they’d lived with or had been in a relationship with. The number was startling to most – to all except those who work with the victims. And they, across the board, knew the numbers were higher than most of us imagined. The acts of violence included murders, beatings, rapes and stalking along with strikes and blows, pushes, shoves and threats thereof. We realized then that the number of women, children and men who also experienced domestic abuse of all sorts had to, likewise, be beyond our comprehension.
Consider this:
  • On average more than three women a day are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in the United States
  • Nearly one in four women in the U.S. reports experiencing violence by a current or former spouse or boyfriend at some point in her life
  • 20% to 25% of women in college reported experiencing an attempted or completed rape in college
  • Women who have experienced DV are 80% more likely to have a stroke, 70% more likely to have heart disease, 60% more likely to have asthma and 70% more likely to drink heavily than women who have not
As we gave thought to the unsettling statistics, we realized that we personally knew of those affected. Perhaps not our BFF revealing blow-by-blow accounts of the latest cut, bruise or blow, but a relative who has changed over time, a friend who doesn’t have the same zest for life, a colleague who’s more withdrawn, a church member who’s nice but distant. Chances are you know someone who’s having a tough time at home. Their lives may be in jeopardy, they may live in fear, walk on eggshells. Maybe not violent pushing and shoving - perhaps their reality is more subtle and socially acceptable  - but a string of stress-producing incidents, nonetheless, that keep one on edge and in constant fear that wears one out over time.

Do you know someone who’s the victim of domestic abuse?

If not, we’d wager it’s only because they aren’t talking. And that’s precisely why domestic abuse has the power to make so many feel so powerless. Because those abused live in fear – of saying something that will set the abuser off, doing something that will set off a series of attacks, looking or responding in a way that “invites” whatever it is that follows. Too often, the abuser puts on a happy face for the rest of the world but those closest to them encounter a snarling face who somehow believes that they can make themselves feel better by making others feel worse.
As we took to heart the sobering statistics, we came to the conclusion that none of us should accept or minimize abuse in any form. Those who are abused don’t speak up and don’t seek help because they feel they can’t. The first step in understanding their pain - be it physical, mental or emotional - is learning more about it. From there, we can lend our compassion, our care and concern, critical resources and most of all, intolerance for the inexcusable, the unacceptable and the unfathomable. Knowing what to look for will make it more difficult for those committing abuse to continue on unnoticed, unaccountable, or unconcerned.

And let’s not make the mistake of thinking that it’s just women. These stats include teens, youths and men.
Our goal is to share more in the months ahead, spotlighting the organizations that work to raise awareness about domestic abuse as well as speak with those most affected.
We started with the York YWCA in York, PA; we talked with Hope's Door in Collins County, TX and the Women of Means Escape Network in Los Altos, CA. Today, we talk with the Pennsylavania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Tell us more about your organization.  

The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence is the nation’s oldest statewide domestic violence organization. We were founded in 1976 and over the years built a network of 60 community-based programs serving victims and their children in all 67 Pennsylvania counties.  Among the free and confidential services these programs have offered are safe shelter, counseling, legal advocacy, support groups and children’s programs to more than 2.5 million individuals.

What drew you to the field? How did you become involved?
Many, but not all, of our founders and advocates were once victims themselves. We are drawn to this work because of concern for a group of victims that often doesn’t elicit much public sympathy. It’s still common for people to blame victims of domestic violence for not leaving, when we know from statistics and anecdotal experience that victims are most in danger when they end or leave the abusive relationship.

Why do abusers abuse?
There are many reasons for abuse including having grown up in a home where family violence was the norm.  Abusers come from all educational, income, racial, ethnic and religious groups. For most of them the violence is a means of maintaining power and control over their victim.

Is it the victim’s fault?
Violence and abuse are never the victim’s fault. They are solely the fault of the one committing the violence and abuse. No one deserves to be abused.

Are there victims who’ve broken the cycle and what made the difference?

Executive Director Peg Dierkers
Many victims have broken the cycle of violence. Sometimes it takes many tries to successfully end an abusive relationship. Victims who reach out for the assistance of experienced and knowledgeable advocates are able to find the financial, emotional, educational and employment help they need to break away and stay away.

How can they find help safely?
They can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for a referral to their nearest local domestic violence services program. An advocate there can help them develop a safety plan.

What are common myths and misconceptions about victims?
Some common myths and misconceptions about victims include that they could stop or leave the violence if they really wanted to, that the violence is somehow their fault and that they only come from lower socio-economic classes.

What are the signs of physical abuse?  
Some signs of physical abuse include bruises (or long sleeves on warm days to conceal bruises), black eyes, cuts, marks on the skin, broken bones and dizziness, unconsciousness and memory loss when there is head trauma.

What are the signs of non-violent abuse?
 Someone may become more quiet than usual, withdrawn, isolated from friends and family, worried about appeasing and keeping happy their partner and generally more fearful.

What can friends and family do to help?
Ask the person if something is wrong, if they need to talk about something or need some help. Offer them the National Domestic Violence Hotline number. Offer to watch their children while they go to an appointment with an advocate, or take in their pet(s) while they are in shelter. Let them know you care, you won’t be judgmental, and you are there for them.

What can the public do to help?
Local domestic violence shelters operate on a shoestring budget. The last few years they have seen their state and federal funding cut while demand for their services has increased. Consider donating money or calling to ask what donated goods they need. Encourage your local school to include prevention of teen dating violence in their curriculum.  Encourage your workplace and church to invite speakers and put up posters with the hotline number on bulletin boards and in restrooms.

Tell us more about the greatest success story you’ve seen.
We adhere to strict confidentiality when it comes to victims and their stories. However, we can say that we’ve seen many abused women flee to a shelter with their children in the middle of the night with nothing but the clothing on their backs. Within a short time they are in counseling, the woman is furthering her education or brushing up on her employment skills, and soon she has a job and has moved the children into a safe new home.

How can we help your organization?
Continue raising awareness about domestic violence and the free and confidential services available to victims.

What books, movies, or songs realistically illustrate domestic abuse?
The Burning Bed.

Is there a local organization you know that’s doing great things in the community to help victims of domestic abuse? Drop us a line. We’d love to support their cause.

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