October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It is intended to raise awareness of the issue, celebrate survivors, and pay tribute to those lost to this heinous crime. Throughout the month, social media pages will "turn purple" with people posting pictures of purple awareness ribbons and displaying messages of support and encouragement for survivors.
Important? Absolutely. Effective? Not really. We are simply not paying enough attention to domestic violence. That needs to change.
Many of us will say this is not an issue that impacts us, our families, or anyone we know. We believe abuse is uncommon in intimate relationships. We tell ourselves this only happens to certain people in certain demographic groups.
Abusive relationships impact everyone regardless of gender, race, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation. Here in our local communities, thousands suffer in silence. Thousands live in fear. Thousands are being denied their right to live peacefully, without fear of harm at the hands of a person who claims to love them.
The notion that one party in a relationship has the right to manipulate, terrorize and control their partner is a violation of human rights. The use of force, or the threat of violence, is part of an effort to gain and maintain power and control over a partner, stopping at nothing to achieve that goal.
Abusive relationships take on many forms. There is no "one size fits all" scenario, as we all see in cases chronicled in the media, like the one involving the death of Blue Point native Gabby Petito. But elements can include threats of physical violence; violence ranging from pushing with an intent to harm to strangulation or worse; chipping away at personal support systems; emotional abuse via gaslighting and other means; sexual violence; and financial control.
The common thread, though, is danger. Those in abusive relationships are in tremendous danger and each situation must be taken seriously.
Anyone can find themselves in an abusive relationship. In many cases, the abuse is not evident or obvious to outside observers. That makes it difficult for survivors to come forward: They fear nobody will believe them based on how others see their partner. For this reason, we must believe survivors if they disclose abuse. Doing the opposite could result in them never reaching out for help again.
We all ask the question: Why doesn’t the victim just leave? The short answer is fear of being seriously harmed or killed. The truth is, leaving is more easily said than done. In fact, when survivors take steps to leave an abusive relationship, their level of danger increases. Taking away the power and control the abuser values so highly can come with serious or even deadly consequences.
Helping begins with listening to survivors. Support them in their journey. Do not place blame on them. Do not confront their partner. Express concern for their safety. Assist them in reaching out for help. Refuse to accept the notion that the survivor somehow caused the violence. Understand that not all survivors feel safe coming forward. Understand that some survivors might remain silent as a partner places the blame on them when law enforcement is present. Instead of victim blaming, recognize that responsibility lies solely with the abuser.
Too many still suffer in silence. We all have to work toward changing this. Someone you know is in danger.
If you or someone you know needs assistance, please contact our 24-hour hotline at 631-666-8833. We believe you. You are not alone.
This guest essay reflects the views of Wendy Linsalata, executive director of Long Island Against Domestic Violence.
LI Against Domestic Violence
320 Carleton Ave, Suite 8000 Central Islip, NY 11722 631-666-7181. 24-hour hot line: 631-666-8833 www.liadv.org