October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. While it is essential to have dedicated months to various causes, we must always remember to fight violence in our communities and in our homes and not let this pervasive social problem be demarcated to only one month of the year. The fight against domestic violence is not new and can be concretely dated to 19th century moral reformers in both America and England.
However, it could also be argued that throughout history communities have always had informal ways to keep the familial peace. The question then becomes, how does Chautauqua County measure up? Are we as a community doing all that we can to let our children know that family violence is unacceptable?
Each of us has individual responsibilities to end violence against women, men, and children, because it is a public issue that needs to be responded to comprehensively.
Domestic violence can be seen in terms of the ripple effect: when you drop a stone in a bucket of water, many ripples are produced; they travel out, hit the side of the bucket, start traveling back to the center, and begin crossing and affecting one another's paths. Eventually the water settles down, but the arrangement of the water in the bucket is forever changed.
Domestic violence alters the arrangement of our community. Every individual or organizational act affects the complex social conditions that allow domestic violence to occur and the conditions that influence a survivor's healing process.
This year to date, The Salvation Army Anew Center, which is the local domestic violence and sexual assault program, has received over 2,000 hotline calls and sheltered more than 80 women and children, and these victims face a multitude of barriers. It is like having heavy quilts placed on a victim's head, one at a time, until she is surrounded by blackness and a silence that is truly deafening. A voice is lost and it is up to the community to take off that weight so that a victim can feel empowered once again. Unfortunately, this is not always the case and instead we create more barriers.
A woman, a victim, reaches out to a doctor and gets a negative reaction and it may take her years to speak out again. A man, a victim, attempts to talk to a colleague about his unhealthy relationship and is met with ridicule. He may never try to vent his inner anguish again. Everyone has a role to play. Doctors and nurses can screen for domestic violence. Neighbors can intervene when they hear increasingly violent fights and friends can listen with an unbiased ear.
Women are often held responsible for their own victimization by either making "poor choices" or not leaving an abuser in a timely fashion. On the other hand, the breakdown of who is the "sympathetic" victim, who is the "evil" perpetrator, and what is the most appropriate community response, is not so easily defined.
It is up to us to understand these nebulous categories and to foster an environment that says no to domestic violence in any circumstance. So I propose that in honor of domestic violence awareness month, we all take a moment to learn about this issue and to make ourselves aware of what is available in our community for victims and survivors of violence.
For more information about what The Salvation Army Anew Center offers, such as community education on domestic violence and sexual assault, please call the Domestic Violence/ Rape Crisis Hotline at 1-800-252-8748 or 661-3897.
Vanessa Weinert is a program assistant at The Salvation Army Anew Center in Jamestown.