Throughout our Domestic Violence Awareness Month blog series, you will hear about domestic violence from various individuals, each with a unique perspective and experience. This week, in their own words, we hear from Vickie, Kristen, Becky, and Karlene. Thank you to our contributing writers for sharing.
“Every year during the month of October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) ICADV and advocates across the state and across the country focus on public education about the issue of domestic violence. Most people have images in their minds about domestic violence: black eyes, broken bones, unable to speak up for oneself. However, the psychological, emotional and financial aspects of domestic violence aren’t well understood.
At the risk of sounding like I see specters everywhere, I would like to assert that everyone knows someone who has or is experiencing domestic violence. Many believe it happens rarely or only to certain people, primarily those that live in poverty or have substance use issues. I would like to challenge you to take a look around you at the people in your family, in your work or school sphere and in your friends’ network to see who might need some support and encouragement to be in a safer and healthier relationship.
Is someone you know often belittled by their partner or overly criticized about their parenting, their homemaking or their appearance? Are you aware of someone who has no input into their household spending decisions? Does a friend or family member no longer engage in social activities that they once found enjoyable with others? Is someone you know constantly needing to call and text where they are? Is their social media being monitored?
Domestic violence is often emotional and psychological abuse that has no overt signs but when we are educated, we are able to recognize that someone may be treated less than they deserve. Over time when there is no intervention, physical violence can become more prominent and more dangerous. Physical violence is used more frequently to maintain the power and control established to keep another “in their place”.
Many who have not witnessed domestic violence believe that if it were occurring to them, they would simply walk away and no longer have to deal with the abusive person. But the abusive person is very deliberate in building power and control over time so that it often appears that people are just trying to work on making their relationship better.
Over the years I have met new advocates who have come into this work of ending violence, the dawning recognition of those they know or even of experiences in their lives that they had not recognized previously can be a bit of a shock. It takes time to realize that domestic violence is so much more common than most of us know. We all have a part to play in ending domestic violence. Step one is recognizing we all know someone. The next step is getting a better understanding of what that means for our families, our workplaces and our communities.”
— Vickie Smith, ICADV President and CEO
“As a survivor it can be challenging to work in the Domestic Violence world. You must be mindful of your own triggers and protective of your mental health. The problem is that you have so much trauma floating around in your subconscious mind that you can’t always anticipate and evade those triggers. They will grab ahold of you in the most random of situations and bring you right back to a space that you thought you had overcome. The worst thing you can do as a survivor is to let this moment win! You can’t let it undo all the work you’ve put into healing yourself. Let yourself feel it and then remember you are safe. Because that’s the most important part – you are safe.
On the flip side of that, I am an accountant – not an advocate. I’m not equipped to help someone who is in that trauma state deal with the situation in a calm manner. Eventually I can think of resources or ways to cope with the trauma but in that moment I’m in the same fight or flight that the survivor is in. Because of that I never dreamed I could make an impact in survivor’s lives. That’s not to say that I haven’t gone to Order of Protection hearings or offered my home to someone in crisis. But those aren’t things that you can do on an everyday basis and protect your own mental health. I still remember the day I realized that this work needs people with my skill set. It was the first time I felt like I could make an impact! I can help make sure our membership is getting the funding they need to continue the amazing work they are doing on the ground level but be at a safe distance to protect myself from constantly reliving the abuse.”
— Kristen Mueller, Survivor
Let’s Listen to Survivors
“Many of you may be lucky to not have been directly impacted by domestic violence, but you probably know someone who has. Nearly 3 out of 4 Americans know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence–it could be your friend, neighbor, coworker or family member. Since we all most likely know someone who has been impacted by domestic violence, we all have a responsibility and opportunity to take a stand and offer support to those who may need our help. However, we should do this in a way that is truly helpful to others. Sometimes even with the best of intentions, we could make situations more difficult for survivors of domestic violence.
It is important to remember that what works for one person will not work for everyone. What might increase one person’s safety could actually increase another person’s danger. Domestic violence, sometimes referred to as intimate partner violence, includes a power imbalance in which one partner uses a variety of tactics to gain and maintain power over their partner. If the person who uses violence feels that their ability to control their partner is threatened, they might take more extreme action to regain control over the victim through the use of tactics including emotional, psychological, financial, physical, or sexual abuse. This is why a survivor’s risk of being killed greatly increases when they are attempting to leave or have left their relationship. At any point if the victim tries to escape their partner’s control, their safety could be in jeopardy.
Therefore, it is critical that when we offer help to survivors of domestic violence, we recognize that they are the experts in their lives. They have heard the threats, they have lived under the control of a partner, and they have experienced the trauma first-hand. They understand the risks involved with staying or leaving. Each survivor needs to make decisions about what is best for them based on their experiences, fears, and resources. There is no one-size-fits-all approach that will work for every situation of domestic violence, but we can listen and support each survivor to assist them with developing a plan that might help them in their unique situation.
This October, in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, please join us in helping local survivors by listening without judgment and referring to local agencies who are here to help. Instead of telling someone that they need to leave their relationship or take certain action, suggest options, and support their right to make the choices that are safest for them. Together, we can make our communities safer for adults and children who have experienced abuse.”
— Becky Winstead, Vice President of Domestic Violence Services, Remedies Renewing Lives
Victim, Survivor, Advocate, Warrior
“My name is Karlene (she/her), and the perspective of this short piece will be coming from my viewpoint as a survivor, former advocate, and current ICADV staff member. I will be writing with vulnerability and courage to lay out how I developed my passion for anti-oppression work. A survivor I worked with told me once after receiving services: “I went from being a victim, to a survivor, to an advocate, to a warrior”. This is my why. And below is my story:
I started as a victim. At the age of 13, I experienced online grooming/trafficking. From ages 14-17, I was exposed to sexual harassment, teen dating violence, and unwanted/unsolicited sexual touch by multiple people. At age 20, I experienced a sexual assault. It was this that led me to a campus sexual assault support group, and I learned for the first time these experiences throughout my life constitute as sexual violence. It was also in this support group where I learned that my experiences aren’t all that rare. In fact, sexual and domestic violence does not discriminate against anyone.
I turned into a survivor. I started to find some knowledge, power, and healing. I started to understand that my debilitating anxiety, major depression, and suicide ideation was coming from a place of deep, suppressed pain that deserved and needed to heal. And since healing is not linear, this healing continues to this day and probably for my lifetime.
I wanted to get involved. I interned/volunteered for a year with a local sexual assault/domestic violence (SA/DV) agency, and a few years later…
I became an advocate. During those two and a half years as a SA/DV advocate, I worked thousands of hours with hundreds of clients in the office, hospitals, child protection centers, police stations, shelters, law firms, courthouses, schools, and in the community. I made some incredibly strong connections with the survivors and colleagues I co-advocated with. To this day and always, I keep a box full of art pieces, thank you notes, and inspirational reminders of this time and why I do this work.
On the flipside, my time as an advocate was also incredibly vicariously traumatic and enraging. You see firsthand the damage caused to survivors and communities by our own society’s seemingly purposeful creation of oppressive systems. You walk away from each protective order or child custody hearing with this sick feeling that it was the abuser/offender who was protected, not the victim/survivor along with their children and animal companions. It’s difficult to witness a police officer victim blame while helping a client file a report, or worse, not show up at all. It’s discouraging to have a survivor wait hours in the emergency room to then receive non-trauma-informed care because SANE nurses are a rarity in rural areas. And it is devastating to know students are experiencing sexual violence within their school walls with little repercussions to the perpetrator/s, and little protections offered and enforced for the survivor. So on, and so on…until the worse of all happens, a survivor you were working with is murdered or dies by suicide. I had to step away. But I will always be an advocate.
And now, I too consider myself a warrior. I went through a grieving process, in a way, stepping away from my direct service role. But my work as a Programmatic Monitoring Coordinator at ICADV will allow me the opportunity to support the DV agencies in our state as they provide the most trauma-informed and compassionate services possible to survivors. It all trickles down, and my mission is to continue to spread sparkles, hope, healing, and support in all that I do. This work takes fierce humans to stand up and say things others can’t and do things others won’t. It takes a collective team across the state to slowly chip away at creating communities free from violence.
— Karlene, ICADV Programmatic Monitoring Coordinator