October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

As many already know, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Even though October is coming to a close, that does not mean the work of spreading awareness and educating ourselves about the systemic roots of domestic violence must also end. There are many things to understand about domestic violence that can help us become better allies and supporters for those that face it.

As a volunteer for the YWCA’s Sexual Assault and Abuse Hotline (the phone number for which is below), I went through an extensive training about why DV occurs and its causes. One of the most important takeaways from that training was the fact that DV stems from a need for power and control in an intimate relationship. Many unhealthy relationships may begin with more subtle forms of control, such as abusers regulating who their partners get to spend time with or how much time away from the relationship they can have. But, as the need for control and power in the relationship grows, this is when more outwardly abusive behaviors can start occurring. It’s important to recognize this not only in the sense of awareness and safety, but also because it points out that the roots of DV are not caused by the victims themselves. It is critical that DV victims and survivors know that it is not their fault that the abuse happens; it is not because of them, but is the result of larger systemic issues surrounding power. We are all a part of a larger societal theme wherein certain identities have more power based on factors such as gender, race, sexuality, etc. Domestic abusers may then wield this power over their partners as a result of their entitlement and societal structuring.

Another important aspect of DV that a lot of us may not consider is how COVID-19 has impacted and exacerbated it. Many of the procedures for staying safe during the pandemic include staying at home as much as possible and staying within your social “bubble” to reduce the spread. This consequently means that many victims of DV are forced to spend more intensive amounts of time with their abuser in order to avoid contracting the virus. And because the pandemic has led to such economic downturn and increased unemployment, financial strains may also be more stressful and apparent. On top of this, many relationships that may not have reached the abusive threshold before quarantine, have done so since, due to the increased amount of time people are forced to spend with one another. And while logically it may seem that DV services are at a greater demand due to COVID, it is in fact the opposite. It is difficult for victims to reach out and access the help and resources they need if their abusers are always in the same house with them. It is therefore more important than ever now to recognize how DV may develop in a relationship and what the different resource options may be during this time.

There are many different hotline options for people to call. It’s important to note too that these hotlines are not just for victims; they are also for friends and family members who may be worried about someone they know. They are great resources for navigating this situation from an outsider’s perspective (see the numbers below). But if calling and talking to someone on the phone isn’t an option, there are also many non-verbal forms of help available as well. The National Domestic Violence Hotline’s website has tools for creating a safety plan that is best for a particular individual, alongside resources for how to support loved ones facing DV. The PCADV (Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence) website also has lots of great resources about understanding, preventing, and safely intervening in abusive situations.

There is one more thing that we can all do to help prevent the horrible roots and effects of DV: vote! There are many changes that can be made on a legislative level to help prevent DV. Some of these changes include increased funding for DV services, violence prevention programs for teens and young children, and increased access to resources such as affordable and safe housing. Even platforms based on economic justice can help prevent DV, by allowing individuals to be more financially self-sufficient and less dependent on abusive partners. When we vote for lawmakers who understand the power and value of these policies, we are then helping make change on a more systemic level.

So while for some of us, DV may seem like a distant or intensely intimate issue that is hard to take direct part in preventing, its larger, societally- assembled roots mean that there are more options for involvement then we may expect. We can all play a role in preventing DV, for those we know and love and for those we don’t.


Written by Maddy Smith ’21, WGRC student worker

October 27, 2020