Returning to Michigan, the state where I grew up, as a professional dedicated to advocating for the victims of domestic violence, reminds me how much has changed since my childhood. But too much still has not changed.
Yes, we are now in the “Me Too” era, which brings attention and awareness to the trauma suffered by women. But what about those women who are not part of a high-profile case? They hear the language in the public dialogue that can point to victim blaming.
Comments like: “Why does it take women so long to report?” “If they were really in danger, why didn’t they speak up?”
This thinking causes guilt and shame, on top of the trauma that a woman has already been through as a survivor of domestic violence. As a community, we must be aware of the trauma that women carry with them, wherever they go.
It starts younger than you may realize. According to statistics from the nonprofit organization that operations the National Domestic Violence Hotline, girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence, almost triple the national average. Violent relationships put these victims at a higher risk for substance abuse and future domestic violence. Worse yet, half of youth who have been victims of dating violence and rape attempt suicide.
Too many believe the trauma is centered around an incident of physical violence. They think it is all as simple as a victim leaving her abuser and entering therapy. Those of us who work in this field, though, understand that it is much more complicated. Emotional abuse, especially in addition to physical trauma, can be manipulative and tear apart a victim’s self-worth, creating self-blame. That can lead to serious mental health challenges, as trauma lingers.
Earlier in my career, I sought to help a woman who came into a shelter from a very violent situation. Out of respect for her, we made an effort to complete her intake paperwork as quickly as possible. During that process, the doorbell rang — startling the woman to the point that she needed help to calm down. Imagine that: Even the sound of a doorbell could trigger her trauma.
Trauma lingers. We need to recognize this and commit to listening to victims. We must believe them, support them and help them take steps to get help and find safety
To help work toward ending the abuse and violence in families and in our community, it is time to reframe how we look at domestic violence. There has been a large shift in the last 30 years. It used to be considered a “family matter,” with those outside the family looking the other way.
But now, now domestic violence, and especially the trauma that comes with it, should be a community matter. Working together, we can continue to make progress.
About the author: Kristi Cogswell Boettcher, M.A. is the Director of Advocacy at the Women’s Resource Center for the Grand Traverse Area.
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