When people think of October, two things usually come to mind: Halloween and Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I want to encourage you to add a third: Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In many ways, domestic violence awareness and breast cancer awareness have similar aims. Both aim to raise awareness of a widespread public health issue and to raise money to help those impacted. Both are associated with impacting women, but they are also serious issues for men, and more generally, families. Only one, however, gets a strong showing of support during the month of October. Unfortunately, the sea of pink associated with breast cancer awareness often overshadows domestic violence awareness, which is represented by the color purple.
According to the Domestic Violence Awareness Project, domestic violence is “a pattern of abusive behaviors…used by one intimate partner against another … in order to gain, maintain, or regain power and control in the relationship.” Abusive behaviors can include physical, sexual and/or psychological attacks and economic coercion. While domestic violence can lead to one partner being terrorized, injured and sometimes killed, it is a much broader phenomenon. It often functions as a cycle: violence can become normalized in the home, victims can later grow up to be perpetrators, and normative beliefs that enable domestic violence often transcend the immediate family unit. Thus, supporting domestic violence awareness is not only important in terms of supporting victims and eliminating violence, but also in terms of a more just and healthier society.
At a college like Elizabethtown College, opening lines of communication about domestic violence can help work toward social justice in general. In the broadest sense, social justice aims to ensure equal access to resources and opportunities amongst a given populace, regardless of gender, class, race or culture, seeking to also ensure that they are free from violence. For those who are victims of domestic violence, access to resources and opportunities can be limited. Victims of domestic violence can be stigmatized and blamed for being in abusive relationships, which can deter victims — who are already often afraid or not confident — from seeking help.
For those who do seek help, it is diminishing. Domestic violence shelters are often overcrowded and underfunded. Further, this past summer, Congress failed to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, an Act that has had bipartisan support since its inception in 1994 and has provided billions of dollars to support community resources and programs as well as the investigation and prosecution of domestic violence cases.
While money does support efforts against domestic violence, it is one of the many ways in which the resources and opportunities needed to help victims can be improved and expanded. In much the same way that breast cancer awareness has helped to expel the myths about breast cancer and has made it so that breast cancer is no longer taboo, domestic violence awareness makes it easier to tackle this serious issue.
Part of my goal in raising attention of this issue is to give voice to the many students on campus who have been victims of domestic violence. Many of these students are frustrated by the lack of knowledge surrounding domestic violence and the ignorant comments sometimes made by fellow students and community members, both on campus and beyond. It is time that domestic violence is brought to the forefront of our conversations about “peace, non-violence, human dignity, and social justice.” Not doing so is a recipe for greater violence and harm, even at Etown, because domestic violence is not about a victim and a perpetrator, but about systemic family and community violence that can span generations.
It is hopefully clear that ignoring domestic violence is dangerous and that promoting awareness about this issue has many advantages. Try to imagine how different our society could be if we advocated for domestic violence in the ways we seek to raise breast cancer awareness. We would run marathons, have special events around fundraising, and encourage victims to share their stories. Try to imagine how broad that impact could be.
So the next time you pull out something pink in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, consider adding a little purple to go with it.
Dr. Shah is an assistant professor of sociology who specializes in criminology and the sociology of law.
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, please know that you do not have to face the problem alone, and seek help. You can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224 and get connected to a local domestic violence program. If you are in an emergency, please call 911 or Campus Security at x1111 if you are on campus.
For support in Pennsylvania, please contact the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence: http://www.pcadv.org/
For more information on domestic violence, see: http://www.nrcdv.org/dvam/