HER Aware­ness

Rec­og­niz­ing do­mes­tic abuse is not al­ways easy, and it can be dan­ger­ous to get in­volved, but not tak­ing ac­tion could cost a vic­tim her life

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Contents -

Un­der­stand­ing how to in­ter­vene in in­stances of do­mes­tic abuse can be dif­fi­cult for those un­fa­mil­iar with the warn­ing signs. Ac­cord­ing to Pam Den­ning­ton, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence Preven­tion, Inc., in Texarkana, Texas, the most dan­ger­ous time for a vic­tim of do­mes­tic abuse is when she be­comes com­pletely iso­lated from loved ones.

“When this hap­pens, she has no av­enue for es­cape,” Den­ning­ton said. “He has put her in sit­u­a­tions that have caused her to burn bridges with fam­ily, friends and even law en­force­ment and com­mu­nity out­reach sys­tems.”

On Sept. 13, 2017, the Na­tional Net­work to End Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence con­ducted its 12th an­nual 24-hour cen­sus of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence ser­vices. In that 24-hour pe­riod in Arkansas, of the 567 vic­tims served, 437 adult and child vic­tims found refuge in emer­gency shel­ters and tran­si­tional hous­ing pro­vided by these lo­cal pro­grams.

One hun­dred and thirty vic­tims re­ceived other ser­vices in­clud­ing le­gal ad­vo­cacy, coun­sel­ing and chil­dren’s sup­port groups, ac­cord­ing to the cen­sus.

The re­port stated that 243 Arkansans in com­mu­ni­ties across the state at­tended 17 preven­tion and ed­u­ca­tion ses­sions pro­vided by lo­cal do­mes­tic vi­o­lence pro­grams.

Ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion pro­vided by Den­ning­ton, there are nu­mer­ous signs, or “red flags,” that loved ones and by­standers can look for in a sus­pected case of abuse.

Not all abuse shows phys­i­cal signs, as most in­di­vid­u­als be­ing abused are also be­ing emo­tion­ally abused. Con­stant crit­i­cism and degra­da­tion, with­hold­ing af­fec­tion, un­war­ranted ac­cu­sa­tions and name calling are just a few of the tac­tics an ag­gres­sor uses to be­lit­tle a vic­tim.

Iso­la­tion is pos­si­bly the most detri­men­tal of tac­tics mak­ing leav­ing the abu­sive sit­u­a­tion all the more dif­fi­cult.

Ac­cord­ing to Den­ning­ton, for fam­ily and friends, “many times (the vic­tim) has left with sup­port from them emo­tion­ally and fi­nan­cially, only to go back. It makes sup­port­ing her dif­fi­cult for them.”

A woman will leave an abu­sive re­la­tion­ship an av­er­age of seven times be­fore she leaves per­ma­nently, ac­cord­ing to Break the Si­lence Against Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence, an ad­vo­cacy group for do­mes­tic abuse vic­tims. Even though fam­ily and friends may not un­der­stand why she stays in the abuse, it is cru­cial not to aban­don the vic­tim, Den­ning­ton said.

“The most im­por­tant thing we can do as a friend or fam­ily mem­ber is to never give up on her, no mat­ter how many times she re­turns or even if she de­cides to never leave,” she said.

“As friends and fam­ily, we can build her self-es­teem and con­fi­dence to try and off-set the emo­tional abuse she is re­ceiv­ing at home and make sure she knows we are al­ways avail­able for sup­port if she de­cides leav­ing is her best op­tion.”

Dur­ing a con­fer­ence held at Na­tional Park Col­lege later this month, in­ter­ested com­mu­nity mem­bers will be able to take a course in by­stander in­ter­ven­tion on Oct. 24. The course will give in­di­vid­u­als some of the tools needed to step in and pre­vent po­ten­tially tragic sit­u­a­tions from oc­cur­ring.

Ac­cord­ing to Susie Reece, vi­o­lence preven­tion spe­cial­ist for CHI St. Vin­cent Hot Springs, the course is based on the By­stander Ef­fect — also known as the Gen­ovese Ef­fect — in which peo­ple com­monly as­sume that some­one more qual­i­fied will step in and do some­thing.

“There was a woman named Kitty Gen­ovese who was ac­tu­ally mur­dered in New York City and ac­cord­ing to wit­nesses and news­pa­per ar­ti­cles, there were a lot of peo­ple that saw the event take place,” Reece said. “It started in the street, then she makes it into the stair­well of her apart­ment com­plex, and this guy just con­tin­u­ously fol­lows her.

“Af­ter she is mur­dered, they in­ter­view all these dif­fer­ent wit­nesses, and there are 30 dif­fer­ent peo­ple that saw it, and they started won­der­ing, ‘Why would peo­ple wit­ness some­thing like this and not do any­thing about it?’ And so there’s ac­tu­ally a the­ory that’s called the dif­fu­sion of re­spon­si­bil­ity, and essen­tially what we’re say­ing is when you’re wit­ness­ing some­thing there are dif­fer­ent rea­sons as to why you might say, ‘I’m not go­ing to do some­thing.’”

Those rea­sons may in­clude as­sum­ing some­one has al­ready taken ac­tion, or will, or that some­one more knowl­edgable or with a bet­ter skillset will step in, she said.

What the course will strive to do is ad­dress rea­sons by­standers may think they are in­ca­pable of tak­ing ac­tion and elim­i­nate that sense of dif­fu­sion.

“If we al­low things to go by with­out do­ing any­thing then we’re say­ing that we sup­port and ac­cept that, whether that’s our true be­lief or not,” Reece said.

In­ter­ven­tion can be done in sub­tle ways, she said. If an in­ci­dent is tak­ing place in pub­lic, one tac­tic could be start­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with the ag­gres­sor as a dis­trac­tion. Other op­tions might be turn­ing to in­di­vid­u­als with ex­per­tise about abuse, like a coun­selor or law en­force­ment, and mak­ing them aware of the vic­tim’s sit­u­a­tion. By­standers can also ad­dress the is­sue head on, set­ting a stan­dard that this be­hav­ior is not tol­er­ated.

“This the­ory, this by­stander in­ter­ven­tion, is not specif­i­cally for do­mes­tic vi­o­lence,” Reece said. “It’s ac­tu­ally for ev­ery­thing that we want to ad­dress. You can re­lay this over into sex­ual as­sault. You can re­lay this into bul­ly­ing, into sui­cide. It’s essen­tially say­ing that we are be­ing vo­cal about how we feel about these is­sues, and we’re let­ting peo­ple know. If we re­frame the way that we ad­dress them, the way that we present to oth­ers how we feel about them, then we’re let­ting peo­ple know what is ac­cept­able and what is not ac­cept­able.”

Reece said as a survivor of child abuse, she be­lieves the idea that there is lit­tle a by­stander can do in in­ter­ven­ing in a sit­u­a­tion is false.

“I think that there are some­times things that are kept within fam­ily units that don’t go out­side of that, but I also think that there are be­hav­iors that are in line with these types of ag­gres­sions,” she said “So, if we are ed­u­cated on what those things are, like groom­ing, for ex­am­ple — peo­ple don’t un­der­stand what that is, and that’s a very lengthy process be­cause you don’t just im­me­di­ately jump into be­ing in that sit­u­a­tion. We have to un­der­stand what that process looks like.”

Groom­ing is a tac­tic abusers use on their vic­tims to slowly in­tro­duce abuse into a re­la­tion­ship. Usu­ally it is sub­tle and not ap­par­ent be­cause of an ex­cit­ing hon­ey­moon phase that is meant to lure the vic­tim in. Over time, the vic­tim be­comes brain­washed, ma­nip­u­lated and de­sen­si­tized to be­hav­iors that are abu­sive, likely be­liev­ing the abuse is some­how her fault.

“We also have to un­der­stand that there’s a lot of iso­la­tion, so if you know the warn­ing signs and the risk fac­tors for those things you can be more aware of it,” Reece said.

Abusers iso­late vic­tims from peo­ple so that the vic­tims be­come de­pen­dent on them. The abusers see friends, fam­ily and col­leagues as threats to their con­trol over the vic­tim, be­liev­ing that these con­nec­tions might one day con­vince the vic­tim to leave.

Ed­u­cat­ing youths on what is ac­cept­able be­hav­ior is also key in break­ing the cy­cles of abuse, Reece said.

“This is proac­tive be­hav­ior and I think that’s the most im­por­tant thing,” Reece said. “If we change the way that we ad­dress these things, it can be proac­tive.

“Most preven­tion is re­ac­tive be­cause some­thing has hap­pened or we’re try­ing to ed­u­cate against, and a lot of times it’s a neg­a­tive con­text. But these can be small things that we in­cor­po­rate by say­ing, ‘This is what I stand for and I don’t ac­cept these types of be­hav­iors,’ and peo­ple typ­i­cally come on board with that.”

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