By Taya Graham, Special to the AFRO
The meteoric rise of the #metoo movement. A controversial and agonizing supreme court confirmation process. And the continued stigma endured by survivors of domestic violence. These are just a few of the emotional currents women’s advocates say are creating a tense atmosphere of stress and uncertainty for survivors of abuse.
In the aftermath of a series of contentious hearings that led to confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court which made the trauma of sexual assault a national discussion, advocates for women who have experienced the trauma of abuse say the healing process will be critical for them.
“It reminds me that this is actually real, that we have people dealing with a lot of pain,” Dr. Natasha Pratt-Harris, associate professor and director of the Criminal Justice program at Morgan State University, told the AFRO.
The turmoil that accompanied Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, and the often skeptical reaction of both the public and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, can re-traumatize women who have experienced sexual assault, and only reinforce their fear that speaking out will have consequences.
“It reminds us that women who are oftentimes victims and men who are oftentimes perpetrators don’t get justice,” she said.
The fallout over Ford’s decision to speak out is particularly pointed now, because October is national domestic violence month.
The annual recognition of the impact of intimate partner violence began in October 1987. Since then it has evolved to encompass all the facets of domestic abuse that affect both women and men in ways that often remain hidden, but must be better understood, advocates say.
Some argue that is precisely why the hearings over Kavanaugh’s alleged assault are relevant to the efforts to bring awareness to domestic violence: Ford’s silence for decades.
“The notion of people being quiet, it is symptomatic of victims who are also survivors because there is pain in saying it out loud, Whether it’s child abuse, domestic violence, or sexual violence because of how they are received by society,” said Dr. Pratt-Harris.
Statistics on domestic violence vary with methodology, but studies seem to indicate that raising awareness about domestic violence, outreach, safe houses for women and the authorization of the federal Violence Against Women’s Act in 1994 for women has helped slowly decrease the numbers of victims. When asked about the impact of domestic violence, Kimberly Haven, a case manager for PIVOT, an organization dedicated to helping women returning from prisons said the consequences are far-reaching.
“I have seen intimate partner violence shatter lives and destroy families…I have seen the aftermath…I have seen women pushed to the edge…and defend themselves only to be punished for it by the criminal justice system, society, and even friends and families. I know women who continue to suffer in silence, shame and fear and no one deserves to live like that.”
Cheri Parlaman is the chief communications officer for House of Ruth Maryland, a non profit organization that has been serving victims of domestic violence for over 40 years.
“What we do know without a doubt is 1 in 4 women will be a victim in their lifetime. Look around the room in your office, 1 of those women will be a victim of domestic violence. Victims need to know they are not alone, it is not a factor of their race or income; it is an equal opportunity situation.”
According to the National Coalition of Domestic Violence, 1 in 3 female murder victims and 1 in 20 male murder victims are murdered by an intimate partner. Domestic violence leads to higher rates of depression and suicidal behavior and has an economic cost as well, 21 percent to 60 percent of victims of domestic violence lose their jobs due to reasons stemming from the abuse.
And silence is what domestic violence and sexual assault victims have in common. Often, they remain silent, afraid of reaching out to friends or authorities. But according to Parlaman, domestic violence isn’t simply physical violence of bruises and broken bones; it is yelling threats and imposing the silent treatment, coercion, economic extortion, cyber or real-world stalking, and forced isolation.
For those who know or suspect a person may be a victim of domestic violence, they are often left feeling helpless not knowing what to do,
“Often we tend to blame the abuser and speak horribly of them and then we become a place where the victim isn’t safe to turn to us,” said Parlaman. “She loves him, so we need to ask are you okay? What can we do to help you? We need to leave the abuser out of it.”