Societal views on gender roles have to change for domestic violence to be stopped before it happens, according to members of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
“It’s all about breaking down those rigid gender stereotypes,” said Zoe Flowers, director of prevention for the coalition. “How do you respond to certain situations? How do you act in a way that is respectful? A lot of the work that we do is helping people focus on things like anti-oppression and how do you use your privilege and breaking down ‘isms.’ There is a lot of social change work that goes into prevention.”
One of the norms that the coalition tries to change is the role of men and women. Flowers said society tends to view women as subservient to men, creating an atmosphere of ownership.
“I think one of the societal norms that needs to change is that it is a private issue ... but also there is a lot of conditioning around the roles of women and men and looking at women as property,” she said. “If one person is another person’s property, you can do with them as you will. You can discipline that person as you will. What we see is a lot of people falling into those rigid stereotypes of what a man is or what a woman is. We work a lot to change those views.”
Domestic violence prevention falls into three categories. Primary prevention is attempting to prevent domestic violence from happening before it starts. Secondary prevention focuses on changing behaviors of those who have committed acts of domestic violence so they do not repeat those. Tertiary prevention usually involves the criminal justice system, creating barriers from a person being victimized again.
Flowers classified secondary and tertiary prevention as intervention programs. A great deal of focus has been in those two categories, but the coalition is hoping to create a holistic approach, mixing prevention with intervention.
“We like that mix of strategies between that climate change, relationship messaging and also being able to provide resources for students in need of support to get that support,” said Fern Gilkerson, health education specialist for the coalition.
Flowers highlighted the program Coaching Boys into Men as one of the youth programs for which the coalition advocates. Boys are taught how to maintain healthy relationship by their athletic coaches. This is a way for boys to learn nonviolent ways to handle problems within relationships. She said the program works well because it meets boys on their level with a role model who can help define what masculinity is.
“Prevention focuses a lot with work with young people, because it focuses on preventing violence before it starts,” Flowers said.
More than one in four adolescent girls in a relationship has been threatened with violence or experienced verbal abuse, and 13 percent say they were physically hurt or hit, according to the Family Violence Prevention Fund.
According to Flowers, prevention also entails teaching individual how to intercede when they see someone at risk of violence. She talked about teaching college students how to step up and help another if they see they have had too much to drink and are getting unwanted advances.
More than 94 percent of Pennsylvanians said they would intervene if they knew or suspected that someone was being abused, according to a 2011 survey completed by the coalition and Pennsylvania State University Harrisburg Campus.
The coalition’s goal is to get those people to safely take action.
“We work to give them skills on how to intervene that would not cause any harm to the intervener and also not escalate the situation,” Flowers said.
Nearly 91 percent of Pennsylvanians did not consider domestic violence to be a private personal matter, according to the coalition’s survey. This is a good sign that Pennsylvanians understand that domestic violence is a public problem, she said. However, more than half of the individuals polled also said they believed victims instigate domestic violence.
“A lot of the work we do is around training people on how to change their knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors,” Flowers said. “A lot of prevention work is focused on changing those things.”
Flowers said there are important questions that society needs to deal with to truly change the culture surrounding domestic violence.
“How do people look at violence as a whole?” Flowers asked. “How do people look at behaviors, violent behaviors?”