As we observe Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we at Domestic Violence Services of Cumberland & Perry Counties (DVSCP) felt it might be helpful to share ways to support victims/survivors.

Community accountability can make a big difference in the lives of women, men, and children living in violent homes. As a society, we don’t always hold abusers accountable. Instead, we question victims about their role in what happened or don’t believe them.

The National Network to End Domestic Violence has some excellent suggestions for how to help those living in abusive situations and how to have an informed conversation about the issue. In addition to moving away from victim blaming and creating a culture of community accountability, here are some ways to help.

Challenge widely-held beliefs/myths about domestic violence, like, ‘Why doesn’t she just leave? I would.’ There are many issues that survivors must think about in coming to a decision to leave — safety, children, family pets (who are often included in the abuse), financial security, housing. Virtually all of the clients we see at DVSCP must take all of these factors into consideration — it can be difficult to find affordable housing, to secure a job with a sustainable income, to break from a person you may still love, to separate children from their father (or mother).

Understand that abuse is rooted in power and control. Abuse is intentional. We so often hear that the abuser is “out of control.’ The reality is that the person who abuses a partner is in very good control. Offenders exert power and control over victims in many ways — by strategically isolating them from friends and family members; by withholding, lying about, or hiding financial assets; by the use of physical violence; and through emotional and psychological abuse. All of these strategies are employed to wield power and control over a partner.

Trust the survivor’s perspective. Domestic violence programs across the state of Pennsylvania take a survivor-centered approach, recognizing that survivors know best what they need in order to be safe — there is no one-size fits all approach to addressing domestic violence. A Protection From Abuse Order, for example, is not always the best solution for a woman trying to leave an abusive home. Remember that abusers often deny their partners’ self-determination — an empowerment model returns their control in making their own decisions.

Finally, communicate that domestic violence is not a “private, family matter.” One in three women will be a victim of domestic violence at some point in her lifetime. Across the country, domestic violence programs receive over 20,000 calls per day. Domestic violence affects us all — victims are our family members, neighbors, coworkers, friends. Last year in Pennsylvania, there were 102 people killed as a result of domestic violence. At DVSCP we fielded 1,334 Hotline calls, provided counseling and advocacy to 1,116 women, children, and men, and housed 313 people in the emergency shelter over the past year.

All of us — women, children, and men — must be part of the solution. Violence is not the answer — it’s on all of us to take a stand against domestic violence.

Barbara Kohutiak is the Executive Director of Domestic Violence Services of Cumberland & Perry Counties.

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