The breaking graphic video of Ray Rice assaulting his then-fiancée sent a ripple of anger as the country became a bystander to the horrific reality of violence. A gut-reaction that something had to be done, consequences dealt and healing given, took hold of many. The explosion following the video led to criticism in the media spotlight of the handling of domestic violence issues. Institutional failure of the NFL and the mixed messaging of staying vs. leaving domestic abuse situations have led to controversy over the reality behind the psychological effects of abuse and the proper way to disclose and handle situations of domestic violence.
The Ray Rice situation is not unique. At varying points throughout the year, domestic violence and abuse are thrust into the headlines. In attempting to understand the shock and horror that follow the disclosure of such a public event, a cry for help emerges. Does it always have to take a disturbing headline to reawaken public awareness about the reality of domestic abuse? Does it have to take a viral video to take necessary action against domestic violence?
October brings Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a dedicated time of the year to raising awareness and education about the epidemic of violence and the effects of abuse within families. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in four women and one in seven men experience domestic violence within their lifetime and is one of the most chronically, underreported crimes in the United States.
Domestic violence can occur in many situations, regardless of age, economic status, race, religion, nationality or educational background. Accompanied by emotionally abusive and controlling behavior, it becomes a pattern of dominance and control resulting in physical injury, psychological trauma, and sometimes death. The consequences of domestic violence are long lasting. Each situation can be complex, with conflicted emotions and reason, leading to distress in understanding situation in totality. It is crucial to know the signs and how to help. Domestic violence is not just physical; it can also be emotional and psychological.
In 1992, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote “When I Call for Help: A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence Against Women” in the hope of providing information and support for those suffering and experiencing this trauma.
Violence in any form – physical, sexual, psychological, verbal – is sinful; often it is a crime as well. We have called for a moral revolution to replace a culture of violence. We acknowledge that violence has many forms, many causes, and many victims – men as well as women.
Violence against another person ultimately fails to treat that person as someone worthy of love and human dignity. Instead of observing their inherent value, the person becomes an object to be used. As John Paul II writes in Mulieris Dignitatem, within each female and male there is a common dignity of being a human person and a common need to make a ‘sincere gift of self.’ Self-giving and unconditional love allows the person to be open to the other and guides them to manifest the love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self. Love is not dominating; it is not controlling. Love is greatest when it transcends oneself and genuinely attends to the good of the other person. Love is not violent.
Shame and fear are among the reasons that victims of abuse stay in relationships or avoid seeking help. They may be worried about additional harm to themselves or others, which inhibits the victim from taking positive action. The chains may be broken only with the decision to ask for help. As the Psalmist says, “So they cried to the Lord in their trouble and he saved them from their distress; he brought them out of the dark, the deepest darkness, and burst their chains” (Ps 107:13-14). The need to replace the culture of violence is urgent. Awareness to the discomfort, danger and distress that many are facing in situations of violence must not be silenced.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, domestic violence is the third leading cause of homelessness among families. Children who witness acts of violence can be deeply affected and carry those wounds throughout their life. It is the responsibility of the community and the loved ones surrounding to stand up to end the violence, sometimes hidden, within families. Domestic violence does not simply affect one; it affects all.
How can you help? Recognize the signs of domestic violence, which can be both physical and psychological. Respond appropriately by being supportive, sympathetic and non-judgmental. Refer victims to a professional who is qualified to help them act safely and appropriately. The National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It provides resources for both the survivor and for the abuser, and it can connect people directly to a local resource.