By Lyn Twyman
For over thirty years, organizations across the U.S. have been addressing domestic violence, sexual assault and crime victims with resources and services. We now have numerous shelters, referral programs, trillions of pounds of paper brochures and literature and an unknown vast number of hundreds of thousands of websites. Yet, according to statistics that are reported, collectively there are still tens of millions of victims of domestic violence each year. The actual number of victims are unknown due to the way crime statistics are gathered, lack of reporting and simply no reporting.
Within these numbers lies the obvious victims, the murdered, the women who are shot by jealous men, and men who are horrifically assaulted by angry women. But, within these numbers, also lies the silent victims, those who are still breathing and have not told anyone about their abuse, straight men and women, homosexual men and women, the disabled, the elderly, children, teenagers, white collar workers, blue collar workers, the religious and the missing. They are physically assaulted, sexually violated, hammered emotionally and verbally and living in isolation, even the kind of isolation and torture that comes from abductions like what happened to Jaycee Dugard and Shawn Hornbeck . Both Jaycee and Shawn had lived in communities and been victims of violence right under the noses of neighbors and law enforcement.
What makes it difficult for families and community organizations to cope with the issue of domestic violence has nothing to do with a lack of resources because there are plenty of them. There are programs that have been created to help facilitate services in every aspect. There is, however, a lack of a national, cohesiveness around this issue and a need for true zero tolerance. Just because we have laws on the books against domestic violence, does not mean, as a nation, we do not tolerate domestic violence.
Here is an example of why I believe right here in America we still tolerate violence. Take, for example, Chris Brown and Rihanna. I know most are tired of hearing about this once Hollywood celebrity couple. But many people have heard more about them than the domestic violence organizations, and many still blame Rihanna for the violence she suffered that night in February of 2009. There are allegations that Rihanna began the violence that night and the couple had had a history of violence. But many still feel that what happened to her and to the degree of violence, she deserved. Whether you like Chris Brown or Rihanna is beyond the point here.
Now more recently in the case of Mel Gibson and Oksana Grigorieva, many blogs have said, “Oksana must be a gold digger.” “ She provoked Mel to say what he said”. Really? Are you kidding me? She deserved threats to her life, abusive words like bitch and whore and the one that made headlines "Raped by a pack of niggers "? Then, Mel goes on about burning the house down. But yet, this is still acceptable behavior, somehow, in the minds of many, justifiable. I do not know all that went on in either couples’ relationship, but I know the acts of violence that made headlines was and is wrong.
Also, let us look at how many times we hear of an assault, particularly against a woman, and the response to the incident is “Well, what did she do to provoke it?.” Now think about when a man is assaulted by a woman? The popular response is often “She must be crazy. “ “ She must have mental issues.” Why is that? Because society in the back of their minds expects men to naturally physically retaliate to perceived physical and verbal threats even if it means with excessive force. Women are not expected to raise a hand, and when they do, mentally there must be something wrong. Now, if it is a gay or lesbian couple, somehow we just do not want to talk about that or we say to ourselves “'They're just in a heated lovers battle.” “They'll work it out” or “How funny, two homosexuals arguing,” thus, more examples of tolerance for violence in this country. So our attitudes nationally need to change, that violence from men and women is wrong. How do we get to the point that we do not accept violence and feel the same way we do about hunger, poverty, the flu, a broken leg or even cancer? We should want violence to go away with the same passion as a sickness, ailment or disease.
The devastating ills of domestic violence has to become a household issue and can no longer be swept under the rug, tucked away in some hidden closet only to be brought out on special occasions, glorified in a sickening sense like fine china, for the occasions where we hear about the classic Chris Brown and Rihanna or Mel Gibson and Oksana Grigorieva, or even in the fatal ends of Steve McNair and Yeardley Love. As a society, we should be in the habit now of checking our relationships for domestic violence, abuse and watching our neighborhoods and communities for signs. But how do we get to this point? How do we get to the point where we are not operating by simply putting a band aid on the problem as the remedy?
I have a ton of respect for national organizations that have paved the way for domestic violence in the last 30 years. I know most of them by name, large and small but only because I am an advocate and have made it a mission to, not only learn about them, but work to collaborate with them. But, ask the average American who are the national domestic violence, sexual assault and crime victims organizations, and a majority could not tell you, let alone their own community organizations. If you say the names, however, of PETA, St. Jude Hospital, American Red Cross or even Feed the Children, Americans know who they are. So, herein rests my point.
I do not believe we need any more national organizations for domestic violence. I believe we need more community organizations with comprehensive model programming to empower victims into becoming survivors from start to finish and not half way or to meet status quo. We even need programs for abusers before they hit prison such as Donna Savage's Domestic Violence and AIDS Mission's abuser hotline: http://www.dvamnj.org. Additionally, the old saying goes "Crime doesn't pay," but crime is paying, and it is paying many organizations to the point that they are not helping victims as they should with donations and grants, not being clear about spending, to the point even professed leaders of these organizations, and some victims, are only looking to profit.
Did you know that next year marks the 16th Anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (or VAWA, which has provisions for men by the way) and also marks its reauthorization? Along with that comes over 700 million dollars with that reauthorization that will go to various grant programs to help community organizations, advocates, Federal, State and local law enforcement, judiciaries and victims programs just to name a few. Now, take a look at the following link on the Department of Justice website from the Office of Violence Against Women: http://www.ovw.usdoj.gov/join-the-list.htm It is a list of "Celebrities and Other Public Figures" who have lent their names "to reinforce the goal of ending domestic and dating violence, sexual assault and stalking for men, women and children across the country." There is approximately 100 names on this list and it is not all inclusive. With this massive list of celebrities, it seems like there should be awareness and prevention of domestic violence…
So I ask you, can we create a heightened awareness for domestic violence? Can this country take this issue of violence seriously and not politicize it? Can all states adopt bullying and dating curriculum for schools? Can women and men victims get complete help and support without shelters placing conditions on the children in order to weed out who they help? Can we become a society of prevention where even the police look to prevent violence, like the Royal Canadian Mounted Police ,rather than react to it at every turn? Can social workers and judges be trained on violence and not enter the field with an assumption they understand the issue? Can we have a surgence of community organizations with comprehensive programming and more national awareness to drive support back to them?
I have reached out to several national organizations, who I believe have carved out a critical, pain-staking path for this country, asking them to take the lead in this matter because they play a crucial part of this social problem. At the end of the day, it is not about who can get to the finish line first, but who can get to the finish line with the most survivors and those living resilient lives.
We can only do that if we work together.
Lyn Twyman is the Founder of Courage Network which works nationally, as a community, to change the perceptions of domestic violence and bring unification towards a common goal.