It’s a term designed to cover every situation where a woman is beaten, terrorized, stalked, threatened, and forced to live her life engaged in the mental gymnastics of trying to avoid being held accountable for that which she cannot control: The entitlement mindset of her mate, who has commandeered her existence for his own use.
Even if she survives physically, what’s happening to her emotionally, spiritually, socially, and culturally is that she’s dying by inches. So are her kids. And so is the culture that too often lip-syncs its concern and support for the rights of abused women and children, while accepting without question the conventional myths about DV. As a result, these crimes against humanity continue.
Forgive me if I’m coming across a bit more snarky than I usually do. It’s been a rough few weeks, replete with the kind of situations that make me wonder why I do the work that I do. And throughout those weeks, it occurred to me repeatedly that there’s an awful lot of bad information out there about violence against women and children, and the public needs to be better informed.
Then I thought, maybe not.
Know why? Because this entire culture is now fully aware of the prevalence of abuse and abusers; and still, three more women will be dead at the hands of a batterer by the time I proof this tomorrow. You have to wonder, did everyone get aware of DV and then just… Stop? Do they look around, waiting for someone else to solve things? We have any number of organizations, agencies, marches, slogans, and events that are supposed to impact domestic violence - and it seems like all we are is more aware.
Don't get me wrong: Awareness is a good thing. But awareness without action is meaningless.
The reality is, violence against women stems from contempt for women, and that is what we need to address. Every single one of us, male or female, can make an impact today if we choose to do so, because what needs to change is the cultural conscience. Toward that end, here are a few suggestions for those of you who want to make an enduring impact on the roots of violence against women and children:
1. Women: command respect in your own life. And men: support and encourage that at all times. Adopt a zero-tolerance policy for anything that demeans or trivializes women - especially pornography, which leads to abuse of women and children, and saturates TV, literature, music, the internet, shopping centers, even your local grocery store. Don’t allow it in your home, and don’t support it in your community. More than that, openly condemn it to anyone who will listen.
2. Assess your own attitudes and practices. If that first suggestion is difficult for you to embrace, it may be due to one of two things: first, you’ve been so beaten down by a culture that disrespects women that you barely notice the contempt anymore; or second, you’ve reached the point where you don't bother to holdyourself to high standards.
3. “End the silence”? Okay. Let's do that. Get vocal about it. Educate yourself first - because there is a lot of misinformation out there - and then find your way to get involved. Live your own life as an example of integrity, and clamp down on disrespectful attitudes of others.
4. Bring the issue of Domestic Violence out of the shadows. In spite of the successes of the awareness campaigns, it seems that most people don’t broach the topic until it affects them personally - and with the stats on DV, chances are that it will impact your life at some point if it hasn’t already.
So start talking about it to friends, family, and coworkers. Question your local and state officials about the protections and support systems that are in place for battered women. Ask your pastor if you can address the congregation at your church - which is especially effective if a man does it - and consider starting an action and advocacy group that holds other men accountable for protecting your community, or one that helps a survivor rebuild her life. One of the reasons that the violence continues as it does is because we no longer tend to our own neighborhoods.
But more than anything else, be an unapologetic, immovable force of decency. That’s a powerful influence to those around you, and it attacks at its base the mentality, the social structures, and the cultural attitudes that encourage violence against women. Claim that power, and you’ll find yourself not only promoting the long-lost rights of women and children, but encouraging others to move beyond awareness - and into action.
Jenna Brooks is a consultant, a coach specializing in Domestic Violence, and is the award-winning author of the critically acclaimed October Snow series about the aftermath of abuse. She welcomes your comments through her website, Jenna Brooks Online.