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Whit Devereaux

Charity Muhammad

We have seen the color pink everywhere this month in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  However if you have seen the color purple or purple awareness ribbons, it is a reminder that it is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  The statistics of those who suffer at the hands of domestic partners are startling, the facts are devastating and the numbers are increasing.  Here is what you need to know about domestic violence and what you can do to help.

Every 9 seconds someone is the victim of domestic violence.  According to the U.S. Department of Justice, domestic violence assault is the most common violent crime in the U.S and the most underreported.  More women are injured each day as a result of domestic violence than by rape, muggings and car accidents combined.

Domestic violence is defined as the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as a part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetuated by one intimate partner against another.  Federal and state laws define domestic violence as abuse perpetrated by a current or former spouse, a co-habitant, or co-parent.  It includes physical violence, sexual violence, threats, and emotional/psychological abuse.

Emotional abuse is defined as verbal abuse, financial control or isolation of the victim.  Physical abuse, the form we most often hear about and see, is slapping, punching, choking and stalking.  Sexual abuses is forced sexual acts, excessive jealousy and harassment.  While this list may not be exhaustive, it is generally how domestic violence shows up in intimate relationships.  The frequency and severity of domestic violence varies dramatically.

Domestic violence is prevalent in every community and affects people regardless of race, age, socio-economic status, religion, sexual orientation, nationality or gender.  In most cases physical violence is not the only form of abuse perpetuated.  Physical violence is often accompanied by emotional abuse and controlling behavior.  The effects of domestic violence can range from physical injuries, different forms of trauma and in the most extreme cases, death.  The effects of domestic violence can last a lifetime and span generations.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, domestic violence is most common among women between the ages of 18-24.  Since marriage rates in the United States have declined and people are dating longer, domestic violence rates continue to rise.  It is not always easy in the early stages of relationships to determine if a person will become abusive.  However domestic violence intensifies over time.  Abusers can be great at the beginning of a relationship and then become more controlling and aggressive as the relationship progresses.

Women are not the only ones affected

While many domestic violence victims are women, men can be victims of domestic violence as well.  Nearly 1 in 10 men in the United States has experienced some form of intimate partner violence.  This violence can be rape, stalking, physical violence, or sexual assault.  According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1 in 18 men are severely injured by intimate partners in their lifetime.  According to a National Intimate Partner Survey, approximately 1 in 71 men have experienced at least one psychologically aggressive behavior from a partner in their lifetime.  These behaviors include being kept track of by demanding to know whereabouts, being insulted or humiliated, or feeling threatened by partner’s actions.

Teen domestic violence is on the rise

Female and male high school students have reported being physically or sexually abused by a dating partner.  For high school females, almost 21 percent have reported being victimized while 13.4 percent of males admit to being victims.  According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), close to 1.5 million high school students in the United States encounter dating violence each year.  What is most alarming is that most of these instances go unreported.  According to Teenage Unlimited, only 33 percent of teen victims ever report the crime.

Same Sex Couples

Individuals who self-identify as lesbian, gay and bisexual have an equal or higher prevalence of Intimate Partner Violence, according to The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.  The survey reports that this population experiences a significantly higher lifetime prevalence of rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner.  Rates of some form of sexual violence were higher among lesbian women, gay men and bisexual women and men compared to heterosexual women and men.  This shows that domestic violence does not discriminate against sexual orientation either.

Why Stay?

Many people may blame the victim and ask why do they stay in the relationship?  This is not fair to the victim.  Ending an abusive relationship is more about the victim being able to safely leave their abuser, not simply choosing to walk away.  Many victims have lost their lives trying to simply walk away from an abusive relationship.  This year alone there have been 494 fatalities related to domestic violence, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

The reality is that when a victim tries to escape, the domestic violence may not end.  In fact it may intensify.  This is because the abuser has lost control over the victim.  An abuser may stalk, harass, threaten, and try to control the victim after the victim leaves the relationship or escapes the relationship.  In many cases victims are in more danger when they seek help or directly following the escape of the relationship.  One-fifth of homicide victims with restraining orders are murdered within two days of obtaining the order and one third are murdered within the first month, says information from the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Stories of Survival

Whit Devereaux was able to escape.  Currently she is an advocate and resource for others who are attempting to leave their abusive relationships.  She has also written a book entitled “Not By My Own,” which talks about her experience.  Devereaux states, “I made a promise to God that if He got me out of my abusive relationships, then I would make it my business to go back and help others.  My advocacy is keeping my promise now that I am free.  There is life after abuse and I want to help to remove the shame and stigma attached to domestic violence by celebrating the gift of life beyond it.”

Devereaux is hosting an event on October 27, 2018, to honor and celebrate domestic violence survivors.  She has partnered with the WINGS Program, Inc, and a portion of the proceeds from the event will benefit the domestic violence agency.  Advocates, survivors and victims are invited to attend the event.  To register or donate, please go to notbymyown.eventbrite.com

Similarly to Devereaux, Charity Muhammad is also a survivor.  Muhammad advises, “As a survivor, the most important thing to know is that “there is always a way out. I was 21 years old when a co-worker told me this. When she spoke these words to me, it was as if chains fell off my mind and the tunnel vision I was experiencing slowly began to dissipate. The possibility of escape had never occurred to me, certainty not the thought of making it out alive. I didn’t leave until 2 years later, but through those years, I carried her words with me, those words aided me in my escape.”

Muhammad shares “I had been abused as a child so when I entered the abusive relationship with my ex, I had already been groomed to believe that being beat and sexually violated was the norm. I soon believed that I had somehow caused this abuse to occur and that I deserved it. Even years after I escaped my abusive partner, I still believed that I was responsible for the mental, physical, and financial abuse I received.  As a survivor Muhammad and her team now work to help others.  Muhammad also feels that for many survivors telling their story is a positive outlet and a means of release. Because of this, she has a blog (apostolicflygirl.com) where many of the entries are contributions of abuse survivors.

 

Both women credit therapy with helping them move past the trauma they experienced at the hands of their abusers.

 

How You Can Help

It is important that the federal definition of domestic violence include dating violence and stalking; this can be done by letting your elected officials know how important this matter is.  Advocate for increased education in classrooms for middle and high school students so that they can learn about healthy relationships, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.  Donate to local or national domestic violence programs.  Make sure you know the numbers for domestic violence assistance in case you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence.

Know that help is available 24/7.  Help is also totally confidential.  You can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800.799.SAFE.   NEVER tell your abusive partner of your plans to leave.  This could be the difference of life and death.  It is also encouraged that you have a safety plan in place when exiting an abusive relationship.  Some elements of a safety plan include the following:

  • Establish your independence. Open savings and credit card accounts in your name only and specifically instruct institutions that your partner is not to have access.
  • Leave money, extra keys, copies of important documents, extra medicine and clothes with someone you trust so you can leave quickly.
  • Determine safe people you can stay with and plan leaving with.
  • Review and rehearse your safety plan.
  • Keep a packed bag at a trusted relative’s or friend’s home.
  • Plan where you will go if you have to leave.

 

If you are a victim or wish to assist a victim, you can also develop safety plans while living with an abuser or during pregnancy.  You can use Google to find a safety plan that fits your individual needs.  Yes the statistics are daunting, and currently, there is no end in sight.  Maybe domestic violence awareness should become a daily advocacy cause for more people and we can begin to see effective changes in laws and sentencing and protection for victims.  There is still an enormous amount of work to be done, and hopefully we can make some lasting and impactful changes.  Just think in the time it took you to read this article, about 20 people have been victims of domestic violence and that is 20 too many.

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