October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and an opportunity to think about our relationships and those of our friends and family. Often, survivors of domestic violence turn to friends and family for help first, so it’s crucial that we know what domestic violence is and how to help others.
Domestic violence is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation, or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten a victim. Even though we have advanced in many ways as a society when it comes to acknowledging the prevalence of domestic violence, supporting survivors, and holding abusers accountable, we still have a long way to go. The statistics on domestic violence are disturbing. On a typical day, domestic violence hotlines across the United States receive approximately 19,000 calls, an average of close to 13 calls every minute. In Washington State last year, 32 people were victims of domestic violence homicide. Fifty women a month in the United States are killed by their intimate partners using guns.
Much of the abuse that happens never rises to the level of legal intervention, yet causes extreme harm and suffering, and affects over 10 million people in the United States every year. Domestic violence expert Dr. Evan Stark calls this abuse “coercive control”. It can be defined as “a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behavior.” This can include:
- threatening to report an undocumented survivor to ICE;
- gaslighting the survivor (lying and saying something didn’t happen when it did; causing the survivor to feel like they’re going crazy);
- refusing to take a medically-dependent survivor to their doctor’s appointment or failing to administer their medication;
- threatening to post intimate images of the survivor online without their consent;
- taking and hiding an immigrant survivor’s legal documents;
- installing spyware on the survivor’s phone to spy on and stalk them;
- sabotaging the survivor’s birth control;
- outing a survivor’s LGBTQ status to their family or employer;
- threatening to take the survivor’s children away if the relationship is ended; and on and on.
People of color, transgender people, gender non-conforming people, lesbians and gays, immigrants, refugees, people with disabilities, and women are at elevated risks for domestic violence and experience increased barriers to accessing services.
Recent immigration laws and policy changes have placed barriers to safety and justice in the way of immigrant and refugee survivors of all forms of gender-based violence. One of the clearest impacts has been a chilling effect on survivors’ willingness to seek help for domestic violence. In May, domestic violence advocates across the United States were surveyed, and 75% reported that immigrant survivors are expressing increased fear of calling the police or going to court to get help for domestic violence because they are in fear of deportation, retaliation by their abusers, and separation from their children. The result is that more survivors are trapped in relationships with abusive partners and no way to get out. According to the Alliance for Immigrant Survivors, “these rollbacks of hard-earned and life-saving protections will condemn thousands of survivors to deportation, sending them back to environments where they may be subjected to further violence or even lose their lives.”
In addition to policy barriers, a lack of language access within the systems we have set up to help survivors continues to be a very real barrier to safety for limited-English-proficient (LEP) survivors across the country. In some incidences of law enforcement response to domestic violence, police fail to contact an interpreter for LEP parties, or inappropriately use children as interpreters. This may result in increased trauma for children and inaccurate information being relayed, which can result in wrongful arrests and/or prosecution. Advocacy organizations may also fail to arrange for interpreters when working with LEP survivors, or may not provide culturally competent or representative staff, making it more difficult for immigrant survivors to get the help they need. Sometimes courtrooms do not have interpreters available, meaning that access to justice is limited for those survivors. In so many ways, immigrant survivors are at a disadvantage when it comes to attaining safety and justice.
Among women in the United States who have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, women of color are disproportionately represented. Of multiracial women surveyed, over half–53%–had experienced at least one of these forms of abuse, followed by 46% of American Indian or Alaska Native women, 43% of Black women and 37% of Hispanic women. Asian/Pacific Islander women were underrepresented, but this may be inaccurate due to a number of factors; in other surveys, 21-55% of Asian women reported experiencing domestic violence.
The effects of domestic violence are devastating. They may include: post-traumatic stress disorder, contraction of sexually-transmitted infections, depression, suicidal ideation, physical injuries, negative reproductive health effects, loss of a job, home, or one’s children, susceptibility to developing addictions to alcohol or drugs, and even death. When survivors try to leave and are unable to find housing, they often stay with their abuser to avoid homelessness and are then forced to endure further abuse. Others become homeless and may spend years building up the resources to attain stable housing again. From 2016-2017 in Washington State, there were almost 20,000 requests for emergency shelter that went unmet due to a lack of capacity.
For all of these reasons and more, this is a crucial time to support efforts to end domestic violence in all forms. The City of Seattle invests over $8 million annually in a comprehensive network of social services and a specialized criminal justice response to domestic violence that addresses the needs of survivors and holds abusers accountable for their actions. Funded services include: advocacy, shelter, housing, therapeutic services, legal assistance, outreach, prevention, batterer intervention and systems enhancement. The coordinated network of providers has served over 6,000 survivors of gender-based violence in 2019 alone. The City of Seattle is aiming to target racial disproportionality in gender-based violence by investing in a wide array of services that represent and serve traditionally under-resourced communities. In the Human Service Department’s 2018 Request For Proposal for Gender-Based Violence Survivor Services, Black/African Americans and Indigenous/Native Americans were identified as focus populations, given the high disparities in the investment area. In addition, when Mayor Jenny Durkan announced an additional $100,000 in funding for prevention of gender-based violence on July 9, 2019, the funding was allocated for programs focusing on marginalized populations most impacted by gender-based violence, including African American and Indigenous communities.
The issue of domestic violence is widespread and is perpetuated in silence. This Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the City of Seattle Human Services Department Mayor’s Office on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault is inviting staff in all City departments to wear purple on Thursdays in October in solidarity with survivors of domestic violence.
To get involved in raising awareness about and taking action to end domestic violence, help break the silence by recognizing #PugetSoundPurpleThursday on Thursday, October 24th along with our City of Seattle staff. Post your photos online using the hashtag. For more ideas and action steps that you can take to end domestic violence, visit: https://endgv.org/ or https://wscadv.org/dvam/.
If you need free, confidential support and assistance, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at: 1−800−799−7233. For help in other languages, call the Peace In The Home Helpline at: 1-888-847-7205.