Nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the U.S. That’s more than 10 million men and women a year. Most commonly, women between the ages of 18-24 are the ones abused.
In recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we spoke with the Co-Chief Program Officer of Housing and Community Services, Coni Stogner, and the Co-Chief Program Officer for Child Abuse Prevention and Intervention Services, Melinda Cantu, from the SAFE Alliance. The SAFE Alliance works to stop abuse by providing a wide range of programs, including housing, victim services, and healthy relationship and prevention education to the community.
As many resources as the SAFE Alliance provides, Melinda and Coni said what the community needs most when it comes to violence, abuse, and assault is greater prevention education.
“The more we can invest in prevention, strengthening families, and understanding in schools, the more we develop a shared understanding of what healthy relationships look like, what healthy families look like, and how to get there. We are then able to identify when things are not right and can get out of those relationships,” Melinda said.
For many children who come into the child welfare system because of domestic violence, that example of a healthy relationship is absent. In some of those situations, children are used by the abusive partner to control and manipulate the relationship between the abusive partner and the partner who is being abused. Threats such as “I’m going to hurt the child,” or telling the child to call the other parent names are examples.
“It puts the child in really precarious and sometimes really dangerous situations. Children are used in a way that can really, really hurt them and the dynamics in the family,” Melinda said.
“Adults we serve who experienced violence as children will look back and say, ‘There was darkness until that one person.’ That teacher, that coach, that mentor. That one person can make that difference. It’s huge.”
For many children who experience violence, having just one healthy adult role model makes a life-changing difference. Observing a different way of being and behaving in relationships and seeing an example of what life could look like for them is “extraordinary,” Melinda said. “Adults we serve who experienced violence as children will look back and say, ‘There was darkness until that one person.’ That teacher, that coach, that mentor. That one person can make that difference. It’s huge.”
When a child has one parent who is protective, that can make all the difference for a child. The SAFE Alliance works to keep the protective parent safe and with their children whenever possible. If they can keep the victim and their children together and away from their abuser, it enhances the likelihood of the children staying safe.
But for the victim, breaking the cycle of violence by speaking out is both terrifying and dangerous. A common response from others is to blame the victim, deny the abuse altogether, or provide steps the victim must take. “This creates more harm,” Coni said. “When an individual’s power and choice has been taken away by their abuser, the response should be to put choices back into their hands rather than telling them what to do.”
“We need to really respect and honor the person’s understanding of their life, their situation, and their safety,” Melinda said. “When people are vulnerable enough to open up to you, believe them.”
More education around violence and abuse has the potential to hold perpetrators of violence more accountable. The more collective knowledge around domestic violence increases, the more often people can choose non-violent problem-solving, respectful communication, and identify abusive relationships.
Concerned about someone in your life? Here are some signs that someone may be a victim of or at-risk for intimate partner violence:
Has frequent injuries resulting from “accidents” or wears clothes that cover them up, even in the summertime
Frequently and suddenly misses work or school or cancels plans
Receives a lot of calls/texts from their partner
Fears their partner, or refers to a partner’s rages or behavior
Tends to have trouble saying no to anything that their partner asks for
Isolates from friends and family
Does not have access to their own paycheck
Needs to get permission to go places
Behavior changes, such as being more withdrawn
If you or someone you know is experiencing intimate partner violence in the Travis County area, they may call the SAFE Alliance Hotline at 800-799-7233.
To learn more about the SAFE Alliance, visit https://www.safeaustin.org/.
Source for statistics: National Coalition on Domestic Violence