by Sharleen Mondal
|courtesy of the Florida Times Union website jacksonville.com|
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and this year, it arrives on the heels of the highly publicized case of former Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice, who was indefinitely suspended from the NFL after video exposed his physically violent attack against Janay Palmer in an elevator (see a timeline of the events of the case here). With regard to the NFL, the conversation about domestic violence and the league’s poor handling of the Rice case continues. The Seattle Seahawks’ quarterback Russell Wilson, for instance, has penned a call to recognize the need for NFL players to handle aggression productively, and for fans to donate to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Meanwhile, cultural workers like comedian Megan MacKay have produced work not only to entertain, but also to provoke audiences to discuss recurring narratives of survivor-blaming and lack of adequate accountability for abusers.In the midst of the broader public controversy, it might be easy to lose sight of two critical questions: how does domestic violence affect me? What can I do about it?
The case that has monopolized recent media coverage no doubt has a very personal resonance for many people: it prompted an 85 percent increase in calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline between August and September, as well as a Twitter campaign--#WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft—raising awareness of domestic violence through survivors’ stories. Because one in every four women experiences domestic violence, each of us knows someone who is affected, or we might be experiencing it ourselves. Domestic violence is not just physical; it includes emotional and verbal abuse, as well, sometimes muddying clear recognition and acknowledgment of it when it occurs. Cultural norms can make it difficult for survivors to speak out, including a fictive gendered “public” vs. “private” dichotomy—in the nineteenth century, it manifested as the separation of spheres, and we still see it in operation today—wherein women are regarded as keepers of the domestic sphere and thus responsible for not “airing dirty laundry in public.” This secrecy is highly dangerous, as many survivors are continually victimized and even killed by intimate partners who are known by family members and friends.
Given that domestic violence affects all of us at some level, it is important to consider the range of options that exists to address it. We lack empirical evidence for the effectiveness of any one approach for intervention or rehabilitation of abusers, yet most anti-domestic violence community organizations do not rely on a singular tool to address the problem. The approach tends to be multi-pronged, including not only direct services to survivors, but also community awareness programs which educate people about what domestic violence is, what it can look like, and strategies for speaking out when it happens in a given community. The goal of such programming is not only to impart knowledge and tools, but also to create a recognized space within the community where it is clear that violence will not be tolerated. Furthermore, culturally specific services recognize the universality of domestic violence and ensure that racist, classist, or other misguided perspectives do not prevent women from seeking or receiving help; such services include translators for help lines, for instance, or advocates familiar with cultural norms who will help a survivor navigate those norms rather than attacking a survivor’s cultural or religious otherness. In Ohio, for example, ASHA Ray of Hope provides services for South Asian communities.
The practices modeled by such organizations offer a starting point for understanding what we can do. Seeking out spaces in which domestic violence is discussed, or creating them in our classrooms, mosques, synagogues, and churches is one step. (See a collection of training modules which can be used in a variety of settings here.) Another step, one in which we are already involved simply by engaging those around us, is to speak out when conversations happen about domestic violence, whether they be about the recent NFL case, about another celebrity, or about the family or roommate living next door. Listening to people we know, helping them to understand what domestic violence is, and encouraging them to seek help if they are being victimized are invaluable acts. We can also provide direct support for local anti-domestic violence organizations around us by participating in their community events or donating our money and time (see, for instance, Columbus-based ASHA Ray of Hope’s 5k Run/Walk Against Domestic Violence coming up on October 26). Such acts are our responsibility when we live as seekers of peace and justice.
Sharleen Mondal is Assistant Professor of English at Ashland University, where she teaches Victorian and postcolonial literature and gender and women’s studies. She has also served as a trained advocate, translator, and volunteer for Chaya, an anti-domestic violence organization serving South Asian communities in the Seattle area. She has served on the ACN Steering Committee and is currently beginning volunteer work with ASHA Ray of Hope, based in Columbus, OH, and the Akron Area Interfaith Council.