My worst fears have materialized and at the same time my prediction came true. This is one occasion I didn’t want to be right however. After unprecedented attention at national levels, domestic violence has once again faded from the headlines and relegated to the old news category, only to be resurrected after the next tragedy.
I really thought we made it this time. For domestic violence to be the lead story on the national news for as long as it did and to drag in factions of our society that had yet to embrace this cause was what we have been hoping for some time. Yes, I thought we had reached the previously unattainable attention level and in fact we did break new ground with the attention from areas heretofore immune from the scrutiny. I thought the spotlight had finally provided the appropriate illumination to this societal scourge to the point everyone was talking about it and not just the advocates, police and victims.
I get that network news outlets are in the business of broadcasting current and breaking events and yes the story of football players abusing their partners is not new, but can we at least keep the conversation going? I have stated and written many times that we are an event driven society. It is far too easy to be taken in by the tragedies and scandals of the day. We now face the added distraction of being in an election season where we are inundated with mind-numbing campaign adds. The real world is somewhere between the Ebola outbreak and empty promises by candidates.
What will it take for domestic violence to stay in people’s consciousness? Many people are working diligently to do just that but the competition is tough. Were you aware that October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month? Probably not. I’ll bet you have heard or seen something that indicated it was Breast Cancer Awareness Month though. I applaud the manner and intensity in which they have marketed their cause. Pink is everywhere. Have you seen any purple? Probably not. Purple is the color designated as the color for domestic violence. Ironically if you watched any pro football game during the month of October you saw the players wearing pink gloves, socks and other accessories in support of breast cancer awareness, but no purple. The institution that single handedly put domestic violence into the headlines, albeit for a short time, is not recognizing domestic violence awareness month.
What does that tell us? A couple of thoughts come to mind but the most significant is that we, those in the domestic violence battle, should consider moving our awareness month far away from the breast cancer awareness folks. Theirs is a smooth running machine that leaves little attention for any other causes. February seems like an appropriate month given Valentine’s Day falls in it. What a better month than February, the month of hearts and love to bring attention to the embarrassingly prolific problem of domestic violence. Perhaps a month where we celebrate love and affection is appropriate to bring attention to the leading contributor to homicides in Maine.
The other thought is our message. At a recent New England Patriots game, they marched out 200 survivors of breast cancer in a heart- warming moment. Do you think we would ever be able to get 200 survivors of domestic violence together in a public place like that? Don’t count on it.
The dictionary defines stigma as a mark of disgrace or reproach. From my 37 years in law enforcement with the last 11 working exclusively in the field of domestic violence, I am convinced a vast majority of victims of domestic abuse feel stigmatized; a self-imposed scarlet letter. Until we are able to tear down that obstacle and develop a mind-set that victims of domestic violence are survivors worthy of celebration, I don’t see much progress. March 200 survivors of domestic violence onto a field and then we will have something.
Women who survive breast cancer are alive and ready to shout from the mountain tops they beat this terrible disease. They march in parades, run marathons, carry signs and willing to share with the world their suffering. Celebrities are no longer hiding from the public when battling breast cancer and are now quick to share photos of themselves with no hair.
Women who survive domestic violence are regularly embarrassed they allowed themselves to fall prey to this infliction, some maintain they are responsible for the abuse while many more refuse to even believe they are victims.
Domestic violence will continue to be a scourge in our society until such time we face it head on. I’m not talking about just arresting and prosecuting perpetrators as we have gotten very good at that. We need a public face; victims of domestic abuse who are willing and able to step forward and put aside any self- imposed shame and shout to the world that they too are survivors.
Domestic violence isn’t caused, it exists. The public, along with domestic abuse victims need to know there is light at the end of the tunnel. Acknowledgement and embarrassment related to being a victim are small hurdles to overcome when lives are at stake. In order to achieve public reaction, we first need public attention.
Once we stop thinking, we stop trying; once we stop trying, we stop caring; once we stop caring, we stop existing.