In the United States, some 1,300 people die each year as a result of domestic violence. Every week, nine women lose their lives to someone who is supposed to love them. In just four days in Oct. 2013, 14 adults and seven children from four different states were killed in domestic violence-related murders. According to Futures Without Violence, in 2011, 1,707 women were murdered by men and of them, 1,509 were by people they knew. Over half of the homicides involved guns. Often, abusers take the lives of their partners but also others in the vicinity, including children. Additionally, many domestic violence homicides end with the perpetrator committing suicide.
These are horrifying statistics. Many see the criminal justice system as the best way to respond in cases of domestic violence. While law enforcement and the courts can indeed be helpful, sometimes they are not. It is my experience that the best way to help victims before their situations become lethal involves a community-based effort.
One component of this community-based approach is to educate as many people as possible about domestic violence. This can and should include school and campus-based programming, as well as education for social service providers, medical professionals, and others who are likely to interact with victims of domestic violence. With a basic knowledge of the physical and behavioral signs that someone is enduring an abusive relationship, people in these positions can provide essential assistance that might allow a victim to escape his or her abuser far before the abuse becomes lethal. An educated public can help others see warning signs that a relationship is unhealthy. If people have a basic understanding of the dynamics of abuse, they can be ready to support those in need. Rather than judging, those who understand why abuse happens realize that there are numerous reasons why a victim might find it difficult to leave his or her abuser.
Another part of a community-based approach involves having agencies that are able to provide or coordinate all the services a victim needs. Too often, victims are sent to hyper-bureaucratized agencies in which they are treated as burdens or told that they need to jump a variety of hoops to get the services they are seeking. Or, they endure long lines or waiting lists to receive the help they need. These barriers are difficult for victims to navigate, and many lose hope and return to their abusers.
This is why I started No More Tears, the non-profit organization I run to help victims of domestic violence. No More Tears helps victims with all their needs -- from housing to legal assistance, medical to educational help, childcare to English instruction and more. I personally meet with every victim and, along with our volunteers and interns, individualize a plan to specifically address what he or she needs to obtain safety and begin a new pathway to empowerment. Because we are individualized, immediate and holistic in our services, we have been able to assist 315 adults and 674 children since 2006, and only two have returned to abusers, a number far lower than most domestic violence service providers.
No More Tears also provides educational programming in the local community. We host workshops, presentations and trainings at schools, campuses, area medical and social service providers, and to other groups seeking to learn more about abuse. We help to coordinate a program called the College Brides Walk (collegebrideswalk.com) that brings the community together to take action to support victims and to challenge the social norms that result in abuse.
It is my belief that domestic violence is preventable. We must see abuse as a community problem that requires all of us to be educated and to take action.
This post is part of a series co-produced by The Huffington Post and L'Oréal Paris to celebrate the Women of Worth program, honoring women making a beautiful difference in the world. The ten 2013 Women of Worth honorees are pursuing their passions to accomplish the extraordinary through philanthropic efforts in their communities. Bound by a deep sense of purpose and appetite for change, these women were chosen from thousands of applicants, and each received $10,000 for her charitable cause from L'Oréal Paris. To learn more about Women of Worth or to submit a nomination beginning Spring 2014, please visit womenofworth.com.
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