October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Everywhere you look people are draped in Pink to show their support of this worthy cause. ISU and Illini volleyball teams are going to “paint the gym pink”. Virtually every player on my beloved Chicago Bears is wearing pink shoes, sweat bands, mouthpieces or towels. An animal shelter in Decatur is wearing pink t-shirts all month long. A percentage of my purchase of yogurt, bottled water, and bread is going toward breast cancer research. And don’t even get me started about the pink flamingos. I LOVE PINK FLAMINGOS! The staff at Dove 100% supports the efforts to raise awareness and money toward finding a cure for Breast Cancer.
There is another very important awareness campaign in October – National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Our color is purple. The color purple represents the bruises left on the skin of adult and child victims of domestic violence. We don’t have electronic billboards or a “Real Men” wear purple advertisement. We only get celebrity endorsements when one is arrested for the crime of domestic battery. And if you’re going to see the color purple at Assembly Hall – it’s part of their Broadway show series.
For the advocates at Dove domestic violence awareness is just as meaningful as breast cancer. We support both causes. But we wonder out loud why we haven’t captured the public’s attention in the same way as our friends. Nationally, there was some discussion about moving DV awareness to April to align with Child Abuse awareness or May to tie into Mother’s Day. Is our work less important today than it was in the past?
The grass roots domestic violence movement is approximately 40 years old. When we first started bringing attention to the issues of family violence – little was known. Few communities had resources, law enforcement had little training, and local prosecutors had few statutes to utilize. Over the years things improved dramatically. Federal and state legislation gave communities the resources needed to address domestic violence. Media reported on the dynamics of the issue. Farah Fawcett starred in the movie The Burning Bed. And through all of this Dove and programs like ours advocated, educated, and raised awareness about domestic violence. It could be argued that the public is more aware today of DV issues that at any other time. So why isn’t the staff at the local hospital dressed in purple this month?
I’ve been asking the question for some time now about why domestic violence awareness does not get its due attention. If the public now knows so much about domestic violence, they also understand the consequences of this violence on victims, children, businesses, and communities. Dove has hosted four separate candlelight vigils in October to raise awareness. Each vigil was distinct, meaningful, and special. I’m thankful for the volunteers who put these vigils together, our speakers, and all who attended. But good seats were available at each vigil. Certainly if we understand the effects of domestic violence as a community people would be lined up out the door to show their support.
A friend of mine suggested that domestic violence is an old issue. It’s a cause that her mother or sister would have supported. There is a perception that today, with public knowledge and community resources it is somehow easier to escape a violent relationship. Besides, people have been donating to shelters for 40 years and there is no cure. When people donate to breast cancer awareness, we have a reasonable expectation that it will be cured if not in our lifetime, then within our daughter’s lifetime. Dove cannot make that promise to its donors. You see this problem is not going to be solved in a lab – by scientist wearing purple smocks. Forty years of research has given us a set of best practices to address the issue as a community and a program. But none of that matters to a person who has been battered by someone they trusted. Domestic violence is not an event. It is a journey. Nobody goes into a relationship thinking “I’m going to give my all to this man until he batters me and I need to call the local shelter program”. We know there is build up and tension as part of the cycle of violence. And we know leaving an abusive relationship is just one step in a journey of recovery.
You see, just because domestic violence is an old issue, it’s still a new issue and the only issue that matters to someone who has been beaten. Her journey has just started and she needs all the resources available to her. She is allowed to leave and then go back to her abuser because only she truly knows the level of danger she is in. Some of you know that I came to Dove from a domestic violence program in another part of the state. Our advocates worked in cubicles and from my office chair I could easily hear the conversations clients were having. I can’t tell you how many times I overheard someone say “If I knew about this program – I would have left years ago”. Imagine someone enduring more abuse because they did not know about the resources available to them. Mary Hughes coordinates domestic violence services in Moultrie County for Dove. Last summer she wrote piece for the blog (see below, July 20) titled Building a Chain of Hope. I think it is the definitive piece that answers the question why does she stay and dispels the myth that leaving an abusive relationship is easy. I strongly recommend everybody reads it.
The domestic violence program is one of many programs that Dove operates to serve the community. It has a dedicated staff of 16 advocates and many volunteers. For them and all of us at Dove, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. We can’t cure domestic violence, but your support fuels us to continue to provide everything that is needed for a victim’s journey to survival.
Jim Walters, Executive Director