Friday, April 13, 2018

Knowledge is Power

In light of our upcoming Domestic Violence Education and Volunteer Training, I am reminded of the impact education and awareness has in our community.  Domestic Violence is such a wide spread issue in our world, and right here in our own community, and yet somehow it still manages to fly under the radar of public perception.  We interact with abusers and victims on a regular basis in our everyday lives.  We work with them, go to school with them, attend church with them, pass them in the grocery store, and even use the treadmill next to them in the gym (when I go to the gym that is.)

The world is full of wonderful, compassionate, well-meaning people who have absolutely no idea how much injustice surrounds them on a regular basis.  In fact, it’s not a bad presumption to assume that most people in this world are only a degree or two separated from someone who is currently in a domestic violence situation.  The reality is, this evil hides in plain sight right before our eyes, and many of us simply didn’t have opportunities to learn about what is domestic violence. 

In our new Domestic Violence 101 class for domestic violence program clients, we take the time over 15 weeks to talk about every little aspect of what domestic violence can look like and how it affects survivors and victims.  In fact, the class was created to meet a need for education beyond the support group setting.  It allows us to break down the walls of seeing abuse as only physical violence between a male perpetrator and a female victim.  When victims can begin to see the big picture of everything that qualifies as domestic violence, they can begin to relate their situation to it and take steps toward escaping and becoming a survivor. 

For these same reasons, the public needs to know what domestic violence is.  They need to see it as more than just male against female romantic violence that happens in unrelatable settings or between celebrities and their partners.  We as a society need to first recognize physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, social, financial, and spiritual abuse in all its forms and complexities.  We need to have an understanding of not just intimate partner violence, but also of child abuse, elder abuse, roommate abuse, human trafficking, and abuse against those with disabilities including caretakers.  Realizing just how much is going on out there helps us to widen our lenses and be sensitive to the silent cries for help of our neighbors, family, and friends.

It doesn’t stop there though.  Education doesn’t just make us aware of what abuse fully entails, or for that matter all the red flags and signs to look for.  Hopefully it challenges us as a society to make a difference, and offers us some insight into the most appropriate form of help we can provide. 

As one of the rare men who work in the domestic violence movement, I believe that all men need to be clued into this epidemic and trained on how to make a difference.  It’s no mystery that the large majority of perpetrators of violence in this world are men.  Now I in no way subscribe to the notion that men are naturally violent, nor do I believe that abusers can never change.  I do believe that when men are the primary source of the problem, then we as men in society need to begin to take ownership of that fact and get involved to make a difference.  That means knowing more, so that you can do more, and ultimately so that we as men can hold each other accountable and to a higher respectable standard.  It is time for men to start becoming part of the solution to what is ultimately a men’s issue. 

When it comes to those who make contact with victims of domestic violence, the list is rather endless.  The key difference isn’t whether important people are making contact, but it is whether that contact is one that moves a victim towards help and freedom, or not.  If you are a first responder in your community, having the best tools in your pocket to handle those situations is incredibly important.  Knowing the importance of safe spaces, separation from the abuser during interviews, knowing the right way to ask about violence in the home (in all its forms), and being aware of all the services in your community for that victim can be the difference between life or death.  It can be the difference between a life of terror and torture or a life of freedom and independence and peace.  It can be the difference between a strong, confident, and healthy mind, or a mind that is ravaged by the effects of abuse leading to anxiety, depression, and even PTSD.  You stand at the front lines of the war whether you realize it or not.  The question is, are you properly equipped and trained for that battle?

As a local minister in Decatur, I also feel the strong need for pastors and ministers in our community to further educate themselves.  Victims who are tied to a faith community often times have a powerful support network and resources at their fingertips.  They also have a deep faith and trust in their faith leaders.  Even with all the best intentions in the world, the most loving and compassionate ministers can make fatal errors in their counseling to these victims.  One of the most common mistakes in pastoral counseling for intimate partner violence is the viewpoint that this is a marital issue.  The most common prescription for these situations is one of couples counseling and marriage advice.  Unfortunately, that can also be some of the most dangerous methods attempted.  Marriage counseling is for two non-abusive partners who are having a hard time working through disagreements.  When trying to apply such practices to abusive situations, you often do more damage than good when the victim begins to disclose in a perceived safe space while the perpetrator often times keeps quiet or manipulates the minister until the victim pays the price for her honesty later on at home. 

The light at the end of the tunnel rests with my original point.  There is power in knowledge.  We all have opportunities on a regular basis, some of us more formally than others, to be the first step towards freedom for someone trapped in a life of abuse and terror.  Many of you are already trying to do the best you can with the tools you started with, but you can do even better than you ever imagined.  There is a whole host of information available to you.  It doesn’t take a college degree or some special academy.  Dove, Inc. Domestic Violence Program puts on a 40 hour Domestic Violence Education and Volunteer Training twice a year.  This isn’t just training we use for our staff and volunteers, but it is also available to community members and professionals both locally and even regionally.  It will equip you with a deep understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence, several of its forms, and how to interact with and make a difference for victims in the most beneficial way possible.

If you’d like more information about our semi-annual training, please contact Dove, Inc. at 217.428. 6616 and ask to speak with our Volunteer and Community Relations Director, Barb Blakey.  Our next training begins on April 30, 2018.


Jared Bohland

Client Services Coordinator, Domestic Violence Program

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