Warning: The content of this post may trigger unpleasant memories for anyone who has experienced domestic violence.
When I was 20 years old, I had an unpaid summer internship with a domestic violence organization in Washington, D.C., as an intake counselor at the D.C. Superior Court. All day, I helped survivors of domestic violence file for protective orders against their abusers. I asked them about and recorded their most recent incidents as well as their histories of abuse.
The stories I heard were sad, angering, horrific, and scary. The perpetrators of abuse were most often husbands, boyfriends, and fathers, but sometimes the abusers were adult children, adult siblings, wives, and girlfriends. I’ll never forget the soft-spoken man who came in with his 2-year-old daughter and, as she sat quietly on his lap, shared how his girlfriend physically abused him. Nor will I forget the many women whose husbands’ or boyfriends’ abuse was so extreme that they’d hidden in closets and under beds and run down the street trying to escape.
Their stories were heartbreaking. And they’re not unique. Each year, around 1.3 million women and 835,000 men in the United States are physically assaulted by an intimate partner.
Domestic violence doesn’t just describe the abuse that happens between people who live together — it also includes dating violence among high school and college-age youth.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 9.4 percent of high school students nationwide said that they had been hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriends or girlfriends in the 12 months before the survey.
- A 2006 Bureau of Justice study found that women ages 20–24 are at the greatest risk of nonfatal intimate partner violence.
But many women experience fatal violence.
On September 29, State University of New York, Brockport, freshman Alexandra Kogut was found dead in her dorm room. Her boyfriend reportedly admitted to police that he beat her to death. Details of the case are still unfolding.
Earlier in 2012, George Huguely was convicted of beating his ex-girlfriend, Yeardley Love, to death in her apartment near the University of Virginia, where they were both students. Love’s family and friends said Huguely had a history of violent outbursts leading up to the assault. He also reportedly had sent Love an e-mail saying he should have killed her.
After Love’s death, her family started a nonprofit organization called One Love Foundation and in September launched the Be 1 for Change dating violence campaign aimed at 16- to 24-year-olds. A public service announcement highlights the importance of recognizing signs of abuse in your own relationship and in those of your friends and details how to speak up.
It is important that we all speak out and take action when something doesn’t seem right, even if it’s by doing something as simple as ringing a doorbell or asking if everything is OK.
In October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, write to your representatives and urge them to support a strong Violence against Women Act reauthorization and the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act. The SaVE Act would require schools to implement recording processes for incidences of dating violence, create prevention plans, and educate survivors about their rights and resources.
You can also contact your local domestic violence shelter or organization to see if they are hosting events or initiatives this month. Get involved!
Love is not abuse, and everyone deserves a safe home, a safe campus, and a safe relationship.