Abuse and domestic violence have long been stigmatized as taboo. It’s food for gossip and rumors rather than being a matter the community takes seriously.
“It’s not our problem”, “No need to get involved where we don’t belong”, or, “It’s none of our business”. Sound familiar? Due to the intense and complex nature of abuse, many generations have taken a backseat in its prevention.
More recently, however, there has been a nationwide push to bring the violence of partner abuse into the light and expose it for what it is. Following suit, many communities have made an effort to ensure those who would be in need of services are aware of what resources are available and what measures can be implemented for preventing abuse.
While it can be difficult to identify, abuse is defined fairly simply – it is any behavior or action toward someone that is considered cruel or violent and performed with the intent to harm. Often those who are exposed to or harmed by abusive behaviors have been abused for so long they are unaware of its severity or consistency.
They are unable to see the pattern of behaviors and therefore unable to change their life circumstances.
The red flags
Preventing abuse and domestic violence requires increasing a community’s ability to first recognize it. There are four primary types of abuse – emotional, psychological, verbal, and physical.
Emotional abuse is violence against a person’s, well, emotions. It is the open violation or ridicule of thoughts and feelings. Psychological abuse, like emotional abuse, is difficult to notice due to it’s lack of overt evidence. This can include restriction of choices, belittlement with the use of hurtful words, actions, or body language, unrealistic demands, or open and obvious threats. Verbal abuse is the milder of the types of abuse with noticeable evidence; many abusers who choose to inflict harm verbally do so in front of family, friends, or the public. They are comfortable with the power they hold over their victims to an extent in which they do not fear repercussions.
Physical abuse is the one most easily identified due to the obvious physical signs that may be present. Cuts, bumps and bruises, broken bones, sprains, and other unexplained injuries can be present. Actions might include shoving, pushing, biting, kicking, strangling, punching, slapping, abandonment, forced sexual acts, rape, or deprivation of needs (food, water, shelter, medical care, etc.).
Bystander awareness and prevention
There are two sides to community involvement in the fight against domestic violence and abuse.
First is awareness. There must be an open acknowledgment in a community that these behaviors and actions against others exist – no city or region is exempt. Managing the problem means there must first be an understanding of the problem.
Second is action with the goal of preventing abuse.
Understanding what abuse is and how to recognize it also comes with the responsibility to act on that information. Someone who witnesses abuse or its effects in someone else’s life should not be afraid to ask questions or offer a listening ear. Often, a supportive and non-judgmental listener is what a victim needs most.
It is important to never forget the human side of the problem. Not only do victims and abusers need assistance in receiving help, but there is an essential need to remember it is about the wellbeing of the people involved, not about a community’s ability to say, “We solved the problem!”
Once there is a solid awareness of the problem, it is essential to continue promoting this awareness with the goal of teaching the community prevention strategies. These can include teaching individuals and couples of any age (perhaps even beginning in elementary schools) about healthy relationships and how to recognize negative relationship patterns.
While one would hope that abuse could be avoided, it will still be present, regardless of strategies put in place. It is vital that a community not turn a blind eye to those red flags once prevention strategies are implemented.
A community must continue to improve awareness of the problem and employ the resources available for preventing abuse, so as to arrest the gruesome reality of violence from being swept under the rug. From a prevention perspective, communities should remain engaged in educating members of the risks, warning signs, and prevention strategies for reducing unhealthy relationship patterns. Many communities offer free education programs and peer support groups to assist citizens in becoming more equipped to step up and intervene if they are a witness to a potentially abusive relationship.
Bystander awareness does not mean you have all the answers. It means, if you see something, say something!
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More by Elizabeth McCormick