of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court of the United States. I am writing this during “investigation week,” which for me has been emotionally exhausting. I have shared my own MeToo story here. In the midst of the news of his alleged abuse of women and violations of power, this week in my own life and work I have also heard the stories of men who have been wounded and violated physically, emotionally, and spiritually. There are a lot of hurting people waiting for their pain to be acknowledged and their stories to be heard—and believed! These feelings of powerlessness are exacerbated when they are attempting to speak “truth to power” to someone who has more social, cultural, or economic capital.
Women, men, and children can all be vulnerable to all sorts of tragedies. And increasingly, more and more women, men, children, and families are unprotected. According to Dictionary.com, being unprotected means being unsafe, exposed, vulnerable, and unarmed. Being unprotected is not some chauvinistic concept. Instead, just as children need adults to keep them safe, adults need structures that keep them safe too. Sometimes those structures are ways of meeting basic needs, community supports, or structural supports like law enforcement, safe and caring neighborhoods, a social safety net, extended family networks, or spiritual communities.
October is Domestic Violence awareness month. Domestic violence (aka intimate partner violence) is thought of as primarily being physical, but it can also include emotional, sexual, and/or financial abuse. In the United States, around 12 million people experience domestic violence annually. It is a problem broad and wide. Based on data from the National Domestic Violence Hotline, about 30% of women and 10% of men have experienced physical violence, sexual assault, or stalking by a partner. Like many “family crimes,” it is shrouded in secrecy and underreported. No age group, demographic, or ethnic group is immune. Domestic violence is an “equal opportunity” experience.
While it can impact any family, certain factors are associated with higher-risk intimate partner violence. They include being young (16–24), a woman, poor, having housing instability, and being divorced or separated. This list echoes the reality that domestic violence happens when individuals, families, and communities are unprotected.
Intimate partner violence leaves substantial scars. Children who witness it have a greater risk of alcoholism, drug abuse, trauma, and involvement with the juvenile justice system. It is one of the biggest reasons why teens run away. Additionally, witnessing domestic violence is the single best predictor of future incarceration. Thus, domestic violence is not just a personal and private problem—it’s a social and cultural problem.
So, what can be done to address and prevent domestic violence?
Knowledge is key. Teach your children about healthy relationships and boundaries. Share and model nonviolent ways of addressing conflicts. Using threats and violence should never be an appropriate response.
Advocate for comprehensive sex education, which includes lessons about healthy dating, what violence can look like, and setting and respecting consent.
Pay attention to what you are modeling. If you use coercion and force to control others in your life, know you are leaving lasting scars on them and yourself. Get help.
If you are in a relationship in which you are being abused—in any way—find support, learn your options, set limits, and if you need to, leave!
I could say more, but I’d like to shift gears a bit to end this article on a positive note. While men are statistically more likely to be perpetrators of intimate partner violence, it’s important to remember that there are wonderful men who have provided protection to the most vulnerable women, children, and others in their lives and in our communities. These men frequently go unrecognized. There are men who step in and with broad shoulders assume great risk (physical, emotional, financial, and social) to care for those who are vulnerable. These men refuse to be abusers or take advantage of the unprotected. To those caring and courageous men, I want to say thank you!