Danger in the bubble

Not many people know that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It’s not like Women’s History Month or Black History Month in that there’s not much to celebrate, and it’s difficult to make a good elementary school curriculum for October out of it. Very few people like to think about domestic violence (also known as intimate partner or dating violence) at any point in the year, even people surviving its day-to-day realities. This is particularly true here at Williams, where we often forget about life outside the purple bubble. Many people can go for weeks without picking up a newspaper or checking CNN, MSNBC or Fox. We are here in the bubble and stay here because it feels safe and comfortable to a great majority of us. However, there are men and women on this campus and in the greater Berkshire County area who do not see the purple bubble as a safe place.

This month, the Women’s Center sought to raise awareness about domestic violence within the Williams community, and the response has been overwhelming. Many people have approached me and other members of our board, explaining that our fact sheets have helped show them that they or a friend were in an abusive relationship (or one that had the potential to become abusive), thanking us, asking us questions – the list goes on and on. When you peel back the veil of shame cast over domestic violence, many more people emerge from the shadows than you might think.

Domestic violence is not only a women’s issue – it does happen to men, just in much lower numbers. Eighty-five percent of the victims of domestic violence are female with a male batterer, while the remaining 15 percent are made up of of males with female batterers and LGBTQ relationships. Shockingly, women in the college age range (20-24) are at the greatest risk for domestic violence, so it is especially important for Williams to remember that it can and does happen here. The local domestic violence and rape crisis center, the Elizabeth Freeman Center, handled over 1000 hotline calls in 2009 (more than triple their calls from 2008), and their call volume is only expected to continue increasing.

While Massachusetts is among the more progressive states when it comes to legislation and funding related to domestic violence, between Jan. 1 and Sept. 17 of this year, 24 people in Massachusetts were murdered as a result of domestic violence. Six of those 24 were women between the ages of 16 and 24: Kristi M. LeClair, age 24, died Sept. 14, 2010, autopsy results pending; Heather Alleyne, age 19, died Aug. 4, 2010 due to stab wounds; Abinadad River-Cintron, age 19, died May 26, 2010 due to stab wounds; Olivia Marchand, age 17, died Feb. 1, 2010 due to gunshot wounds; Allison Myrick, age 19, died Jan. 23, 2010 due to stab wounds and Ashley Purdy, age 20, died Jan. 16, 2010 due to gunshot wounds. It is for these women, and countless other men, women, and children that we take October to remember that domestic violence is a national issue – an issue that does not discriminate based on race, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender, ability or age. According to a 2001 report from the U.S. Bureau of Justice, three women are killed by a current or former intimate partner each day in the United States, on average.

Many people question why victims of domestic violence do not leave their batterer, staying even to the point of death. Often, the batterer has complete control of the finances, emotions and mobility of the victim. Even if the batterer does not have complete control, s/he has created an illusion of control so believable that the victim cannot see through it. At a recent Women’s Collective lunch discussion, Deb Parkington of the Elizabeth Freeman Center talked about her work as a crisis counselor. One of the points she tried to drive home was how difficult it is for a victim to leave if the only message he or she is hearing is the batterer’s “you’re worthless; no one will want you; if you leave, I’ll kill you; if you leave, I’ll kill myself.”

Most people are unaware of the warning signs of domestic violence, as it is not always physical. Controlling, possessive and extremely jealous behavior, cutting partners off from friends and family, incessant cheating or lying or frequently putting partners down verbally are all common signs of domestic violence. There is often a cycle of abuse: The batterer abuses, apologizes profusely and all is calm. Then suddenly, another outburst of abuse occurs, and the cycle begins again. For those to whom this sounds familiar and for those who are experiencing or know someone experiencing domestic violence, the Elizabeth Freeman Center runs a 24-hour confidential hotline at (866) 401-2425.