“Domestic violence—and violence against women—does touch so many of us. It’s not a private matter. It is protected by silence. Each of us must examine and change the ways in which our own behavior might contribute to, enable, ignore, or excuse all such forms of violence.” —Sir Patrick Stewart, launching Breakthrough’s global Ring the Bell campaign
Sir Patrick is speaking from personal experience. Throughout his childhood, his father was violent toward his mother. He knows first-hand the impact of domestic violence on children, the sound of police officers asking his mother what she did to provoke the assaults. And he is asking us—whether we live close to violence or not—to break the silence that makes it happening, and keeps it happening.
Because even if domestic violence isn’t happening to you, or near you—or by you—it affects everyone in some way because it affects society. But that also means that everyone has the power to help stop it. Not just in the moment, but in all the moments we perpetuate the silences, misunderstandings, or societal norms that keep it going. When we stop domestic violence, we enable all women, men, and children to fully participate in society and be their best selves. That’s why it’s up to all of us to drive the culture change that will make domestic violence unacceptable.
Step one: Know your facts. Knowledge is power. Prepare yourself with this info and you can turn that knowledge into action.
- Directly or indirectly, even invisibly, domestic violence affects us all in some way. It exists everywhere in the world, regardless of country, class, or community. It hurts women, men, and children, whether perpetrators, victims, or witnesses. One in 15 children is exposed to domestic violence every year in the U.S., putting them at risk of PTSD, depression, anxiety—and more violence. Witnessing violence in one’s home can be one of the strongest predictors of violence in one’s adult and intimate relationships.
- Domestic violence is common—maybe more than we know. Domestic violence has decreased 64% in the U.S. since the mid-90s, but one in four women will still experience domestic violence in her lifetime. Most incidents still go unreported, especially (for a variety of reasons) by members of LGBTQ, immigrant, and other marginalized communities.
- It’s not only physical. Domestic abuse may be verbal, emotional, or sexual; it may also involve financial control, social isolation, or other coercive tactics used to maintain power.
- It may start subtly. Domestic violence may start as “smaller,” escalating moments of possessiveness or intimidation.
- It can be deadly. In the U.S., one in three female homicide victims are murdered by their current or former partners every year.
- Leaving can be difficult—and can increase risk. Leaving might seem like a no-brainer. Why stay with an abusive partner? Actually, there are many reasons: economic dependence, the effects of emotional manipulation and isolation; certainly fear, and often, yes, love. But when a victim does consider, discuss, start to plan for leaving—or does leave—that the risk of threats, follow-through, (increased) stalking, sexual violence, and severe physical violence and murder or murder/suicide increases. And it is: the most dangerous time for a woman in an abusive relationship is when she tries to leave. (Perhaps a better question to ask is: Why is the abuser abusing?)
- It’s essential to support and trust survivors—even if they’re still in the abusive situation. You may not be able to “save” someone from abuse. Nor, frustrating as this sounds, should you try. But you can offer support. Listen, express concern, say you’re there for them. Offer love—without judgment or pressure. Don’t be one more person in their life telling them what to do. Show them how it feels to be listened to and have their own agency honored. Share your concerns, present them with options, and help them make the choices they want to make in the safest way possible. Note: it takes DV survivors who want to get out an average of 7 rounds of leaving and returning before they leave for good. Many never do leave. (This is why it’s also important to know and honor your own limitations.)
- Interrupt or intervene, safely. Create a distraction. Ring the bell. Have the doorman call. Even a brief interruption can interrupt the violence—at least in the moment—and perhaps even send the message that the community is watching and saying domestic violence is unacceptable.
- Start in your own home. Model non-violent behavior and language in your own family, workplace, friendships, and communities. Model respect for all people; avoid gender stereotypes. Help your children have healthy, open relationships. Try to get help if you are experiencing violence or abuse, witnessing it, or even committing it. Peaceful, respectful relationships—and human rights—start with you.