A few weeks ago my husband and I attended a benefit for Hope House of Kansas City (http://www.hopehouse.net/). Aside from the fact that my husband convinced me to dress for the 80’s theme instead of in cocktail attire, it was a lovely event. Hope House provides shelter to victims of domestic violence but it also provides so much more, such as therapy, court and legal programs, hospital based advocacy and training for law enforcement, social workers, hospital personnel and even corporations. Hope House provides services to over 10,000 victims a year.
In most cases this is not a subject that people enjoy discussing. It is unpleasant and sometimes it strikes unbelievably close to home. However, it is an issue that occurs in epidemic proportions and if we don’t confront it, it won’t go away.
A study performed by WHO (World Health Organization) indicates that one third of women worldwide are victims of domestic violence. WHO acknowledges that one third might significantly under-estimate this number because shame prevents women from sharing their experiences. I understand the element of shame in sharing. In what seems to have been another life and perhaps even another world, I was a victim too. I’m told that when we can speak or write about trauma we have learned to “deal with it”. I suppose that I haven’t learned to deal with it. Like the other blemishes that map my life, I tend to keep that part of my history concealed.
There are elements of domestic violence that are evident to most people. It is dangerous to families and to communities. But there are other issues which are not so obvious and have far more long lasting effects. WHO has reported that domestic violence results in higher levels depression, drug abuse and alcohol abuse in victims. Women who are victims of domestic abuse are more likely to give birth to low birth-weight babies and children raised with domestic violence are more likely to be violent. None of these issues fade or heal with bruises and broken bones. All of these issues draw on community resources and demands for government funding. Perhaps the most important disturbing fact is that the majority of women murdered each year, die at the hands of a partner who claimed to have “loved them”.
Like many women who are victims of domestic violence, I returned to my partner over and over and over again. It was easy for my friends and family to shake their heads in disbelief. They did not understand the emotional or financial vulnerabilities that go along with leaving. They could not hear the voice within me that said that on some level I must have deserved it.
There are a lot of things we can do to help prevent domestic violence in the future. We can break down barriers to gender equality. We can be persistent in advocating for affordable education for all people. We can help young women to understand the importance of establishing financial self-dependence. We can invest in affordable, quality early childhood education programs. And we can raise our daughters, nieces and sisters with the knowledge that they are valuable, that their opinions matter and with the knowledge that they are capable.
In the meantime we need to stop turning away from information that makes us uncomfortable. Domestic Violence exists in our communities. It exists in our neighbor’s homes, it exists in our colleagues lives and it might even exist within our own families. Pretending that we don’t see it doesn’t make it go away. Without the help of organizations like Hopehouse there is no refuge, there is no easily accessible, affordable legal advocacy, there is no assistance with mental health care and there is no training for community awareness. There are just 10,000 victims a year in the Kansas City area alone with nowhere to turn.
To learn more about Hope House please visit: http://www.hopehouse.net/