October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM), an opportunity to raise awareness about domestic violence and abusive relationships. Through the promotion of healthy relationship habits, dialogue on abusive behaviors and organized efforts to end domestic abuse, individuals and organizations work to combat the prevalent issue of domestic violence.
Domestic violence affects one in four women and one in seven men, according to the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This means that these individuals have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Psychological aggression and coercive control at the hands of a partner occur at even higher rates in intimate relationships for both men and women.
Despite the frequency of domestic abuse, domestic violence remains a highly stigmatized issue. For this reason, domestic violence survivors often feel isolated in their suffering. Additionally, abusers use tactics to physically and mentally alienate victims from their friends, family and the outside world. This makes it much more difficult for survivors of domestic violence to reach out for help.
Survivors feel guilty and ashamed for the abuse they endure due to the stigmatization of domestic violence and widespread victim blaming. Victim blaming occurs when an individual questions what a victim could have done to prevent the crime or misfortune they endured.
In Washington, D.C., My Sister’s Place works to shelter, empower and rebuild the lives of survivors and their families. Deputy Director Toshira Monroe discusses the impacts of victim blaming.
“The harm is that [victim blaming] causes people to suffer in silence and not reach out for help out of fear of being judged, questioned and not helped – and often, not believed,” says Monroe.
Destigmatization requires the acknowledgment that the fault of domestic abuse lies solely in the abuser. For individuals to judge, ridicule or blame survivors’ for their experiences and behaviors surrounding their abuse, they perpetuate the stigma around domestic violence.
“There is oftentimes the question of ‘what did you do to cause this to happen to you?’ or ‘why didn’t you leave?’ and it’s always pointed at the victim,” says Monroe. “The questions are always pointed there as opposed to looking at the perpetrator. No one turns around and says ‘why did you do that?’”
Victim blaming perpetuates the continued stigma around domestic violence despite its prevalence in all communities. Domestic violence does not discriminate on the basis of race, sex, age or ethnicity. Recognizing the commonality of domestic abuse helps to address this widespread stigma.
Notably, conversation on male domestic abuse is more limited.
“Many cultures, including the American culture, is a machismo culture. It is this idea that men are not to cry or have emotions. They are the protectors,” said Monroe.
Common societal views of gender norms suggest intimate partner violence against men is “unproblematic.” The normative heterosexual presumption that men are dominant and females are submissive in intimate relationships diminishes domestic violence at the hands of women and excuses male-perpetuated violence against women.
Monroe emphasizes spreading awareness and having conversations about male intimate partner violence. However, she says that the stigma around male domestic violence is a “bigger, broader systems issue” that requires individuals to analyze their normative beliefs.
Domestic abuse in all forms remains stigmatized through the perpetuation of victim blaming. This harmful, although occasionally inadvertent, behavior prevents domestic violence survivors from reaching out to receive the help they need. This month, and at all times, it is essential to acknowledge the harmful practice of victim blaming and the role it has in perpetuating a stigma around domestic violence.
“The way to combat [the stigmatization] is really outwardly talking about what healthy relationships look like, talking about building healthy foundations in new relationships, and what components are needed for healthy relationships, so that way there are examples of what [relationships] should look like,” said Monroe.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233).