Monday, October 1, 2012

Secrets, Bullying, and... #domesticviolence

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month in the US, and while we're much more aware than we used to be, there's still much we're not aware of, or avoid. Because it's easier and less painful not to look, to see that those being abused are us: our sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, co-workers, next-door-neighbors...

According to NNEDV, over 22% of women and over 7% of men report being physically assaulted by a current or former partner in their lifetime. (More than 1 in 5/1 in 11. Who report it. Look around you - can you count five women or eleven men? Then think about all the assaults that go unreported.)

Approximately 15.5 million children are exposed to domestic violence every year. Children exposed to violence are more likely to attempt suicide, abuse drugs and alcohol, run away from home, and assault others. Women who experience domestic violence are more likely to experience spells of unemployment, have health problems, and be welfare recipients.

Does it really make sense to close our eyes and pretend it only happens to other people, in other neighborhoods? 

As a writer, how can we write believable contemporary or historical fiction while ignoring the presence of domestic violence in so many lives? It's like ignoring sexual attraction, or gravity.

I'm devoting this month on Writing in Flow to Domestic Violence: guest posts, books reviews, personal essays and more.  If you have a story to share, I'd love to use it.

Here's an amazing song and video on the subject, shared by a FaceBook contact:

There are many, many things I love about this song and video. First, the song itself is gorgeous, IMO, a little reminiscent of Linkin Park, beautifully written and well-mastered. Second, it tells the story without totally demonizing anyone. Yes, the father is abusive, but it also seems he is overwhelmed - did the mother die, or leave him? He's a man without a good parenting "toolbox" and very bad coping skills, not a total monster. You may not feel hugely sorry for him when he breaks down and cries at the end - I don't - but in retrospect, haven't we all "instinctively" done things we knew were wrong, that we regretted? Is it possible that, rather than throwing the father or mother in jail and scattering the kids to different foster homes, that the answer (in many, not all cases) is help for the family?

Part of what holds back kids in trouble from seeking help is just that fear. How do we change that?

It is not a big leap from a kid being verbally and/or physically abused at home to being socially awkward, becoming a bully and picking fights. 

Children (and parents) who are enduring verbal and emotional abuse may not have any marks on them, but they're traumatized just the same. And a lot of physical abusers have gotten smart, and make sure when they do hit or beat their victims, it's somewhere normally covered by clothing.

I also like that there's a teacher in the video who "gets" that there is something wrong, who tries to help the boy in trouble, instead of just writing him off. What separates abused kids who grow up to themselves be abusers and criminals, from those who grow up to be "regular," productive citizens? According to Gavin DeBecker (more on this in a future post) and other experts, is that somebody, somewhere along the way, cared for the child. A stepparent, a teacher, a neighbor, an aunt, a grandparent - somebody who's running a different "tape,"  somebody who is telling the child, "You're amazing, you're smart, you're somebody I'm so glad to have in my life."  Somebody it's safe to share secrets with.

Somebody who doesn't demand that they keep secrets - about physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, of themselves or a parent, or a home that includes a growing hoard.

If you can, be that support for a child, or an adult. Be alert, be aware that "things aren't right." You don't have to volunteer at a shelter (though it's awesome if you do) or personally plan an escape for the woman or man who's being abused. Just listening, not offering judgment, and telling your neighbor or your co-worker or your friend that s/he is worthy, is amazing, may make the difference between life and death for that person.

And if you write, please don't pretend domestic abuse doesn't exist.


Domestic Violence Resources

National Domestic Violence Hotline - 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)  TTY- 1-800-787-3224 
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (includes downloadable guides for helping women in abusive relationships)
RAINN - Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network 1.800.656.HOPE
National Alliance on Mental Illness, aka NAMI

National Clearinghouse on Family Violence - you will need to opt for English or French

Women's Aid - 0808 2000 247

Australia & New Zealand:
Domestic Violence Information Manual - phone numbers vary by territory

For Male Victims:
Why Men Stay in Abusive Relationships

Please consider buying some of David Hodges & Stefanie Parnell's music.
If you'd like to share your own story, there's still time.
Guest post ideas & info here.