Listener Essay - Domestic Violence Awareness

Oct 23, 2014

  Kathryn Allen is a communications consultant and writer who lives in Menands.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. It’s an annual initiative that began in 1981, coordinating efforts nationwide to end violence between intimate partners.

That very year, I witnessed domestic violence first hand. After hearing a crash in my guest room, I rushed to see what happened. There I encountered my friend being viciously pummeled by her husband. My boyfriend pulled him off, and soon after, they left together. My boyfriend and I reeled in shock. We’d been close friends with this couple for years, and by outward appearances, they were deeply in love.

Later my girlfriend told me that she’d been hospitalized many times after beatings. I had no idea how to help other than to urge her to leave. “Why do you stay?” I asked her.

Now, after working with survivors in a local shelter, and advocating on their behalf, I know why she stayed. Victims stay for many reasons, but often it is because they know what their partners are capable of. They’ve heard him promise, “I’ll kill you. I’ll kill your parents. I’ll kill your dog.” It’s not an idle threat.

75% of deaths at the hands of an abuser in New York occur after the woman has left the relationship. Sometimes the threat isn’t death, but something equally chilling. My sister-in-law was told by her abusive attorney husband, “If you leave, you’ll never see our son again.” It has sometimes felt that domestic violence is a stronger foe than our extraordinary efforts to prevent and stop it.

But finally, after three decades of working to erradicate intimate partner violence, it feels like a tipping point. We can thank the debacle related to the Ray Rice assault on his fiancé, and the nation’s outrage over the NFL’s tepid response. In horrible irony, Rice’s violence, caught on tape, has been more of a game-changer in public opinion about domestic violence than thirty years of peaceful advocacy.

Those working to end family violence have long said that the tide won’t turn until the majority of men who are not abusers, hold to account men who are. And that violence against women will not end until it is viewed by society as so repugnant as to warrant legal, economic and social sanctions.

If only because of public fury, the NFL is finally stepping up. Similar outrage about sexual assault on college campuses is also generating insistence on stronger punishment for those who rape their classmates. From Governor Cuomo to a well-known local car dealer, highly visible men are speaking out about curbing violence at home and on campus.

It’s time for all those in leadership positions to get ahead of the curve on this issue. If they don’t, they risk getting caught out like Roger Goodell of the beleaguered NFL. Police and judges need to aggressively enforce existing laws. Clergy need to preach about this. CEOs must let it be known that violence has no place on the resume of any employee. We, as taxpayers, need to support the funding of services for all victims and survivors of violence: women, children, and yes, even men. Especially in our neighborhoods, things must change. Family and friends need to step in and speak up when they witness physical or verbal abuse.

In 1981, my boyfriend and I had no idea how to help our friend, or how to hold her husband accountable for his violence. Despite that, she did become safe soon after. In a bizarre twist of fate, her young and athletic husband dropped dead of a stroke. But most victims can’t rely on fate to save them. That endeavor is up to all of us.