Domestic Violence Awareness Month – Expert Interview & Advocacy Guide
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“It is our assumption that we already know about domestic violence. That is, in fact, why we need awareness. Because if you look at the statistics of what communities understand that domestic violence is, how much they utilize services, and how much they’re aware of their rights under certain federal and state policies, the awareness is actually quite minimal and confused.”
Krista Chronister, PhD University of Oregon College of Education
The statistics for domestic violence in the United States are staggering. Each year, more than 10 million people in this country experience domestic violence. One in four women and one in 10 men experience some form of sexual assault, stalking, or physical violence from an intimate partner. Unfortunately, things seem to be getting worse, with a 42 percent increase between 2016 and 2018 alone.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, domestic violence is defined as “the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another.”
Also called intimate partner violence, domestic violence has more than just physical consequences. Victims have a higher rate of depression and suicidal behavior. Collectively, victims lose eight million days of paid work each year, and 21 to 60 percent lose their jobs because of the abuse.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM). While domestic violence may seem like an obvious issue, it really isn’t. People’s understanding of what constitutes domestic varies, which can lead to many serious issues being overlooked. DVAM was first recognized in 1987 and was federally designated by Congress in 1989. The theme for 2021 is #WeAreResilient. Itis celebrated by federal, state, and local agencies, as well as non-profits and NGOs, who work with victims.
Counselors, psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists, and the general public can use the month of October to educate themselves on domestic violence issues as well as help increase the visibility of this ongoing crisis. Continue reading to take the first step in learning more.
Meet the Expert: Dr. Krista Chronister
Krista Chronister, PhD
Dr. Krista Chronister is a professor and researcher at the University of Oregon in the College of Education. She earned her doctorate at the University of Oregon in counseling psychology and is a state of Oregon licensed psychologist. Her research primarily centers on how partner violence in both adults and adolescents influences future career development and the economic impacts that it carries.
Since 2005, Dr. Chronister has published seven papers about her research in domestic violence. In 2013, she published research on a new method of intervention called ACCESS, which is a community-centric approach. ACCESS is now utilized nationally, both in English and Spanish.
Why Domestic Violence Awareness Month Matters
“It is our assumption that we already know about domestic violence. That is, in fact, why we need awareness,” says Dr. Chronister. “Because if you look at the statistics of what communities understand that domestic violence is, how much they utilize services, and how much they’re aware of their rights under certain federal and state policies, the awareness is actually quite minimal and confused.”
The Los Angeles Police Department has compiled a list of why domestic violence victims may not reach out for help. Amongst the reasons are believing that authorities won’t help, cultural or religious constraints, as well as a belief that the victim deserved or earned the abuse. Increasing awareness around what exactly domestic abuse is can help address many of these hesitations.
Dr. Chronister also believes that many times it can even be as basic as not knowing what constitutes abuse: “I think that with each generation you cannot be too confident that people actually know what behaviors you’re talking about when you’re talking about intimate partner violence,” she says. “We often don’t even have a shared definition across communities, or even have services that meet those communities in the same effective way that we’ve generally assumed works.”
The Centers for Disease Control has identified domestic abuse as a serious public health concern. According to the CDC, “all forms of intimate partner violence are preventable. Strategies to promote healthy, respectful, and nonviolent relationships are an important part of prevention.” A critical first component to these strategies lies in general domestic violence awareness communication.
How Has Covid-19 Affected Domestic Violence
Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on domestic violence. “We know that worldwide, including the United States, domestic violence rates, and the rates of reporting and seeking emergency shelter have skyrocketed,” says Dr. Chronister. “We also are very aware of how abusive partners have used Covid, and Covid mandates to abuse further. They have used mandates to not allow women to wear masks or threaten to create unsafe environments for their children in terms of Covid exposure.”
In fact, the increase in domestic violence has been called “a pandemic within a pandemic” by numerous publications and researchers. A study published in 2021 in the American Behavioral Scientist journal noted that “key public health strategies like social distancing, social isolation, and stay-at-home orders have slowed the spread of Covid-19, but have created ideal conditions for intimate partner violence to flourish.” This study surveyed 374 participants over ten weeks at the start of the pandemic and “the findings suggest that in pandemic disasters, the efforts to corral and contain the virus might inadvertently contribute to a dramatic rise in intimate partner violence.”
Covid-19 also created a whole new way for abusers to exert their control. Dr. Chronister shares that this can include “sharing with family, friends, and coworkers that their partner has Covid when they maybe do not, or revealing a Covid diagnosis and lying, saying that the partner is not taking good care. Abusers are using Covid as an excuse to further isolate women from resources and family and friends. So the tactics have increased, and the number of emergency reports that women need help has increased worldwide.”
The Importance of Addressing Career Concerns
The core of Dr. Chronister’s work is on survivor’s vocational and economic growth. “The women’s movement around ending domestic violence came from a very grassroots powerful history. And that history was really associated with the most severe physical violence and getting women and children out of their dangerous homes,” shares Dr. Chronister. “What up until about two decades ago we failed to study and acknowledge how domestic violence impacts women’s actual daily work and their career development over time.”
“What we weren’t talking about was the daily ability for victims to go to work and perform and earn money, be promoted, gain social connections, and social capital at work. What we are concerned with is the long-term impact on advancement in careers and dreams and fulfillment potential over time,” she says. “Careers are something of the privileged: those who have the safety, time, and resources to think about their dreams and to pursue them. We have not historically afforded women in our services that time and safety.”
As the research has been making its way from universities to implementation, programs are working to address these concerns. For example, Sanctuary for Families, New York’s largest nonprofit for victims of domestic abuse, has implemented an Economic Empowerment Program (EEP) that is centered on career and technology training. Over 88 percent of participants graduate from this program and on average have wages 57 percent higher than the state minimum wage. The EEP specifically looks to keep victims out of low-paying jobs and trains them to find living-wage career-track jobs.
To Dr. Chronister, these higher-paying, career-oriented jobs are critical to keeping victims safe from their abusers: “When we told victims to find work so that they could get out of their abusive situation, we usually handed them classified ads. And those usually were lower education, lower-paying work opportunities with little room for advancement,” she says.
Often these jobs can be hard to keep or not provide enough to live independently. “We were encouraging them to find lower-paying jobs that actually perpetuated cycles of abuse. Because six months later, they don’t have a job that affords them the economic resources to stay away from their abusive partner,” she says.
How Counselors, Social Workers, Psychiatrists, and Psychologists Can Help
First and foremost, Dr. Chronister believes that “those who are working with these communities, who see the limitations of our current social service structures, have to be empowered to be advocates. We have to create space where they can speak up and help change the systems from the bottom to the top.” This is critical as there is a gap in the types of services that domestic violence victims need and the kinds of services being provided.
“I think what the pandemic has shown us is that our brick-and-mortar, individually based services where women and their families have to come to us to receive services don’t work,” she says. “They haven’t worked for a really long time for a lot of communities—and they certainly don’t work during a public health crisis like Covid-19.”
“Who it is not working for are those communities who have a higher stigma for seeking services such as counseling and social work services, who have a very high cultural value for privacy, who’ve experienced intense racism and discrimination from social services and are very hesitant to utilize them,” she says.
But there are emerging new solutions that are working well for these populations. Dr. Chronister shares, “They’re network-oriented. With every contact that you have with a survivor, you can use practices to engage their other network members. And vice versa: with every contact you have with a network member, you’re using them, educating them, and building relationships with them to help them engage their survivor in services and help. These are very concrete network-based practices.”
While training for social service providers on network-based care for victims is essential, small changes can be implemented immediately to interactions to better serve their clients. It can actually be pretty simple to put this practice into action.
“If you have an individual survivor who calls the crisis line or calls for an appointment, do you invite their family members? When you have the individual survivor in the room who came for an emergency appointment, do you ask who in their life do you trust and who is supportive to you? Do you offer to call them right now to talk to them together and create a safety plan?” ask Dr. Chronister. Each of these small questions can help victims feel safe and networked.
Resources For Domestic Violence Awareness Month
Here is a list of resources for counselors, therapists, social workers, and other mental health care providers to learn more about domestic violence and also as resources for any victims they serve. Many of these organizations provide direct services as well.
- National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV): This advocacy organization has an extremely active public policy office that promotes legislation and policies to protect domestic violence victims. They also have extensive educational resources, hold an annual conference, and broadcast webinars on a variety of topics.
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: This free service used to be just a 1-800 number but now includes phone support, online chat, and texting to victims of domestic violence. It is available 24/7 and is completely confidential. They also offer online resources such as how to identify abuse, make a safety plan, or reach out for help.
- National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV): The NRCDV is a “comprehensive source of information for those wanting to educate themselves and help others on the many issues related to domestic violence.” They work to improve community response to domestic violence incidents and prevention.