Opinion: Ending domestic violence starts by asking ‘Are you OK?

Suzanne Adam, executive director of the Domestic Violence Crisis Center, addresses nearly 100 people gathered for the dedication ceremony for the rose garden renamed after Divya Misra, a Norwalk Public Library employee, June 25, 2021, at the library in Norwalk, Conn. Divya Misra was shot and killed by her husband in May.

Suzanne Adam, executive director of the Domestic Violence Crisis Center, addresses nearly 100 people gathered for the dedication ceremony for the rose garden renamed after Divya Misra, a Norwalk Public Library employee, June 25, 2021, at the library in Norwalk, Conn. Divya Misra was shot and killed by her husband in May.

Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media

Domestic violence thrives in silence. In the past year, we witnessed how the “quiet” of the pandemic created an onslaught of domestic violence incidents in our community and worldwide. Yet, it is often one of the most overshadowed and misunderstood public health crises in society for a problem so pervasive.

More prevalent than most realize, one in four women and one in seven men will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. Anyone, regardless of gender, race, sexual identity or orientation, or socioeconomic status, can become a victim of domestic violence. It is likely that everyone knows someone who has been affected by domestic violence.

How can we, as a community, help to solve this insidious problem? One way is to start changing the conversations about domestic violence. How can we shift our culture away from blaming victims and focus on learning to hold abusers accountable for their actions?

Domestic violence is rooted in power and control. It is a pattern of behavior that may not always manifest as physical violence. It can be verbal abuse, financial abuse, sexual abuse, technical abuse, and other non-physical forms. Because of the nature of domestic violence, abusers may not appear in society as bad actors, looking angry or threatening people. Many times, it is just the opposite. Abusers live among us in our daily lives. They are the neighbor, the co-worker, or the friend you thought you knew. In public, they can often be charming, pleasant, and agreeable. But this epidemic exists in the privacy of people’s homes. It thrives in isolation.

Therefore, as a community, we need to learn to recognize the signs of abuse and better understand the dynamics around domestic violence. Studies show that less than half of domestic violence victims report the crime. On average it takes a victim seven times to attempt fleeing an abuser before leaving for good. There are many reasons why a victim may stay with an abuser. For example, they fear retaliation, lack financial resources to live independently, or they may not want to end the relationship, they just want the abuse to stop. Even after coming forward, many victims do not want to press charges against their abuser. Studies show 70-80 percent of domestic violence victims will recant their statements.

To help victims feel safe to seek help and ensure abusers are held accountable, we need greater understanding of the complexity of this issue. Domestic violence is a problem that affects every area of a victim’s life, from personal safety to mental health to financial sustainability. Hence, continued support for legislation around victims’ rights, and adequate funding on a state and federal level to support domestic violence programs are essential to addressing the full scope of the problem.

But it begins with a conversation. It starts with a willingness for one person to ask another, “Are you OK?” or “Do you feel safe?” And to know what to do next if the answer is, “No.”

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The Domestic Violence Crisis Center is joining with our sister agencies in Connecticut and across the country to shine a light on this topic. We urge you to show support around this issue by participating in a DVAM activity this month. Attend a free workshop on bystander intervention, host a book club around the topic, or participate in #purplethursday. There are so many ways to get involved. Most importantly, check in with your family, friends, and neighbors. Help and healing can only begin when silence ceases.

Suzanne Adam is executive director of the Domestic Violence Crisis Center, based in Stamford. If you or someone you know needs help, call the 24-hour Connecticut safe connect hotline at (888) 774-2900. To learn more about DVAM activities, visit dvccct.org.