Since first stepping foot into a local domestic violence program in 1997 as an intern, October has meant more to me than cooler temperatures, pumpkins and Halloween. More dangerous than any costumed creature is the often hidden problem of domestic violence, so it is fitting that October is recognized annually as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It is tragic that as I write this, local media coverage includes the disappearance and murder of 19-year-old Dover resident Taylor Owens, whose body was found earlier this month. Her 21-year-old boyfriend has been charged in her death. Unfortunately, Ms. Owens was not the only one who lost her life to a domestic violence murder in Delaware this year.
Domestic violence-related deaths are not isolated incidents, but rather, the result of the escalating pattern of abuse leading up to a very tragic end. However, most victims of domestic violence do not die, but live rather, with continued fear and with a devastating impact on their self-esteem, ability to trust, and future relationships. And children who live with abuse at home are at increased risk for repeating these patterns in adolescence and adulthood, having learned that relationships are volatile, that it's "normal" to control someone in a relationship, that abusiveness gets them what they want, and most importantly, that they are not safe.
Not in my backyard?
According to the 2013 annual report by Delaware's Domestic Violence Coordinating Council, in 2012 there were over 6,600 criminal intimate partner domestic violence incidents, 4,184 hotline calls received by the two domestic violence hotlines and 612 women and children sheltered in Delaware. Women continue to disproportionately experience abuse while men disproportionately perpetrate abuse.
As a Therapist and local resident, I know that domestic violence is an issue in every community. Regardless of age, race, religion, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status, whether you live "in town," in a condo, townhouse or the higher-end suburban communities being built, domestic violence does not discriminate.
Carol Post of the Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence notes, "Domestic violence is an equal opportunity problem that can happen to anyone, anywhere. Whether you know it or not, you know someone who has been or is being victimized by domestic violence. You also know someone who is abusive."
Many people envision black eyes and swollen lips when they hear "domestic violence." Unfortunately, this image interferes with recognition of more subtle and common displays of abuse: controlling one's activities, contact with friends, or money; monitoring one's calls, texts, emails, social media; verbal abuse such as name-calling, criticism, screaming; intimidation tactics such as threats, throwing or smashing objects, punching walls; coerced or forced participation in any number of activities, for instance, sexual, substance or criminally related. Domestic violence involves a pattern of behaviors serving to control or hurt one's intimate partner and any of these examples can be effective at hurting or controlling someone.
"Violence is preventable. If we can learn it, we can unlearn it. Violence is not healthy for people and other living things. If we can see it, we can stop it. Silence is violence. If we can talk about it, we can change it." – Peace over Violence
If you or someone you know needs help, please call the Delaware Domestic Violence Hotlines: (302) 762-6110 New Castle County and (302) 422-8058 Kent/Sussex counties.
Dawn Schatz is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, certified Domestic Violence Specialist, Gestalt Therapist and founder of Appoquinimink Counseling Services, LLC in Middletown. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (302) 898-1616.