Another month, another half-dozen awareness campaigns vying for our attention: It often feels that way, doesn't it?
It can be easy to drive past the colored ribbons on downtown light posts or the many billboards on the highway and pay them nothing more than a passing glance.
This month, however, Fort Wayne's women and children deserve our undivided attention.
October highlights domestic violence awareness.
While it may be easy for some to glance over the topic, as a community we cannot afford to give a performative nod to the issue without real reflection. In the Women's Fund of Greater Fort Wayne's latest research, survey responses revealed that one in three women in Allen County is a survivor of domestic violence (higher than the national average of one in four).
On a national scale, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner, and more than half of female-victim homicides are related to domestic violence.
We also learned that 38% of women in Allen County do not always feel safe at home, and at least 42% do not report acts of violence they experience.
Reasons given for not reporting included thinking the police would not believe them or be able to help them, being afraid of the abuser's response, not wanting others to find out what had happened, or believing that the abuse was actually their own fault. Many survivors fear that their children may be taken from them if they speak up.
Domestic violence is defined as a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship. It spans race, age, ability, sexuality, religion, education level and economic status. Elder abuse and the abuse of those with disabilities also qualify as domestic violence.
While domestic violence often involves physical harm, it can also be verbal or emotional abuse, forced sexual actions, financial control, or religious teachings that validate control or abuse. Domestic violence shows up as a perpetrator isolating their partner, preventing them from communicating with others or making them believe they are incapable of living independently.
Ultimately, domestic abuse is about control.
So what can we start to do about it?
1) Most importantly, if you need help, call the YWCA Crisis Line at 800-441-4073. Crisis shelters, one-on-one advocacy and therapy are all available.
2) Believe survivors. This is possibly the most important thing we can do. The first step in getting out of an abusive situation is to have a healthy support system, a safe space and the help to see the possibility of a future without the abuser.
Believing one survivor empowers others to speak up. Normalize asking those in control of our systems why there are barriers to justice instead of asking a woman why she “just didn't leave.”
3) Advocate for economic equality and workplace supports for women. The No. 1 reason women stay in abusive relationships is finances.
Those in domestic violence situations may not have any control of their own finances. Abusers also often harass women at work by frequently calling or visiting, even accosting them on their way to and from work. These behaviors can make it difficult to maintain employment and force women to quit, creating even greater financial obstacles and increased dependence on the abuser.
The more we advocate for women's financial independence, the more women are empowered.
4) Know the signs and pay attention. Someone in an abusive situation may withdraw socially, become increasingly anxious or depressed, or constantly feel the need to ask their partner for permission. Make time for them and let them know you are there to help. If you suspect violence, call 911 immediately.
As you see the billboards, articles, and ribbons this month, I hope you will slow down and pay attention.
The next time you sit at a table with three women, remember that, statistically, one of them could be in an abusive situation.
The pandemic's increased isolation, emotional strain and financial uncertainty have only worsened domestic violence. We need to face the facts about where we are as a community. It's time to hold one another and our systems accountable to end domestic violence.
Cassie Beer is director of the Women's Fund for the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne.