Forty years ago, talking about domestic violence was frowned upon. Society’s focus on traditional families and gender roles caused many to view abuse as a private issue within couples, and many blamed the victims for their own injuries.
While the conversations surrounding abuse have progressed, harmful stereotypes about cultures, religions, genders, and race fueling those misconceptions still hold power today. Young and non-inclusive state and federal laws about domestic violence allow many abusers to escape punishment. Victims often remain silent due to shame, resulting in the loss of an average of 1,300 lives each year.
This epidemic touches everyone. Whether you are a man or woman, gay or straight, young or old, educated or uneducated, rich or poor, sick or healthy, in love or not—domestic violence affects our economy, our loved ones, and our future.
Raising awareness and altering social behaviors is the key to protecting your community from “one of the most damaging, unaddressed human rights violations in the world today.” Consider the following steps to learn more about how you can create change today.
Educate and challenge yourself
Read articles, watch documentaries, attend events, and connect with HAWC to understand the complex issues surrounding abuse. Domestic violence thrives because of pervasive social behavior. Change starts in you: unlearn the myths that society taught you.
Myth: When victims choose to stay in an abusive relationship, it is their own fault that they are being hurt.
Reality: In fact, victims remain in abusive relationships for many reasons. Always focus on an abuser’s harmful actions rather than the choices a victim must make out of necessity.
Myth: Commitment is the most important value in a relationship.
Reality: Many times, people glorify those who “stand by” their partner, believing that marriage vows are more important than a victim’s wellbeing. However, not everything can be forgiven or forgotten. Abuse never occurs in a healthy relationship.
Myth: If you’re a man, you cannot experience abuse because women are not violent.
Reality: Anyone can experience abuse. The media often places a focus on female victims and male abusers. However, men can be victims, women can be abusive, and violence can occur between two men, two women, or outside of a romantic relationship, such as between older adults or people with disabilities and their caretakers.
Finally, research local organizations and state laws to understand where you can start getting involved. In addition to offering comprehensive domestic violence services to abused women, children, men, and nonbinary people to 23 cities and towns on Masschusetts’ North Shore, HAWC provides the public with volunteer and internship opportunities.
The sexism, racism, xenophobia, and homophobia that breed an abusive culture often slip into conversation unnoticed. If you hear a joke or conversation that condones sexual harassment or downplays domestic violence, start a dialogue about abuse and encourage your friends to recognize that domestic violence is not a joke. Discourage the idea that violence among young boys and submission among young girls is “natural.”
Remember, your friends and family care about your passions. Talk to them about domestic violence and show them how they can help. Use social media to share information, news, and statistics about abuse. Share your advocate experiences—people are more likely to get involved if they recognize a familiar face. Follow HAWC on Facebook and Twitter to receive updates on domestic violence that you can share with others.
Think about printing out or stopping by HAWC’s main office or your local domestic violence organization to pick up educational materials that you can display at your place of business or workplace, schools, gyms, libraries, and local businesses.
Whether you have one day, a month, or one hour per week free, your local domestic violence organization needs extra help. Contact HAWC or your local domestic violence organization and learn about volunteer opportunities.
If you have a full schedule, consider contributing to these organizations in other ways:
- HAWC and other local domestic violence organizations are not-for-profit and would appreciate any financial contribution.
- Forego one cup of coffee per month and share the leftover funds with us, or talk to your employer about the possibility of workplace giving.
- Because victims suddenly need to leave their home, they may not have basic necessities, child care, or the appropriate funds to help them with transportation to and from doctor’s appointments and court. Contact HAWC or your local domestic violence organization to donate items that will help victims get back on their feet.
Activists do not need to be wealthy to help! If you cannot donate, consider organizing a fundraiser with your workplace, school, religious community, or neighborhood restaurant. Set up a “fancy dress” day at work or school, where your peers pay one dollar or provide needed items in order to dress up or pay two dollars to dress casually! Organize a cocktail party and collect money or needed items at the door! Plan a car wash or a bake sale! Turn your efforts into a social activity or fond memory.
Sometimes, victims hesitate to leave an abusive relationship because they depend on their abuser. There are many potential factors that could make them feel vulnerable, such as unemployment, inability to manage finances, technological ineptitude, or the inability to speak English. Misconceptions about safe sex and consent, domestic violence in the LGBTQ community, immigration issues, or health care can also contribute to domestic violence issues. Consider what experience you may have that could help empower people and prevent domestic violence. Perhaps you know a lot about job interviews, computers, checkbooks, or sexual health? Then, contact your local library or domestic violence organization to begin organizing an educational event.
Don’t want to plan an event by yourself?
HAWC and other local organizations plan annual events that are open to the public. Attending these events helps send a message to the community and connects you to other people who want to make a difference.
Do not underestimate the local government’s role in inciting change. Find out where and when your local council meetings are and whether you need to sign up to share public comments. Then, prepare a three minute testimony and urge your town to pass resolutions or take action!
Remember that state senators and representatives work to serve you! Although it may feel intimidating, many states discuss important laws because someone like you shared information with lawmakers. Call, write, or even meet with your state representatives to tell them to set up more protections for all domestic violence victims or pass legislation that prevents future domestic violence. Then, encourage your friends and family to do the same!
- (2006). Behind Closed Doors: The Impact of Domestic Violence on Children.United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). Retrieved by