TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains descriptions of domestic violence.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I hold it close to my heart. It is a month to recognize survivors, advocate for victims, and seek help if needed. There are people in my life who were victims and I never even knew. I could have helped if I recognized the signs.
What is domestic violence?
Domestic violence is when a family member or intimate partner hurts another with physical violence, sexual violence, threats, and/or emotional abuse. This is usually attributed to a pattern of power and control by the abuser. The frequency and severity of domestic violence can vary dramatically. Statistically, females and children are more likely to be victims (although, abusers can be either male or female).
- New Mexico is 8-10% higher than the national average for domestic violence incidents.
- 71% of victims are female.
- 30-40% of witnesses are children.
- 97% of domestic violence incidents involve a weapon of some kind.
- Lastly, an individual is five times more likely to die in a domestic violence relationship where a gun is present (statistics obtained from DVRCNM).
Below, the local organization S.A.F.E House shares the signs of abuse so that you can identify if a friend or acquaintance needs help.
The pandemic changed the dynamic of every relationship . . . and some were impacted severely and dangerously. It has been difficult for individuals to seek help because of sheltering in place and lack of resources. Their abusers are able to monitor what they are doing and who they are talking to easier than in the past.
The Women’s Funding Network and the Canadian Women’s Foundation launched the #signalforhelp campaign in response to the rise of domestic violence during the pandemic. It is a discreet hand signal for survivors to use to reach out for help, especially during a time of increased video communication. Most importantly, this signal does not leave a digital footprint and can quickly be shared at a moment’s notice.
What can I do to help?
I joined the Alpha Chi Omega fraternity in college because of their philanthropic efforts to raise awareness about domestic violence. I was inspired by these women who wanted to make a difference. Here are two organizations that assist survivors and ways you can help.
- Haven House – The only domestic violence shelter for Sandoval County providing emergency shelter and other support services.
- Donate money and/or necessities.
- Sign up for Amazon Smile and a portion of each purchase is donated to Haven House when you enroll and select their organization.
- Enlist the support of your company through the Adopt-the-Shelter program where you provide for the daily needs of the shelter or volunteer to provide a service (such as maintenance or cleaning).
- S.A.F.E. House – Provides safe living spaces for survivors of intimate partner violence.
Help is available.
Check out this crisis resource for a more comprehensive list of local resources. It is important to be discreet and cover your tracks if you or someone you know is seeking help. Call one of the resources listed above from a friend’s phone, neighbor’s phone, or a public phone. Make sure you have all tracking apps turned off when you flee. Even better, leave your cellphone behind and find a pre-paid cellphone that your abuser doesn’t know about for communicating with your friends and family. Use a computer outside of your home to research or contact a domestic violence shelter so you don’t leave a digital footprint. Have an escape plan and be ready at a moment’s notice.
A Survivor’s Letter
Finally, here is an anonymous letter from a survivor who is near and dear to me. I asked her to share a little of her story with you.
I’m hoping my story will help at least one person that is in an abusive relationship. Please know that you are not alone and there is help out there for you. See, I was in an abusive relationship for almost nine years. When I met him, I was a single mother of two young boys. He was so nice and said all the right things. He was even doing things with my boys which, I guess, “sold it.”
The abuse wasn’t in the beginning. It had actually started four years into the relationship. There’s a pattern that I found most men like that have. At first, they keep you away from your friends and family. Always “needing” you to do something else where you can’t go out with your friends or see your family. Once they separate you from all your loved ones, they start breaking you down verbally and mentally.
I was told no one else would want me because I was too old with two young boys (I was 29-30 years old at that time) and I looked like a boy (I was 119 lbs and barely gained weight from stress). This was said to me over and over again. He made sure I was working while he stayed home where he would cheat on me constantly and spend all my money. That alone broke me.
Then came the physical abuse.
It started with a push here and there. Eventually, grabbing and shoving. After that came the slaps and hits on the head. Spitting and yelling in my face. But what he loved to do to me was choke me until I passed out. I would always wake up on the floor with my hands crossed in front of me like they would put a dead person in a coffin and be so confused but relieved I was still breathing.
I know what you’re thinking. It’s what everyone that found out would say to me. “Why would you let him do that to you?” or “I would never let a man put his hands on me!”
But unless you’ve been in this situation, you really don’t know what you would do. Of course I fought back, but the more I did that, the harder he would hit me. He used to tell me that if I want to fight like a man, then he’ll beat me like a man. And he did. Me, at 5′ 4″ and 119 lbs. against him, 5′ 11″ and 170 lbs . . . it wasn’t fun. I’ve lost teeth, broke a finger, bruises, cuts, and have had a ton of black eyes. It was degrading and embarrassing. That was the main reason I never told anyone or went for help. I was also scared he would go after my family because he told me he would.
What finally woke me up was the day we got into a fight and I grabbed my daughter who was about 12 months old (we had a daughter together) and tried to run out of the house. He yelled, “If you open that door, I will kill you.” When I turned around, he had a rifle (an AK-47 to be exact) pointing straight at me and my baby. He kept pulling the trigger and it would be blank, but I screamed and cried, begging him to just let the baby go. His eyes were filled with hate and anger. He wouldn’t let me out of the house, but he would continue torturing me . . . pointing the gun to my head and pulling the trigger.
I could’ve died so many times.
Luckily, the sheriff came. One of his friends called them because he bragged about what he did. He went to jail, and we went to a domestic violence shelter. I stayed there for almost nine months. That’s where I found out about all the help that was available. They helped me get a restraining order and counseling. They also helped me finally get the nerve to tell my parents.
If I would’ve known about all the help that is available, I may not have gone through all the things that I went through. I was one of the lucky ones. Writing this brought back a lot of emotions and memories that I locked away, but I wanted to tell my story to help all of you, or one of you, that is in an abusive relationship.