Domestic Abuse: Is it Getting Worse?

I recently facilitated an education session that I called “It’s in the News Again”. This was around the time the story emerged about Ray Rice and his partner, Janay Palmer. Unfortunately, it seems this issue is escalating in terms of how often we hear about it in the media. Whether it is a celebrity or an everyday Joe or Jane, it feels like not a day goes by that we don’t hear, read or see something about domestic abuse.

Indiana has the second highest teen dating violence rate in the country. Teen relationships are often where old family patterns begin to repeat. The Domestic Violence Network’s 24th Annual Commemoration event was held on Tuesday, October 7, 2014 at Broadway United Methodist Church. We learned that 67 people in Indiana died as a result of domestic violence. Among them was an IMPD officer who was killed by her ex-husband – a fellow IMPD officer.

So what is it that perpetuates these high rates of violence in Indiana and around the country? Undoubtedly, we see it more because of modern media and technology. I believe it’s more than that though. While we can recognize abuse in its worst forms – hitting, beating, shooting, stabbing, killing – often, more subtle forms of coercion and abuse are not recognized. Examples include:  controlling behaviors, jealousy, and verbal abuse. These are behaviors that many people would not consider abusive, but are often woven into the pattern of behaviors that could and often do escalate to more recognizable forms of abuse.

When children and teens witness domestic abuse day after day in their homes and neighborhoods, it becomes expected. For them, it is ‘normal’. This was never more poignant to me than when I was working with a young woman in a public housing community. She told me that she would not get married until age 50 (she was about 11 or 12 at the time, so 50 seemed ancient to her) – “because that way when he beats me it won’t matter.” I was stunned and frightened for her. I tried to provide her with examples that disproved her belief that this was the way it had to be. She remained firm though, in her belief that being abused is a normal part of having a spouse. No matter what I said, she was resigned to the idea that she would suffer abuse if she married. This incident was many years ago, but I still remember that young woman’s words. I can only hope that by some miracle, she was able to broaden her experience and learn that she does not have to accept that as her fate. Thinking about the pervasiveness of domestic abuse in our daily lives in Indiana and Kentucky, perhaps it is me who was disproved.

Young people learn from us by watching how we behave. Many will adopt the same behaviors they see us display. What non-verbal messages are you sending the young people in your life? They also benefit from the opportunity to discuss or maybe even role-play with us solutions to relationship problems and concerns. Are you “askable”? Would a young person be able to dialogue with you without feeling judged? October is “Let’s Talk” Month. This is a great time to talk to the young people in your life about healthy relationships.  If we can start early and keep an open mind and open door, imagine how we might change things.

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