October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but anyone who reads the news, listens to the radio, or watches television is aware that violence against women is endemic, not just here but worldwide. It has insinuated itself into our culture: It has been documented and sensationalized, deplored and politicized, exposed, and at times exploited, and even encouraged in certain types of music.
The current president, Donald Trump, is unrepentant about his maltreatment of women, bragging about grabbing them and attacking those who stand up to him. On national television on Oct. 1, Joy Reid noted that Mr. Trump particularly attacks women of color, though Caucasian women have not escaped his vile lewdness.
According to information from the YWCA Evanston/North Shore, one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.
Much as violence against women is “present” among us, it is still in most cases a private matter. The ramifications, though, spill over into the public – sometimes immediately, sometimes much later, often repeatedly. A sordid, silent secret or a big little lie will eventually come to light, exposing the pain and humiliation. Sometimes the telling can be cathartic, but it can also resurrect the trauma. It may seem excruciating for those who have not experienced such violence to listen to the stories. But painful as it is to hear the stories that victims summon the courage to tell, they must be heard. Kept in the dark or glossed over, the incidents can fester within the victims, and the abuse may continue.
In any incident of violence against a woman, she pays; her children – if she has children – pay; and society pays. Children who are exposed to toxic environments, such as an abusive household, pay an exorbitant price for this cruel twist in their young lives. Research shows that exposure to traumatic events such as domestic violence has an impact on early childhood brain development. It can impact learning, because often these children cannot concentrate enough to learn in school. Research has also shown there is a link between being exposed to violence as a child and becoming violent as an adult.
Men who are experiencing poverty, who abuse alcohol or drugs, who have a mental illness, who are experiencing financial pressures, or who exhibit uncontrolled rage may strike out at the family. Such things may spark an incident of domestic violence, but those are explanations, not justifications. An act of domestic violence is an act of power and control.
Women who are victims of physical abuse are also often victims of sexual, emotional, and financial abuse. According to the YWCA-Evanston/North Shore, abused women are at greatest risk of injury or death when they leave their abusers. Moreover, for 98% of these women, financial abuse is one of the strategies their abuser uses to keep them trapped.
In 2015 – the most recent year for which statistics are available – the Evanston Police Department reported 347 domestic batteries, 113 domestic-related assaults or criminal trespasses, and 111 cases in which orders of protection were entered. There were also 991 domestic conflicts that did not rise to the level of criminal conduct, according to the EPD.
Domestic violence is without question a problem in this community, as elsewhere. It is time for men to scrutinize acts, assumptions, and language that are commonplace but that, as “norms” contribute to the denigration and ultimately to assaults on women: micro-aggressions such as lewd comments, off-color jokes, and unwanted familiarity; the need to have a scapegoat to bear one’s shortcomings; and the propensity to blame a victim for “causing” a violent episode, to name a few.
The YWCA-Evanston/North Shore operates the only shelter between Chicago and Milwaukee for battered women and their children. It is also leading the way in this community to address and prevent domestic violence.
Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations has said, “Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation, public health pandemic and serious obstacle to sustainable development. It imposes large-scale costs on families, communities and economies. The world cannot afford to pay this price.”
Nor can we in Evanston.