When the call came on the morning of April 10, 2018, what had been a typical workday drastically shifted to one of shock and devastation. A stark, immediate line divided what came before and what would forever come after that moment. My beautiful, kind and endlessly supportive aunt, Janice Erickson, had lost her life to a horrific act of domestic violence. Her spouse of nearly thirty years, someone deeply entrenched in our family and whom we trusted, had ended her life, as well as his own. Left with far more questions than answers, we did what we could to move forward amid such a senseless tragedy. While my experience in social work had long been providing education regarding domestic violence (DV)/intimate partner violence (IPV), my lived experience has prompted a strong desire for more advocacy.
As it stands, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced violence within an intimate partner relationship. This includes a range of behaviors such as pushing, shoving, slapping/hitting and is a serious violation of personal boundaries and safety. On average, 20 people per minute are abused by an intimate partner in the United States, coming out to roughly 10 million per year. These statistics encompass a wide range of ages, ethnicities, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds. One in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence, and on a typical day, nearly 20,000 calls are made to DV hotlines across the country. Roughly 1 in 15 children are exposed to DV/IPV and 90% of them are eyewitnesses to violence. Perhaps most sobering, the presence of a firearm in a DV/IPV situation increases the odds of homicide by 500%. In a situation such as my family’s, 72% of murder-suicides are committed by an intimate partner; 94% of these victims are female (Statistics: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence). In terms of seeking therapy, couple’s therapy when DV/IPV is present is highly discouraged, as it often presents significant safety concerns for the victim. DV/IPV is not a “problem to be worked on”; it’s a crime and should be treated as such.
These statistics can be incredibly difficult to absorb and leave many feeling powerless to help initiate change. However, there are many opportunities to become involved and educate ourselves regarding the signs of DV/IPV and the resources available. Common signs of DV/IPV may include:
Telling you that you never do anything right.
Showing extreme jealousy of your friends or time spent away from them.
Preventing or discouraging you from spending time with others, particularly friends, family members, or peers.
Insulting, demeaning, or shaming you, especially in front of other people.
Preventing you from making your own decisions, including about working or attending school.
Controlling finances in the household without discussion, such as taking your money or refusing to provide money for necessary expenses.
Pressuring you to have sex or perform sexual acts you’re not comfortable with.
Pressuring you to use drugs or alcohol.
Intimidating you through threatening looks or actions.
Insulting your parenting or threatening to harm or take away your children or pets.
Intimidating you with weapons like guns, knives, bats, or mace.
Destroying your belongings or your home.
Source: National Domestic Violence Hotline
As parents, one of the most important things we can do for our children is provide ongoing conversations and education around healthy relationships, boundaries and consent. Reminding ourselves to build them up whenever possible, to know their worthiness as a human being and never to place their value solely on the validation of a partner. Encourage open expression of emotions, validate feelings and in terms of seeking therapy, couple’s therapy when DV/IPV is present is highly discouraged, as it often presents significant safety concerns for the victim.
During the month of October, organizations throughout the United States come together to bring even more awareness to the devastating consequences of DV/IPV. This is often done through special events, educational opportunities, community outreach/advocacy, speaking engagements, social media campaigns and wearing purple on October 19 (Purple Thursday) to show your support. We are incredibly fortunate here in Pittsburgh to have a number of wonderful organizations working tirelessly to provide resources, shelter and support to survivors, children/families and families experiencing loss due to DV/IPV. Below are some helpful resources:
Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh: (412) 687-8017
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233
Crisis Center North 24/7 Hotline: 412-364-5556
Center For Victims: 1-866-644-2882
Alina’s Light, Inc.: 412-440-8582
Domestic Violence Services of Southwestern PA (DVSSP): 800-791-4000
This Purple Thursday (October 19), I hope you will join me and the many others wearing purple to further this incredibly important mission. I will wear mine in honor of my aunt, who is forever at the forefront of why I do what I do.
By: Maura L. Johnson, LCSW, PMH-C