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Speaking Up: Reflecting on Domestic Violence Awareness Month

This past October, that time of year again when things start to get a little colder, trees start to get a little redder, and people start getting excited for the upcoming holiday season, was dedicated to raising national awareness of domestic violence.

Although there are varying views on the definition of domestic violence, the United States Department of Justice defines it as: “a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.”

The definition of domestic violence, and conversations about it can often be uncomfortable and unsettling. For many people, the thought of discussing such a violent event in an intimate space like the home seems “taboo” or to be an invasion of privacy. However, this mentality both stigmatizes and creates a complacency with domestic violence that often papers over its psychological and physical effects.

This mentality is best exemplified in mainstream media. In 2014, a story surfaced about Ray Rice, an NFL player for the Baltimore Ravens who had allegedly assaulted his wife, Janay. In February of that year, viral video footage from a casino in Atlanta showed Rice punching Janay, knocking her out, and then dragging her unconscious body from the elevator. Despite physical, recorded proof of his actions, his teammates and coaches rushed to his defense, commending him for being the “nicest, hardest working, greatest guy on the team and in the community,” and brushed off his assault as a “couple’s issue” as though this violent interaction was typical of a romantic relationship. More astoundingly, Rice was only charged with a two game suspension. A couple months later, this was extended to an indefinite suspension from the NFL. However, that was overturned later that November, leaving Rice frustratingly free of blame or consequence.

More recently, another scandal erupted when Josh Brown, the kicker for the Giants, finally admitted to abusing his ex-wife Molly. Prior to his admission of guilt, Molly had told the police that she had been abused more than 20 times by Brown, but he denied this. Although she gave both a written and verbal testament, the NFL only suspended Brown for one game in August (going against the NFL’s domestic abuse policy, which was “re-vamped” after the Rice case and is supposed to suspend people for 6 games)—a ludicrously light punishment for a lifetime of emotional, and potentially physical scars. Since this new information about his abuse, no further disciplinary actions have been taken. Brown is still allowed to attend baseball practices, and his coach recently spoke out, saying he respects Brown as a “man, father and player.” A similar nonchalance about his abuse reflected itself in the media as well; in an egregiously Trump-esque manner, NFL news reporter Stacey Dale christened the event as “off the field theatrics,” and several other team members implied that Molly had made up the abuse.

Unfortunately, Janay and Molly’s stories are not unique—incidents of domestic violence occur daily, to hundreds and thousands of people across the country. Stories like these quickly and frequently surface in the media and different communities, but just as quickly as they do, they melt away. My own research for this article is a testament to this fact; as I looked further into each of these stories, I found it increasingly difficult to find information past initial descriptions of the abuse. Results of various cases, and the punishments delegated to the abusers receive little to no media coverage. Instead, large institutions like the NFL, which pay to mitigate incriminating evidence and its consequences, often bury what little information that does get published in the seventh or eighth page of Google searches.

Prior to my research for this article, I had known that domestic violence was a large problem in the United States, but seeing the sheer number of stories which have all been swept under the rug made me feel an indescribable mix of frustration and anger. Reading the stories of abuse victims, most of which are expressed in painfully acute detail, feels like a verbal slap to the face—their pain, and the lack of accountability for their abusers’ actions is shocking, infuriating and unacceptable.

Domestic violence unfairly robs victims of their voices and autonomy while simultaneously condemning them to a lifetime of emotional, psychological and physical scarring, and that needs to change. It’s time we stop victim-blaming and hold people accountable for their actions, starting with breaking down the culture of silence surrounding abuse. One in three women and one in four men in the United States will be a victim of domestic abuse in their lifetime, and each one of them and their cases deserves validation, protection and justice.

Every October in the years to come, I urge you to start speaking up and tuning in to discussions about domestic violence. There is a story to be told here, and this issue will only begin to fix itself once we are willing to listen.

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