Awareness months might seem trivial in theory—shouldn’t we be concerned with important issues like domestic violence all twelve months of the year?—but they are shown to be effective. Like a birthday, awareness months set aside a specific time to direct focused attention on an important cause. The media focuses stories on that issue or concern, events are planned, fundraisers are held and, inevitably, people are talking about it. One could argue that making even one more person not feel alone that month is worth the effort.
In October, the world collectively shines a spotlight on domestic violence during the fittingly named Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM). So, how did it begin?
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The History Behind the Movement and Its Color
The women’s movement was growing momentum in the 1960s and ‘70s, but few people were openly talking about the injustice of domestic violence, or even knew there were shelters where women could go to find refuge from an abusive partner.
On July 9, 1978, nearly 100,000 advocates marched on the capitol in Washington, D.C. in support of equal rights. Many survivors of abuse—at the time, more commonly known as battered women—were wearing purple.
“Battered women chose purple as an evolution of the lavender from decades past,” Rose M. Garrity, former board president of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) told DomesticShelters.org, because lavender was seen as a color of royalty.
As the battered women’s movement grew, the first awareness campaign began on the first Tuesday in October 1981. It grew to a week, and as more advocates and programs created local awareness efforts, it would go on to expand to the full month of October. In October 1987, as DVAM was officially observed in the U.S., the country’s first free national domestic violence hotline was in operation. More and more survivors felt emboldened to reach out for help.
Two years later, the U.S. Congress would officially designate October as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Advocates Agree: Attention Helps the Effort to End Domestic Violence
Today, aren’t we all well-aware that domestic violence and abuse are still very much prevalent in our world? Will calling these things out in October continue to make a difference?
Why yes, advocates and experts agree that it will, as evidenced by how far we’ve come since the first shelter opened.
“I think one of the biggest changes in the last, I don’t know, 35 years, is there’s a general recognition that domestic violence is serious, it’s pervasive and it needs to have a response, whether it’s a police response or community response,” the Hon. Judy Harris Kluger told DomesticShelters.org. Luger served as a judge in New York state for 25 years and is now the executive director of Sanctuary for Families, an organization dedicated to helping survivors of domestic abuse and sex trafficking.
President and founder of the Family Violence Prevention Fund (now called Futures Without Violence), Esta Soler says, early in her career, which began in the 1980s, “people were not concerned about the issue of domestic violence. It wasn’t even on the back page of the newspaper.” Thanks to a concerted effort to bring awareness to the epidemic that is domestic violence, Soler told DomesticShelters.org that she believes significant progress has been made.
“What we’ve seen because of the community-based programs—the shelter programs, the community-based counseling programs, healthcare providers—being more aware of the problem, schools being more aware of the problem, people now know that it’s a problem and they also are trying to prevent it.”
Still a Very Prevalent Problem
How bad is it? Here are some numbers that show how widespread domestic violence continues to be:
- The World Health Organization shows that, globally, abusers have targeted nearly one-third, or 27 percent, of women ages 15 to 49 with physical or sexual intimate partner violence in their lifetimes.
- In the U.S., more than 1 in 3 women, or 35.6 percent, and more than 1 in 4 men, or 28.5 percent, have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner, according to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Women between ages 20 and 24 are at the highest risk of nonfatal intimate partner violence.
- Homicide is one of the leading causes of death of women under 44 years of age, with nearly half of the victims killed by a current or former intimate partner, according to the CDC. Statistics show this equates to 2,000 to 3,000 women a year killed by their partners.
Of course, we would be remiss to not remind the reader here that domestic violence is vastly underreported—many survivors choose not to seek services or call police, fearing an abuser’s retaliation, a general mistrust of the court system or one of these other barriers.
It’s also difficult to account for all the survivors of nonphysical abuse— emotional, verbal or financial abuse, to name a few. And then there are those who suffer in silence, only to be counted when abuse turns deadly and they become a homicide statistic. Therefore, one could argue that any statistic above zero victims of domestic violence is one too many.
Give Yourself a Crash Course in Domestic Violence
DomesticShelters.org has compiled comprehensive toolkits that can help answer many of the most commonly asked questions around domestic violence. They include:
- What Is Verbal Abuse?
- What Is Emotional Abuse?
- What Is Trauma Bonding?
- What Is Elder Abuse?
- A Guide to Restraining Orders
- What Is Financial Abuse?
- What Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
- What Is Domestic Violence?
- How Do I Heal After Abuse?
- Why Do Abusers Abuse?
- Am I Experiencing Abuse?
- I’m Ready to Leave, Now What?
- What Is Sexual Abuse?
- I Know Someone Who’s Being Abused, What Should I Do?
- What About My Kids?
How to Be Active During DVAM
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So you want to get involved during DVAM, help spread the word, get your friends, family and coworkers passionate about ending intimate partner violence? Excellent! We have a few ideas.
- Wear purple. Snap a selfie and tag it #PurpleThursday and #DVAM. Let survivors and advocates know you support them.
- Attend an event near you. See our Calendar of Events here.
- Start the conversation. Share articles on DomesticShelters.org in your social media, start a conversation at the dinner table, or ask those closest to you if they’ve ever known a survivor (maybe they want to open up about their own experience—sometimes, breaking the silence can be healing. Just make sure not to pressure anyone to share). See “10 Ways to Validate a Survivor”.
- Advocate for needed reforms. Survivors and advocates are actively working with lawmakers to pass new legislation to curb domestic violence such as The Safe Child Act, Jennifers’ Law, the Lori Jackson Domestic Violence Survivor Protection Act and stricter laws in Louisiana. Read “How to Call Your Lawmakers” to learn how to reach out.
- Fulfill a need on a shelter’s wish list. Find a list here. Shelters often operate on a very tight budget and could use everything from new pillows to toys for the kids who come in. Your gift will be delivered directly to the shelter.
- Hold a fundraiser at your place of employment. Read how one company took their do-gooding to the next level in honor of survivors.
- Consider becoming an advocate for survivors. You don’t need to be a survivor yourself to join the movement. Find online trainings to become an advocate here, and then consider volunteering at your local domestic violence nonprofit.
- Listen to a domestic violence podcast. Find a list of our recommendations here. Listen to compelling stories from survivors, advocates and experts themselves on surviving domestic violence.
- Pick up some new reading material. The more you read, the more you can understand. Find our list of recommended books here.
- Join the #MoveToEndDV Ambassadors Program. Ambassadors reach out to local domestic violence shelters and ask them for a wish list of goods and services they need, then connect with local businesses that might be able to fill the wish list.
- Organize your own event. Think Silent Witness Exhibit, Purple Lights Night or Clothesline Project to raise awareness of domestic violence in your community. You could also do your own walk-a-thon, 5K fun run, comedy night or backyard barbeque with friends and donate the proceeds collected to your local shelter or agency.
- Host a candlelight vigil in your community to honor survivors and victims of domestic violence.
- Involve local restaurants. Ask a local restaurant to donate a percent of their profits on a certain night to your local shelter or agency.
- Get writing. Write an op-ed or editorial raising awareness about domestic violence for your local newspaper or ask the editor of a high school or college newspaper in your community to run a story on teen dating violence (young people are at the most risk for intimate partner violence).
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