During the month of October we see a lot of pink all over the place. There are giant pink magnetic awareness ribbons on back bumpers, pink labels on yogurt, and pink cardboard tags sitting on the debit card keypads at the grocery store reminding us to donate to breast cancer research. High school cheerleaders are wearing pink t-shirts that say, “Cheer for the Cure” and grown women wearing pink t-shirts that say “Feel Your Boobies”. There are 5Ks, 10Ks, half- and full marathons in support of a cure or to show solidarity for survivors, and the social networks are inundated with status updates reminding us to do our monthly exams or get our mammograms. In these updates it seems that everybody knows somebody who was saved by a self-exam or a mammogram, and I am no exception. My best friend is a breast cancer survivor whose cancer was detected early, thanks to a mammogram.
October is also the month for national awareness of a lot of other very serious issues, too. According to The National Health Information Center, it is the awareness month for Down Syndrome, Eye Injury Prevention and Home Eye Safety, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Wikipedia includes LGBT History, National Bullying Prevention, and Dental Hygiene. All of these causes are very important to pay attention to. It even lists a couple of the sillier ones, such as National Pork Month and National Pizza Month. Here’s a link to Wikipedia’s October Awareness list.
The one thing that really needs more attention, though, is one that is on Wikipedia’s list and, sadly, missing from the National Health Information Center, is National Domestic Violence Awareness.
Domestic violence is real. It is far more common than most of us like to admit. The statistics are grim enough without realizing that they are probably not accurate, due to the number of domestic violence victims who do not report the abuse. Every nine seconds a woman in the United States is battered and it is estimated that one in three women will be battered during their lifetimes. One in fourteen men have been physically assaulted by a current or former spouse, cohabiting partner, boyfriend/girlfriend, or date.
Domestic violence is also not limited to physical assault and often begins with verbal jabs meant to belittle and weaken the victim and, along with isolation from friends and family, creates a false sense of dependence on the abuser. The beginnings may be subtle and then slide into full-on abuse before you know it, or the abuser will just outright dive in immediately. Please don’t talk yourself into thinking you’re being foolish or silly. Don’t ignore the signs. If you aren’t sure what they are, look here.
I’m urging anyone reading this to please pay attention and please do some research. Like breast cancer, domestic violence isn’t limited only to the month of October. Tumors don’t stop growing on November 1st or wait until October 1st to form, and abusers don’t lay off for eleven months, either. If you suspect something might be a little “off” within your own relationship, please get help. If you see it in a friend, ask. There are shelters everywhere devoted to the protection and safety of battered women and children. Your local YWCA is a great place to start. Please, please don’t hesitate to dial 911 if you are in danger.
You may be wondering why I’m posting this at the end of the month instead of the beginning. I want to make sure that after all the candy is gone, turkey comas have set in, and letters to Santa are mailed, it isn’t forgotten.
A couple of years ago I reconnected on Facebook with a friend from high school. Her father murdered her mother a couple of years after we graduated. It happened in May, not October. In fact, it was the night before Mother’s Day.
I girl I knew in high school got married two weeks after we graduated. She loved that he was so jealous. It made her feel beautiful and special. He was so jealous that he started telling her what she was or was not allowed to wear out of the house. Eventually, she wasn’t allowed to wear anything at all when they were home. He became so jealous and so possessive that he would not allow her to use the phone when he wasn’t home. He simply unhooked it and took it with him when he left. He wouldn’t allow her to be alone with her family, either. She was also not allowed to close the door when she went to the bathroom. She slipped up on that last rule one day. At three months pregnant, she partially closed the bathroom door. He was so enraged that he beat her badly enough to cause her to miscarry. He was arrested at the hospital and she never went back to him.
Another woman I reconnected on Facebook with lived with domestic violence in her marriage for years also. He beat her year round until she was able to escape with her children.
Nearly twenty years ago someone very close to me was nearly killed in her own bed by a drunk boyfriend beating her face who then decided to stand on her neck. Luckily, there were people in the next room who pulled him off. She was grateful to walk away with two black eyes that were swollen shut, a broken nose, and both lips split because she survived. It was not October.
Another reason to think about it all twelve months and not just one is the impact it has on children. Children learn how to treat others by watching their parents. If a child watches his father beat his mother regularly, he learns that it’s okay to be disrespectful to women, that they have no value. Statistics show that millions of children witness domestic violence every year.
When I taught elementary school I had a little boy tell me he was having trouble staying awake. He was tired because he was up way past his bedtime the night before. He told me it was his mom’s fault. I never forgot what he said to me. This seven year old’s exact words were, “Yeah, my mom made my dad mad and it made him punch her in the face. Then she yelled at him. She shouldn’t have done that because that made him push her and she fell backwards. She hit her back on one of those peg thingies you put your coat on. She made a huge deal out of nuthin’ and made us go with her to the ‘mergency room. It was her fault, though, she made him do it. She shoulda kept her mouth shut to begin with.” The torch had already been passed. It was February, by the way.
So many people feel so much shame and embarrassment that they won’t come forward. Many are threatened and fear for their lives so they say nothing. Even other, well-meaning people discourage women from talking about it. Here’s an amazing article by an author who experienced just that (plus a lot more examples, resources, and statistics). Bully behavior is tolerated right up to the point when someone commits suicide as a result of it. Women are harassed and then told to get over it, it was just a joke, grow a spine. When will enough be enough? Children need to be taught to take a stand against it and they need to be taught not to take part in that kind of behavior. All human beings deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.
It also doesn’t help that (in October, by th
e way) Topeka, Kansas decriminalized domestic violence just long enough for offenders to be let back out on the streets, only to be picked up again for the same crime less than 48 hours later. They did it due to budgetary constraints. They wanted to save money. Women’s lives were not, apparently, worth saving. By the time lawmakers in Topeka saw the error of their ways and reinstated the law, it was too late.
I hate that these are only a fraction of the examples I know of personally. I wish there were none, that it didn’t happen. I don’t want any more. So…Please, don’t wait for next October! Don’t forget your self-breast exam every month, but don’t forget to speak out and take a stand against domestic violence.