As we observe this month for Domestic Violence Awareness, we wanted to bring to light some of the victims who receive less awareness with this topic. We in no way intend to minimize the seriousness of the direct victims, we know all too well of the struggles and hardships those who have experienced domestic violence go through, and we remain committed to ending this crime with the services we provide. However, in our journey in learning about how domestic violence impacts those around us, we have found far too often the ripple effects of this crime go beyond what even we could have initially imagined.
Children- Research has shown that when children witness abuse versus being abused, it is more traumatic. Children learn to love as love is demonstrated for them. When they see that abuse is normalized in interpersonal relationships, they are likely to carry out those ideals in their own future relationships. Generationally this carries forward which is why the cycle of abuse is perpetuated and we spend so much time trying to break the generational cycle which occurs. Unlearning abusive behaviors can potentially take children years and a lot of programming, therapy or overall services to learn the healthy kind of love which is free of abuse and trauma.
Family and friends- these are the people who are forced to stand by and watch as their loved ones turn into a shell of the person they have previously loved. Maybe they have witnessed the abuse, either emotional or physical, and have attempted to intervene, maybe the abuser has isolated their family member away from them to a point where they are no longer able to speak to them. Perhaps they feel powerless to challenge the abuser on behalf of their loved one in fear of making the situation worse, or that another failed attempt for that person to leave that relationship would occur. No one talks about how it feels to grieve a family member or loved one who is very much alive, but unable to be reached.
Pets- A completely defenseless victim who is not considered when many think about domestic violence. Perhaps it is the pet that is used as leverage to keep a victim within the abuser’s control. A fear of not being able to leave because of the inability to take a beloved pet with them and the unknown of what would happen to them if they were left in the abusive home. Potential victims who are harmed or sometimes murdered with little to no recourse for the abuser with still significant detriment to the victim.
Law Enforcement and First Responders- When one talks about vicarious trauma these are the individuals who come to mind. They are the ones who show up to the homes in the worst circumstances. The ones that comfort the children, the victim, the animal, the loved ones. The ones who go home at night with pictures of things they wish they didn’t have to see. Watching and feeling helpless as someone struggles to leave a situation proven to be harmful, over and over again, knowing there is only so much they can do, and unable to make the way for a different outcome. Victim advocates who walk alongside survivors in some of their darkest hours, who face the unknown and scary, the challenges presented and limitations of practicing within their scope.
The helpers- This encompasses all of those who strive to help someone who has made the decision, or the decision was made for them to leave an abusive situation. Maybe it’s the neighbor, the pastor, the therapist, the caseworker, or the officer, whoever might be wearing the hat that day. Those who go home at night hoping they have done all they could to support a person to continue to live the life they deserve. May we all see that while we have the capacity to feel the impact of domestic violence, we have the same amount of capacity to advocate to change this for one person, even if just for a moment.
~ Ashton Ohde, LIMHP & Amanda Milander-Mace, LIMHP, CPC