AMB is a team of women and mothers. A community that engages with countless other women, mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends. It’s seems obvious that a community of women should feel united on the many issues facing women in our country today, yet one particular issue close to my heart seems so often forgotten or swept under the rug — domestic violence.
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. One in 4 women will be victims of domestic violence. One in 4. That’s significant. If you think of that in terms of the AMB team, that means that 10 out of the 40 women on this team have been victimized. TEN!!!
I am one of those women. I was emotionally, physically and sexually abused by my boyfriend in high school. Yes, you read that right. High school. I was 15 when I started dating him. A child. What’s even scarier is how the stat for intimate partner violence increases for youth. One in 3 adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner.
So what exactly is domestic violence? Simply put domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner. This can manifest as physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal actions OR threats of action that harm another person and strip them of their power.
It’s important to remember that the majority of relationships don’t begin as abusive. In fact, many abusive partners may seem absolutely perfect in the early stages of a relationship and instead those abusive behaviors emerge and intensify as the relationship grows.
So what exactly can we do about it? First and foremost we must acknowledge the issue. It may not be a problem for you personally, but the stats above clearly reflect that the likelihood of this problem affecting someone you know and love are very high. Even more, as mothers we are raising the future. Abuse is a learned behavior and it is our responsibility to engage with our sons and daughters about relationships and consciously work to help them understand what a healthy relationship truly looks like.
I used to work as an adolescent counselor and educator at a domestic violence agency and these were some of the key concepts we taught to youth and their parents:
Media images matter
It’s dangerous to assume media has zero impact on our children. Today 99% of homes have televisions, a stark contrast from the 1950s when only 10 percent was the standard. This gives a greater opportunity for children to view programs without parental supervision, but even parents who limit screen time or censor content need to remain aware of the images and concepts media portrays. We can’t completely shield our children from those messages so the bigger concern is creating dialogue around what they might be seeing or hearing. When we ignore it, we may unintentionally reinforce that various stereotypes or violent behaviors are the norm. It is crucial to encourage youth to think about the institutions that influence our relationships and to challenge stereotypes that contribute to dating or sexual violence and create power imbalances in relationships.
Not only must we model and discuss behaviors that are normal and healthy in relationships, but we must also make sure our children are aware of those behaviors that can be harmful, especially as they start to reach dating age. Parents should talk to their kids about their own positive and negative dating experiences highlighting common Red Flags along the way, especially controlling behaviors such as jealousy or possessiveness. While these behaviors might initially seem flattering and make someone feel as if they are loved and admired, they also lack trust and respect and can isolate and majorly effect self-esteem in youth.
Boundaries & Assertive Communication
Setting boundaries is an important part of any relationship and parents should not only identify the need for establishing them, but also teach their children how to assertively communicate their own personal boundaries in a relationship. This isn’t strictly limited to dating relationships either. Teaching boundaries is an important way to teach youth about emotional and physical safety as well. Believe it or not, the majority of childhood sexual abuse is committed by someone the child (and parent) knows and trusts so teaching about boundaries and how to communicate them will not only help ensure our children are safer around other adults, but will also help mold them into respectful and empathetic humans who care about others.
Empathy & Bystander Responses
Bullying and domestic violence are cyclical, meaning those children who witness domestic violence are at a much higher risk of becoming bullies or victims of bullying. If a bully learns that there are no consequences for his or her behavior, they learn that this behavior is OK in all of their relationships, including relationships with dating partners later in life. In the same way, if a child always falls victim to bullying, this child may grow to feel that this is the best they deserve to be treated, making them more vulnerable to domestic violence as adults.
The point is all relationships matter. How we interact with others is important and teaching our children kindness and empathy early on will help them foster strong friendships, in turn helping them establish healthy dating relationships as they get older. Teaching about diversity and differences can also help our children put empathy into practice and make them more likely to step in when they see or hear about someone being hurt.
It is my hope as a mother that I can raise good humans who care about others and feel compelled to use their voice for issues that affect our humanity. Violence is never OK, but it has sadly become a norm in our society. As disheartening as this can feel, I have to hold my mothering close. I have to remind myself that my children can and will do different for our future and that the collective of mothers raising sons and daughters today, can help our children become part of a movement to change the world.
If you or someone you know is or has experienced domestic violence, please know you are not alone. It is not your fault and help is available. Advocates are available 24/7 on The National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233).