When you think of domestic violence, who do you think of? A friend? A family member? A co-worker?
Whether we realize it, almost all of us know someone who has been abused or is currently living in a domestic violence situation. It is estimated that as many as one out of every three women will experience some form of domestic violence in their lifetime.
When the problem is this vast, how can any of us help, and where do we begin?
Ending domestic violence cannot be done by one individual or agency. It requires a coordinated community response — a collection of individuals and agencies working together to offer their own unique resources in the service of those experiencing domestic violence. Domestic violence agencies such as the Abused Women’s Advocacy Project often partner with local law enforcement, health care providers, and other groups that have contact with potential victims.
These partnerships may take the form of regional domestic violence task forces, such as those already running in Oxford and Franklin counties. Members of the task forces meet to share information and resources as well as advocate for improved victims’ services.
AWAP and other agencies also engage an active and growing volunteer network. These volunteers come from all walks of life and often use their volunteer training to raise awareness at their places of employment and among friends and family. The logic is that by engaging the community we can make the process of getting safety more accessible for everyone.
The Lewiston Police Department’s Community Resource officers seek out similar partnership opportunities.
The primary objectives of the CRO program are to work collaboratively with community groups such as AWAP to identify and respond to anything that would be considered a quality of life issue. These officers do not take on patrol duty. Rather, they embed themselves in Lewiston neighborhoods in order to foster positive relationships and better understand the concerns of individual citizens. They often assist with community events and host presentations on a variety of public health and safety topics, including domestic violence.
Anyone can get involved in the effort to end domestic violence, regardless of whether they work in a service field. Employers are encouraged to create domestic violence policies and provide informational training to their staff (because domestic violence rarely stays at home).
Medical professionals can screen patients for abuse and make referrals to local domestic violence agencies.
Schools can include healthy relationships and dating violence prevention in their health curricula.
Individuals are welcome to become involved with their local domestic violence agencies.
For those who do not have the time to volunteer, there are other ways to be part of the anti-domestic violence movement. Parents, for example, can begin open conversations with their children and teens about healthy boundaries and respect. Individuals are invited to attend events hosted by local domestic violence agencies and sign up for newsletters, such as the one published by AWAP.
Perhaps, most importantly, we can listen to and support our friends or loved ones when they come forward with their own abuse.
Victoria Williams is Androscoggin County Community Educator with the Abused Women's Advocacy Project. Tom Murphy is a Lewiston police officer.