Domestic violence not a private matter

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It is not surprising that hearing stories of trauma, devastation and unfathomable violence is commonplace when you work at a domestic violence resource center. But every day, because of the news and social media, hearing about domestic violence in our local communities is common for everyone else, too.

However, what many of us don’t know is that victims of domestic violence have often been suffering in silence for months, years and even decades, and because of a 911 call, or an arrest that is mentioned in the local newspaper, the realities of what these victims have been enduring are suddenly known to everyone.

Often, when a victim of domestic violence reaches out for help or flees the violence and seeks out safety, there is another layer of fear that arises. That additional fear is that, by sharing their truth of the abuse that they have been enduring, their secrets they have been told or forced to keep, and that what they have been told is a “private family matter,” is no longer a secret.

Although that fear is real, when we allow abusers to continue to claim that domestic violence is a private family matter, we are, in turn, allowing secrets and silence — and secrets and silence do not keep families safe.

Violence Policy Center ranks states by the rate of women murdered by men in single offender/single victim incidents and, nationally, Maine is number nine.

We owe it to our community to not be bystanders.

Holding abusers accountable is crucial and ignoring the problem or accepting that “what happens in the family, stays in the family” is not acceptable.

In our work, when we hear that a couple has decided to handle their “problems” within the family, we later hear from the victim that the dynamics of domestic violence precluded healthy negotiation and joint decision-making and the person experiencing the abuse didn’t have much say in the decision.

No one needs to suffer in silence because we are here to help.

In the work to end domestic violence in our community, Safe Voices served more than 1,500 victims of domestic violence last year through our civil and legal advocacy and emergency shelter programs, and we safely planned with victims who decided to flee from their abusers. We also provided prevention education and public awareness to more than 8,000 students and community members.

I ask that when you see something, that you say something. You can help by giving someone our helpline number, or ask them how you can assist them in feeling safe.

It is important to remember that we all have a stake and responsibility in keeping our communities safe. Holding abusers accountable for their actions and not allowing them to keep us silent is another way we can stand united in this work.

Elise Johansen is executive director of Safe Voices.

Safe Voices is the domestic violence resource center serving Franklin, Oxford and Androscoggin Counties. If you or someone you know would like information or support regarding domestic violence, Safe Voices provides a 24-hour free and confidential helpline at 1-800-559-2927. More information can also be found at www.safevoices.org.

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