October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This year is unlike any that has come before in over four decades in our work to end domestic abuse and violence.

Along with everyone else in our communities, we were stunned by the overwhelming power of a virus to instantly impact and cause us to focus our efforts in order to reach survivors in a world where access to needed supports may have been limited or halted for a period of time. But, with the support of our communities, our work continues, and survivors have found ways to keep themselves and their children safe in an uncertain time.

Domestic abuse is a pattern of behavior, over time, used by one person in a relationship, as a way of establishing and maintaining control over a partner. These controlling behaviors are often learned, and those who abuse may not initially recognize the harm they cause. It’s complicated, wrapped up in beliefs and values often established during childhood and carried into relationships.

Abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, financial, and spiritual — all of these, or varied combinations of violence, exploitation, and other tactics of control. Some acts of domestic violence are against the law, but the experience of any abuse is traumatic and causes harm, immediately and over time.

Abuse may involve and impact others — children, pets, co-workers, even whole families and communities. Each victim lives within their own experience of the violence and abuse used against them, and they survive in the ways that make sense and are safe for them. Because it’s complicated. Those who experience abuse and those who perpetrate it, are found in every neighborhood, across all communities, in every town. It is complicated, because abuse is pervasive, yet surrounded in silence and isolation. We may see arrests in the police log and nod our heads, as if we are unsurprised. And a week later, a homicide occurs in another home, another street. And we are shocked. We could not see it. We did not know.

Safe Voices has listened to and supported survivors of domestic violence and abuse for more than 43 years in the communities of Androscoggin, Oxford, and Franklin counties. Our advocates work around the clock, on our helpline and in our shelters, in the courts, and in our offices, to provide critical advocacy, information and support. We help victims to understand and access the civil and criminal legal systems that exist to increase safety for victims and to hold perpetrators of abuse accountable for their actions. Advocates connect survivors with resources, and they work within the community to strengthen the safety net for all victims so that they have the supports they need.

Elevating the voice and the experience of survivors gives real example to those who can create change. We believe in the power of advocacy and awareness, to change hearts, minds, policy, and practice.

This October, we hope you will join with Safe Voices in recognizing the courageous survivors of domestic violence living in your community. We invite you to consider becoming a trained volunteer to serve on our helpline. Think about asking one of our community-based educators to come to your work place, your faith community or civic group to talk about the resources offered by Safe Voices and how to help someone you know access advocacy services. It’s complicated, but together we are building safer communities, on every street, in every town.

Melody Fitch is director of Community Education with Safe Voices, a domestic violence resource center serving Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties.

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