By Abbey Doyle
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
Ending domestic violence doesn’t have to be a pipe dream.
The elimination of abuse in relationships — with time, cooperation and commitment — is possible, said Colleen Yeakle, coordinator of the Indiana Coalition of Domestic Violence’s (ICADV) prevention initiative.
“For so long people have thought about domestic violence as something that is inevitable,” she said. “It is part of our culture, but our culture is us. Everyone has the opportunity to influence, the power to take a stand and say these aren’t our values.”
The movement to end domestic violence is a young one beginning only about 35 years ago. Its focus for the majority of that time — as it needed to be, Yeakle said — was on intervention. Volunteers, community leaders and organizations wanted to seek the best way to react to the epidemic of family violence and how to help those in the midst of their crisis — how to get help, how to get out and how to hold the perpetrator accountable.
And while that is a crucial component, Yeakle said the aspect of prevention was often overlooked.
“We were saying, ‘We have to end this violence,’ but we were less prepared to do it or to know how,” she said. “But we can. We do it by addressing social norms that engage the violence.”
And to do that, a community must work together with the common goal of saying, “we won‘t tolerate” domestic violence anymore, she said.
“We need to sweat the small stuff,” Yeakle said. “We can’t let abusive behaviors go by in school — abusive language and behaviors aren’t OK with us. We need to address social norms and respectable behavior with organizations, schools and the community where youth and adults spend their time. We need to emphasize healthy and respectable relationships at home, in the community and in the workplace.”
Prevention is now key
ICADV director Laura Berry said her call to action for the community would be in implementing preventive awareness and programs.
“We clearly over the years have been doing effective intervention work — providing safe housing, creating laws, improving law enforcement’s response to victims of domestic violence, holding offenders accountable, educating courts, creating task forces and commissions for a comprehensive response,” she said.
“Now our vision or focus needs to shift. We’ve been doing it for almost 30 years and the only thing we’ve successfully done is reduce the homicide rate for men. We have no less domestic violence than we did before.”
Victims are safer and there are more resources for them now than before, but the number of victims isn’t going down, Berry pointed out.
She said schools need to start early with education about healthy relationships; adults need to be positive role models for youth in practicing appropriate behavior in relationships and parents need to have open conversations with their children about domestic violence and sexual assault.
“We need to step up and create safe environments for the next generation of youth,” she said. “And we need to support the work that is being done on the local community level for prevention.”
Recognize, respond and refer
Kandi Floyd — a victim’s advocate with Alternatives Inc., Anderson’s domestic violence shelter and resource agency — said there are three steps the community can use in addressing the epidemic of domestic violence: “recognize, respond and refer.”
“We have to learn to recognize that domestic violence can and does happen in every single one of Madison County’s communities,” she said. “We can’t be blinded by the issue.”
Once the problem is recognized, Floyd said people need to respond by attending educational sessions hosted by Alternatives or other organizations. Or by responding to a family member or neighbor in crisis.
“We need to address these issues,” she said. “We can’t keep it behind locked doors anymore.”
And referring people to the proper information and resources is critical, and that knowledge, Floyd said, comes with education.
“There is a wealth of knowledge and resources in Madison County,” Floyd said. “We need to start utilizing those resources. Our numbers may go up because more people are reporting and getting out of these situations but I hop in the long run it will reduce our numbers and reduce our fatalities.”
While action to help prevent domestic violence is the direction experts say the movement should go, the support for increasing intervention efforts should continue.
Alternatives CEO Mary Jo Lee said her women’s shelter is always in need of items — cleaning supplies, household and paper goods, hygiene items and food. They always appreciate groups holding drives for those items. Volunteers can always be used to help support staff at the shelter as well.
And another way the community can help Alternatives’ efforts is by asking its educators to speak to their congregation, group or workplace. No group is too small, Lee said.
Lee stressed that Alternatives is more than a shelter and that message needs to be spread. Last year they helped about 300 victims who never came to the shelter and answered nearly 3,700 crisis calls.
Making a difference
A young mother with three young children — aged 1 to 7 — came to the shelter in recent weeks. She’d never heard of Alternatives, but a friend knew of the abuse the woman suffered and recently read a story about the shelter encouraging the woman to get out.
In just the short time she and the children have been there staff has noticed a significant change. The children, scared and unsure before, are acting like children now. The woman — who wasn’t allowed to work, has been emotionally and physically abused for more than a decade — now has some control over her life, even though it is still chaotic.
Her life has been changed forever, all from one decision.
Find Abbey Doyle on Facebook and @heraldbulletin on Twitter, or call 640-4805.