By Joelle Piercy, MSS, MLSP, LSW
Community Outreach Coordinator
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It is a time of remembrance, of hope and healing, and a call to action.
During this month we are also acutely aware of the deep costs of domestic violence on individuals, families, and our whole society. At our annual Candlelight Vigil, we read aloud the names of people who have died in Somerset County as a result of domestic violence; these 38 names are a stark reminder that, although we speak in the language of survival and healing, there are people who don’t survive domestic violence. Even for those who do move forward, they at times face overwhelming challenges that can bewilder even the most skilled service staff and volunteers possessing specialized training in domestic violence care (also known as “DV Advocates”).
Almost everyone who works or volunteers in the field of domestic violence services has been told, “I just don’t know how you can do that job.” From the outside looking in, it can seem like hopeless work. At the lowest points, it can indeed feel that way in this field. Advocates see clients who, trapped in a cycle of abuse and manipulation, return time after time to an abusive partner. There are survivors who, no matter how hard they try to start an independent life, often cannot find a job, affordable housing, or the emotional support they need to end a relationship. Restraining orders are denied, custody cases are lost, and injustices seem to mount. In the hardest moments, survivors themselves can momentarily lose hope, and advocates stand with them in their pain and grief to help them envision a better tomorrow.
One can also feel hopelessness in the widespread nature of domestic abuse. The numbers alone seem insurmountable. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. It seems impossible to support everyone impacted by abuse, and even more impossible to change the social norms and conditions that allow domestic violence to continue. Many of us in this field have moments where the issue just feels too big.
And yet, generally, we remain a very optimistic profession. We KNOW that survivors of abuse can heal, that healed trauma can prevent future abuse, and that our community can work together to end domestic violence. We see clients leave our organization with eyes towards a better future. When a survivor reaches out to Safe+Sound Somerset and calls the hotline, they are showing a glimmer of hope; in that moment, they believe that things can get better. As they move through our organization, that glimmer grows larger as they gain access to safe shelter, case management, legal advocacy, trauma counseling services, financial empowerment, family advocacy, and more.
For every setback or challenge that advocates bear witness to, there are numerous stories of success, on both an individual and community scale:
- The family in our counseling program where the parent and the children no longer meet the qualifications for PTSD;
- The transitional housing client who left the program after purchasing a home of her own;
- The legal advocacy client who not only gains a restraining order against their abusive partner, but also files for divorce and gains custody of their kids;
- The teens in our SPEAK education programs who recognize their actions as abusive and call our hotline for advice on how to change;
- The community members who volunteer for our organization and have committed this month and year-round to taking action against domestic violence;
- And many more!
These glimmers of hope mean everything to survivors. They also inspire domestic violence staff and volunteers, and ready our hearts to support the next survivor. We find power in these successes, and also the knowledge that enough glimmers will illuminate our path forward. Join Safe+Sound Somerset during this Domestic Violence Awareness Month as we reflect on the darkness of domestic violence, share hope with survivors, and walk together towards a brighter future free of abuse.
If you or someone you know if experiencing domestic abuse, or you have questions about domestic violence or our services, reach out to Safe+Sound Somerset’s 24/7 call and text hotline at 866-685-1122. Additional information is also available at www.safe-sound.org.