A message from Joyce K. Axelson, DV Task Force Coordinator
Town of Palmer, Massachusetts
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
Maya Angelou tells us ‘There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you’…….
Break the Silence — Stop the Violence..
Over the past ten years I have worked with people who have been affected by domestic violence in their lives… I have witnessed and heard many men and women break their silence to stop the violence.
It has been a humbling experience to listen to the once untold stories of women and men who had been beaten down by a spouse, family member or boyfriend, or girlfriend, leaving them with no self-confidence, self-esteem or personal value.
Beaten down by someone they were in love with and loved someone who had fathered their children, maybe someone who had parented them, or perhaps a sibling.
Beaten down by the actions, words and attitudes of someone that was trying to gain control over their lives.
I have listened and heard stories that had been bottled up inside people for five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty and sixty years.
Stories from people who had been so sure:
1. that the violence was their fault
2. that if they told their story their children would suffer even more, perhaps even be removed from the home
3. that they did not have the economic empowerment necessary to survive on their own
4. that no one else cared about what they were going through
5. there would be no assistance for them to flee the situation
Some of the ways a victim may break their silence –
• Recognizing the situation is abusive
• Sharing with someone they trust; someone who can listen and HEAR without judgement
• Learning how to ‘safely’ say NO MORE
• Often the Silence is broken by a significant event, a near death experience from the violence
• Sometimes a victim works with a seasoned SafePlan Advocate in District Court to explore their options or obtain a Restraining Order
• Sometimes people flee the situation, try to get into a shelter
• Sometimes there is an incident that is reported by neighbors, police officers go to the location and try to determine who the perpetrator and who the victim are
What is the impact of breaking the silence for a victim?
- Rejection from family, friends, lack of support
- Judgmental attitudes from family, friends, community, faith based communities
- Financial issues
- Housing issues
- Employment issues
- Health issues
- Feeling ashamed, sad, isolated
One of the more significant dynamics of breaking the silence for a victim is that a floodgate of memories may come pouring into the stream of consciousness, memories of prior abuse that has been pushed into silence by the fear of what would happen to them if they told anyone.
Many times people I worked with would tell me that the event that brought them to Court or to work with me was the only event that had happened, or that the perpetrator was ‘drunk’ or high on drugs.
However, after a period of time other memories and ‘many’ events that had happened over the course of their relationship began to surface.
Often family support that is needed so much, is not there because families have grown tired of trying to help, or have become angry that the victim has not left the perpetrator after the abuse (even though through research we know that on average it takes a victim seven times of leaving and returning before leaving for good)
Why do the above happen?
- Perhaps because of lack of information on how to help victims
- Perhaps some do not know that there is help available and where that help is
- Perhaps from a lack of educational resources within the schools and communities that we live in
One example of needing more education around Domestic Violence in the healthcare field. The former Governor of Massachusetts put into law that when anyone goes to a hospital or medical practitioner is supposed to ask the question: Do you feel safe at home?
This law was put into effect because the lethality rate of Domestic Violence Victims spiked so high one year the former Governor considered it to be a Public Health issue.
Here are two reasons more education is needed for the professionals asking that question—
1. Recently after my Doctor asked me ‘do you feel safe at home’? I answered her with the question — what would you say if I answer no I do not feel safe? She replied she didn’t know…I have asked many nurses and nurse practitioners the same question with the same reply…
A simple answer to a person when they indicate that they do not feel safe at home could be ‘ Do you want to talk about it’ ‘Is there any way I can help?’ or ‘there is help available, here is the information, please read that information here where you feel safe and you are welcome to use our phone to call for help’.
2. Asking the patient the question at a time when they are alone with practitioner would be the most pro- active approach because the person who is with the patient may be someone who is currently abusing them.
Here are some other things that a victim has to consider and think about when leaving…
- How does the defendant react when silence is broken?
- Possibly violence increases
- The defendant stops paying child support
o Victim’s name not on the mortgage
o Section 8 is in defendant’s name
o Lease is in defendant’s name
o Victim’s name is not on checking, savings account
Or, all monies have been withdrawn
o The defendant would not let the victim work I haven’t worked in years, how do I support myself and children? Is a question I heard over and over again
- Phone will be taken away
- I no longer have a babysitter for my children when I work
As I sat, witnessed and listened to these stories, my passion grew for:
- making a difference for victims
• motivating communities toward a change in attitude towards victims
• creating a space for victims to heal and go forward in their lives
• Educating our young people on healthy relationships
While I do not have the power to ‘save’ someone, I do have the power of my voice that is fueled by energy and passion to advocate for people who have experienced inter-partner violence.
BREAKING THE SILENCE, how can we help?
- We can break the silence when someone we know or love comes to us and shares their story and saying to them in a nonjudgmental manner ‘there is help available to keep you safe–when you are ready come to me and I will get you to that help’…
- Break the Silence by engaging in mindful discussions with others about Domestic Violence.-
- Break the silence by having an educated opinion about Domestic Violence by reading, doing research.
- Domestic and Sexual Violence affects everyone…and with the statistics remaining at 1 in every 4 women will be or has been affected and 1 out of every 7 men has been affected, there are people in this room who may have been a victim, or know a friend, a family member, a classmate, who has experienced Domestic Violence in some way.
- Millions of dollars are spent every year in medical costs, counseling, court costs, attorney costs and days out of work.
- Domestic Violence does not discriminate — it takes lives of Moms, Aunts, sisters, daughters, Grandmothers, Fathers, brothers, etc….
We need to stop thinking this is a Victim’s problem, or a Perpetrator’s problem. Domestic Violence is a Community Issue that needs Community members breaking the silence….Victims need a village to heal, they need support, they need jobs, they need rides to services, they need a smile and they need you to help them recover from the shame and devastation of thinking they are alone and no one cares.
Many participants that I have worked with say to me ‘I didn’t know that anyone cared’, ‘I never could have survived without the help of someone like you’, I didn’t know there were so many people who would support my recovery from Domestic Violence’, ‘ I never thought I could do this on my own’….
I have witnessed many women and men moving forward with success, keeping in mind that success is different for each person. For some it is getting adequate housing, for some it is getting trained in a new position allowing them economic empowerment for themselves and their children, for some it is going back to school, for some it is moving to a new location
Every Victim has their own story about how someone they love has torn apart their lives in such a devastating manner that they thought they would never be able to face themselves, let alone the world, again…
The good news in the town of Palmer is there are people who are passionate about ending Domestic Violence in this town.
In the town of Palmer, Massachusetts there are many cases of DV that we note through our affiliation with the Courts and the Palmer Police Department. We also know that there are many cases that we are not even aware of because people are afraid to report incidents or think that if they do not say anything it will change.
Our Task Force’s vision to eradicate domestic violence in Palmer with compassion, confidentiality, respect and integrity Is a vision that can be realized.
We know, because of all the research that has been done, that Education starting in early childhood and going right through College on Healthy Relationships and the warning signs of an un-Healthy Relationship is key to stopping Domestic Violence.
Currently, we are working with the High School to develop a program that is student driven. This year Path Finder did the White Ribbon Campaign, and the library did an interactive display on Healthy Relationships and the dangers of Teen Dating Violence.
We are educating community members and Criminal Justice Systems on Batterer’s Intervention Programs that are available to people who have that issue. These programs can be accessed through a Court Mandate or through personal decision to get help.
We also currently have plans to work with Head Start, the Senior Center, and other community organizations to educate and make them aware of the resources available to anyone who is suffering in a relationship where Inter-Personal Violence is occurring.
ADVOCATING – We are very fortunate to be able to offer services at Palmer District Court to assist people coming for Restraining Orders or who have been assaulted and perhaps do not have information about Restraining Orders and the legal system.
We offer two confidential support groups that are held each week one during the day and one in the evening, and have offered a confidential legal seminar and have a financial empowerment seminar, and self-defense seminar scheduled for later this year.
Break the silence Stop the Violence
NO MORE — What is your No More
When I meet other women who are as passionate as I am at STOPPING VIOLENCE TO WOMEN, I am so inspired. With Zonta’s generosity of time and resources our Task Force would like to create an event in November that will have impact on all those who attend. An impact that motivates them to get involved in BREAKING THE SILENCE as the women in Zonta have been willing to do.
I invite each of reading this to think about: — what your NO MORE IS FOR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE.. I know that women in Zonta support breaking the Silence, by their example, by their hard work and in supporting programs for women.
I am offering you this opportunity to take a deep breath and breathe out any weariness you may have, take another deep breath and breathe out anything that may be holding you back from experiencing the genuine joy that you bring to other women…
I invite each of you to stand with me and say the mantra that I have my clients say at the closing of each session or group that I do.
Thank you so much for having me this evening to speak in behalf of all of those people who have untold stories still within them…May your day be filled with mindful awareness of the beauty within and around you…and may you smile extra wide today. And a huge thanks you from the women that we work with and continue to educate and advocate for in their road to recovery and success.