April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I have been studying this slow emergency, which cannot be ignored. I found it totally bizarre when I learned that American society did not even acknowledge domestic violence and sexual assault until a grassroots battered women’s movement gained traction in the 1970’s.
In those days, women created an underground railroad of safe houses and apartments where victims could be free of pervasive intimidation from their abusers. When their movement came into the public eye, countless women of all shades, ages and demographics came out of their closets, revealing that battering was a deeply rooted problem in our country.
It’s still happening. The me too is a fresh scab.
What women discovered was that they were not alone. They rebelled against a system that was stacked up against them like a blocked doorway with justice on the other side. The National Woman Abuse Prevention Project points out that even today in our nation of 3,000 counties there are only 1,400 shelters. Many are not adequately funded, many have to turn back victims because they don’t have enough resources and most rely on donations and volunteers.
In 2016 I trained to be a volunteer for the Advocate Safehouse Project in Glenwood Springs and I answer helpline calls two days per month. When that phone rings I am probably more nervous than the caller. Here in Grand County there is a similar hotline being run by Grand County Advocates. The number is (970) 725-3412.
During my extensive training I learned a lot, stuff I wish was not happening here or anywhere. Victims face many challenges. Once someone calls in the police, officers are obligated to make an arrest if they see evidence of abuse or assault. Once and arrest is made the perpetrator and victim are in the system, like it or not.
Arrest leads to 72 hours in jail. That’s followed by a mandatory restraining order. Judges and jailers get involved. Often, people who call the police end up wanting to recant their stories and return to the status quo. This is not possible under the system and situations often escalate instead of improve.
If someone is not in immediate danger, calling a helpline provides a less blunt approach to helping (mostly) women. When you call the helpline you get to explore your options, which include police action but not always. There are a lot of resources available to women and there are a lot of dedicated and talented people ready to help. The end goal is to stop abuse and provide safety and security for victims and their kids.
Domestic violence often leads to sexual assault. It’s all about power and control. It starts with emotional abuse leading to verbal abuse, physical abuse and then the most damaging form of abuse, sexual abuse. Are you enduring unwanted contact? Crude jokes? Male privilege? You have options.
The National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence provides research and training materials for social workers. They say that teenagers have to deal with sexual and physical violence often and are rarely equipped emotionally to cope. In this age of sexting and social media, intimidation has a new face. Guys use their social status to control girls. Research says that young people who have sexted are four times more likely to consider suicide compared to peers who have not sexted.
Teen abusers have low self-esteem and are ill-equipped to manage a mutually respectful relationship. The abusers often worry that they will lose control of the situation and be left. That’s why they go nuclear, threatening to harm themselves and others (including pets) to maintain control. One-third to one-quarter of high school students know someone in an abusive relationship.
Abusers are smart and cunning. It often starts with isolating the victim from their friends and family and controlling what the partner can do. Jealousy is often the justification for the isolation. And with teens peer pressure is commonly used to hold someone in place. Spreading lies and rumors to a peer group is not uncommon.
Abusive relationships can start off nice and become increasingly intolerable. The bad news is that this kind of situation rarely fixes itself. Even if a perpetrator brings you flowers the next day and shows genuine remorse, the abuse will almost certainly happen again and sooner and more violent than before. Abuse escalates.
The first step to getting out of a situation like this is to call for help. Help can come in the form of anything from counseling to finding secret shelter and financial assistance. The key is the safety of the abused and their kids.
If you think you may be in a dangerous, escalating situation, call a helpline. And if it gets really bad call 911. No one deserves to be abused and there are a lot of caring and dedicated professionals eager to assist you.
Steve Skinner is nervous about taking helpline calls. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.