First observed in 1981 as a national “Day of Unity,” Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) became a full-fledged, nation-wide effort in October 1987. And in 1989, Congress passed Public Law 101-112, officially designating October as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Throughout the month, communities and advocacy organizations across the country connect with the public and one another to raise awareness about the signs of abuse, often by sharing survivor stories to inspire others. Key to the success of these efforts is the sharing of current information and statistics with community and political leaders and policymakers. All efforts share the same long term goal: reducing and ultimately putting an end to domestic violence.
Defining Domestic Violence
Domestic violence – from physical assault to emotional abuse – is a pervasive issue across the United States. Domestic violence, also called intimate partner violence, domestic abuse or relationship abuse, is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in a relationship. Domestic violence manifests in behaviors that cause physical harm and/or fear, prevents a partner from doing what they wish and/or forces the victim to behave in ways they do not want to.
While it is often thought of as mostly happening to women, the fact is domestic violence affects people of all genders and ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic status. And it can happen to anyone at any point in an intimate relationship. The physical, mental and economic effects of domestic violence can be long lasting and debilitating, even leading to higher than average suicide rates when compared to other populations.
As reported by Wisevoter¹, data from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence states, “about 20 people per minute experience physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner – that’s more than 10 million Americans every year. Moreover, about 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience severe physical violence by an intimate partner at some point during their lives.”
When confronted with the challenge of describing the complex and varied tactics abusers use on their victims and to help victims become survivors, the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth, MN created the Power and Control Wheel diagram². The wheel was developed based on the most universally experienced abusive behaviors and tactics reported by a large sampling of female victims. The Project explains, “Battered women can point to each of the tactics on the wheel and clearly explain how these behaviors were used against them. They are able to see that they are not alone in their experience and more fully understand how their batterer could exert such control over them.” This powerful diagram is used across a variety of disciplines including crisis intervention groups such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline, mental health counselors, support groups, educational institutions and law enforcement.
Power and Control Wheel
Created by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth, MN
Domestic Violence and Children
Domestic violence can have serious repercussions for dependents as well. Children who are exposed to the violence can suffer from significant behavioral and mental health problems and even learn the behavior and repeat it themselves as adults. Even worse, the abusive parent may be violent with the children, too.
In July of this year “Greyson’s Law” was signed into Florida Law. This bill is in response to the tragic death of 4-year-old Greyson Kessler, who was the victim of a murder-suicide involving his father in May 2021. Days prior to the murder, Greyson’s mother filed an emergency petition with Broward Family Court outlining her imminent fears for the safety of her child. In the time leading up to the shooting, Greyson’s father sent disturbing and threatening communications to the boy’s mother, but Florida law had no formal mechanism that allowed for threats directed at a parent to create a nexus with a child.
Under the new law, in determining whether shared parental responsibility is in the child’s best interest the court will consider evidence of domestic violence and/or reasonable or imminent danger of being a victim of domestic violence. Fla. Stat. Section 61.13(2)(c)(2)³
Combating Domestic Violence 365
Of course advocacy and support is required every single day of the year. Private, nonprofit and government organizations – such as the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Office of Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) – provide funding as an integral part of the nation’s public health response to domestic violence. For 39 years FVPSA has provided funds for emergency shelters, crisis hotlines, prevention programs, resource centers, specialized services for children exposed to violence and a wide range of federal, state, local and tribal partners across the United States. Each year the programs serve more than 1.3 million survivors and their dependents, provide more than 9 million shelter nights and respond to 2.7 million crisis calls.⁴
A lifeline for those affected by domestic violence, the National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH)⁵, is a 501(c)(3) funded by a grant from the Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Family and Youth Services Bureau, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NDVH, whose mission is to, “…answer the call to support and shift power back to those affected by relationship abuse.” Since their founding in 1996, they have answered over 6 million calls, providing free and confidential services to those in need 24/7, including crisis intervention information, education and referral services. NDVH can be reached via phone, chat and texting. They also provide a search tool on their website for victims to locate local providers and assistance for dozens of specific needs, including safety planning, legal advocacy, domestic violence shelters and transitional housing, food assistance, child protective services and more.
This year Florida Atlantic University published an extraordinary amount of content⁶ for National Domestic Violence Month, including DEFINING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE & IDENTIFYING EARLY WARNING SIGNS, SAFETY PLANNING TIPS and a SURVIVOR’S SELF CARE GUIDE. I encourage you to share these resources with clients, colleagues, friends and family that you suspect are in a domestic violence relationship. The more awareness we help spread, the greater the opportunity to help someone transition from a victim to a survivor.
Following are organizations who operate confidential 365/24/7 help centers:
- Palm Beach County 24 Hour Domestic Violence Hotline – (866) 891-7273
- Broward County’s Women in Distress Crisis Hotline (available to women and men; providing emergency shelter and counselling for victims of abuse and their children) – 954-761-1133
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline – 800-799-SAFE (7233)
- AVDA’s (Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse, Inc.) 24-Hour Crisis Hotline – 800-355-8547 (call or text)
- Florida Domestic Violence Hotline – 800-500-1119
- Florida Domestic Violence Legal Hotline – 800-500-1119, ext.3
Domestic Violence and Divorce
While October may be dedicated to creating awareness and providing resources for those experiencing domestic violence, the hardship and adversity the victims experience present themselves during divorce proceedings throughout the year. As a divorce mediator, I approach these cases with the utmost compassion and sensitivity. My role in the process is to remain neutral and impartial, however, I am able to assist the parties reach a long term solution which allows the survivor to move forward with a plan that is in the best interest of themselves and their children. With my expertise and experience of exclusively practicing family mediations for the last nine years, following my 18-year career in litigation, I am uniquely qualified to help you and both parties face the difficult challenges of their situation until an agreeable outcome is achieved.