If we were to tell you we want to talk to you about a video with more than 10 million views and 14,000 comments on YouTube—one that went viral immediately—you might assume we’re talking about one involving a cute puppy. But we’re not. We’re talking about that video: the one TMZ Sports released on September 8, 2014, in which former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punched his then-fiancée unconscious in an elevator and proceeded to drag her out of it. That day, we didn’t just hear an account of domestic violence or watch a reenactment in a Lifetime movie; we saw it in its brash, raw form.
When Beverly Gooden, the creator of the #WhyIStayed viral hashtag, appeared on Good Morning America two days later, she said, “I think what bothered me most was the question was ‘Why did she stay?’ and not ‘Why did he hit her?’…I really want to change the conversation.”
I stayed because my pastor told me that God hates divorce. It didn’t cross my mind that God might hate abuse, too. #WhyIStayed
— Beverly Gooden (@bevtgooden) September 8, 2014
On September 15, 2014, the NFL announced that it was hiring three experts in domestic violence to serve as senior advisors to the league to “help lead and shape the NFL’s policies and programs relating to domestic violence and sexual assault,” reported ESPN. Anna Isaacson, the NFL’s vice president of community affairs and philanthropy, was also named the league’s vice president for social responsibility, a new position. “I think that [domestic-violence awareness] has had a lot more visibility in the last six months than we’ve had since 1994,” says Rita Smith, former executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and a consultant for the public-awareness campaign NO MORE, who is one of those three NFL senior advisers. “The last time we had this level of interest was when Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman were murdered. So it’s been almost 20 years since we’ve really had the kind of media attention and focus as we’ve had since the whole NFL issue.”
The focus hasn’t fizzled. During Super Bowl XLIX, NO MORE ran the first-ever Super Bowl ad addressing domestic violence and sexual assault (see it below). At the 2015 Grammys, President Obama delivered a pre-taped message, saying we need to put a stop to violence against women. “It’s on us,” he declared. His video served as an introduction to a powerful speech from Brooke Axtell, a domestic violence survivor and activist (“Authentic love does not devalue another human being,” she said), and an impassioned performance of “By the Grace of G-d” by Katy Perry.
All of this is to say: Domestic violence is a major topic right now—in news, in sports, in pop culture, around the dinner table.
— TheSalvationArmySA (@SalvationArmySA) March 6, 2015
Given, though, that there are no signs of the dialogue abating… What’s next? What can you do to stop domestic violence, besides re-tweeting?
Social media campaigns like #WhyIStayed and “That Dress” ad are pointing out nuances of this issue that haven’t been addressed before. That’s so important. You can take it one step further by educating yourself beyond what’s appearing in your social-media feeds.
Head to NOMORE.org, RAINN.org, the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s website, and whengeorgiasmiled.org to load up on resources. Learn the signs of an abusive relationship—like isolation—and what to do if you think you might be in danger.
Beyond that, get acquainted with the vocabulary, says Brian Pinero, the chief programs officer for the National Domestic Violence Hotline and its youth-focused project, loveisrespect.org. “Not just knowing about physical abuse. What is emotional abuse? What is financial abuse? What is an unhealthy relationship? What’s a red flag?”
That way, you’ll be ready if someone comes to you and needs your help, says Robin McGraw, who launched When Georgia Smiled: the Robin McGraw Revelation Foundation in October 2013 to help victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. “Or you maybe can learn the signs to be able to even ask, ‘Is there something you need to discuss with me? Are you being hurt in any way?’ I just think sometimes it doesn’t hurt to if you have that feeling in your gut. You might offend someone, but you may not. You may save their life. I just think: Get educated and read everything you can. And just go with your heart and do what you can to help others.”
Amazing people man crisis lines for victims day and night. There are also so many (read: so many) more ways to get involved in the fight.
You can volunteer in shelters. Run a fundraiser. Be an advocate at a hospital when a person who’s been abused first comes in or an advocate in court when someone who’s been abused has to appear there. You can simply pick up pamphlets from domestic violence programs and hang them in the restroom at your doctor’s office, workplace, and anywhere you go regularly. You can mentor children who have witnessed domestic violence. (Learn about volunteering as an advocate for the National Domestic Violence Hotline; find opportunities to advocate for better policy through the National Network to End Domestic Violence; enter your zip code at RAINN.org to find your closest sexual assault and domestic violence crisis centers for opportunities to volunteer, including educating/mentoring youth, fundraising, advocacy, etc.)
Make It a Family Thing
It’s all about the kids, say the experts. If we’re going to make a dent in domestic violence—both in the numbers and in the attitude toward it—we need to start early.
“The core of change around this issue begins with creating a culture of compassion,” says Brooke Axtell, the domestic violence survivor and activist who appeared with Katy Perry at the Grammys and who is also the director of communications and engagement for Allies Against Slavery. “That means very early on teaching children how to have compassion for themselves and for others.” She says we need to show children what it means to have healthy relationships by maintaining them ourselves, and we need to engage our kids in empowering, age-appropriate discussions about expressing their sexuality in a healthy way.
You can also be a good example for children in how you treat yourself. “[Women and mothers] embody through their own lives what it looks like to value yourself, what it looks like to set healthy boundaries, and to expect respect in the way that they engage with their own intimate relationships,” says Axtell. “There’s a modeling that’s constantly happening.”
Keep Talking About It
So here’s the thing: Having the domestic violence conversation over and over—Instagramming memes, making hashtags go viral, e-mailing YouTube videos—it turns out it’s not all just talk. It’s talk that we need, says Smith.
“If [a problem is] in the silence and in the background and in the shadows, there’s never any opportunity for people to explore ideas about how you reduce it,” she says. She even draws a comparison to another stigmatized social issue: “It was like what happened with HIV/AIDS [in the 1980s]; once people started talking about it in a real way, they started to be able to educate people, we were able to get a handle on it, research was done that impacted that issue. So I think that’s what talking about it will do because that then starts to opens the door for real, significant change to happen.”
The chatter is important for victims of domestic violence, too, says Axtell. “Continually having this conversation, keeping it at the forefront, is crucial in order for survivors to feel that there is help for them, that they’re not alone, that what has happened to them is significant, and that there are people who care about what they’ve endured and their needs,” she says.
These aren’t easy conversations. They’re not entertaining or fun. But they’re necessary. So on that note, ladies: Let’s talk soon.
If you are experiencing or think you might be experiencing domestic abuse, you can call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233).
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