Domestic Violence Awareness Month: A Call for Social Change

Contributed by Mary Lillo —

Musings from an advocate for survivors of domestic abuse

They say you should never take your work home…but my work is already waiting for me when I get home. Let me explain.

As an advocate at The Bridge to Hope, a non-profit organization that seeks to end domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking, it is my job to walk with survivors through the trauma of domestic abuse, the process of breaking free and the healing journey afterwards.

It is terribly dangerous to grow up in a society where, according to hotline.org, one out of four women will be a victim of severe domestic violence in her lifetime and one out of seven men will also fall victim to domestic abuse. This kind of hits home for me.

I am the mother of four girls. Statistically speaking, I will very likely be walking through that process of surviving  “severe” domestic abuse with at least one of my daughters at some point in her lifetime, if not more than one of my daughters.

I don’t like those odds.

Have you noticed recently how it is nearly impossible to listen to the news without hearing about another domestic or sexual abuse crime occurring in this nation? We can’t even turn to the sports news channel without hearing about it. Of course, as an advocate for survivors, I am thankful that awareness is occurring and people are talking about it, particularly during October: Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

However, creating a culture that is “aware” that domestic violence is occurring isn’t the goal. The goal is to create a culture where there will be an END to domestic violence, a world where children will grow up without the fear of being raped, beaten or mistreated in their own home or even their own hometown.

I believe it is our responsibility to work toward that goal of creating a cultural intolerance for abuse in our communities—if not for our own sake, then for the sake of future generations who will inherit the culture we create. Our children, and our children’s children deserve to grow up in a world without domestic violence, and we can make that happen.

Cultural change usually comes extremely slow, but it can come sooner, if enough members of a community are dedicated to making a change.

Ending domestic abuse begins with creating awareness. That step has already been made, thanks to the work of dedicated citizens since 1981, when the first awareness efforts began in our nation.  Now, however, we are entering an exciting new era in the movement in which we devote our attention to building on that awareness to bring about real change.

Though it may seem like a daunting task, and one with meager results in our lifetime, I see tangible evidence that this cultural change is beginning in the clients we serve at The Bridge to Hope, such as: my young adult client who decided to keep the newborn son of her rapist and is raising him to be a respectful, non-violent man with the support of her loving parents and brothers; the mother of two elementary age children whose first priority when she came into the shelter was to get herself and her children into counseling to end the cycle of abuse they all witnessed and learned from their father; or the men who are attending the male survivors’ support group, speaking up for the first time about the abuse they endured in their past  and working through the effects it has had on their present relationships.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month is an opportunity to become aware, not of the domestic violence in the lives of others, but rather to take the time to be self-aware and to ask ourselves a sobering question. In what ways am I involved in creating an intolerance for abuse in the culture of my own home and my community?

The brave and courageous individuals we serve at The Bridge to Hope are fighting back against the abuse in their lives every day, for themselves and for the next generations. Now it is our turn to unite with them in the fight against domestic abuse.

I have four very good reasons to be working in this movement but in reality, I do not ever leave work. I go home to where the real work to end domestic abuse is waiting for me.

How about you? As Cesar Chavez once said, “Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed…Si se puede [Yes, it is possible]!”

If you would like more information about this topic, or to speak with an advocate at The Bridge to Hope such as Mary Lillo, please call 715.235.9074 or email Mary at maryl@thebridgetohope.org

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