October is “Domestic Violence Awareness Month”; but I really take issue with the whole premise of this focus. Being “aware” of Domestic Violence produces nothing! We are in the middle of a pandemic. Being aware of Covid-19 won’t protect you unless you do something about it. We hear it said multiple times every day–wash your hands regularly, wear a mask, social distance, avoid crowds, etc. Why? To prevent the spread of the virus! PREVENTION--not Awareness--is our goal!
Let me put it in another but related context. Although the U.S. spends more on health care than any other country, our nation ranks lower than most other developed nations in life expectancy, infant mortality, and other healthy life indicators. There is a concerted effort underway to change our health-care system for the better, shifting to prevention is essential. A recent study by Maciosek et al. determined that increasing the use of preventive services—including tobacco cessation screening, diet and exercise, alcohol abuse screening, and routine preventative screening—to 90% of the recommended levels could save $3.7 billion annually in medical costs. Shifting our nation's focus toward preventive health will not only result in cost savings but, more importantly, it will save and improve lives.
The health and vitality of Americans are critical to the productivity and innovation needed for our nation's future. Students who are healthy and fit come to school ready to learn; employees who are free from mental and physical conditions take fewer sick days, are more productive, and help strengthen the economy; and older adults who remain physically and mentally active are more likely to live independently. Therefore, we need to weave prevention into the everyday fabric of our lives, including where we live, work, learn, and play.
Prevention and Early Intervention covers a very broad spectrum of everyday living. I have written quite a bit over the past months about the need to transform our Child Welfare System from being reactive to focusing more on prevention. As I just stated, our entire healthcare focus has been backwards for decades, concentrating on ameliorating symptoms rather than preventing disease and problems. It is a huge undertaking to shift our thinking, our funding and our activities towards Prevention–but it must be done!
So, let’s turn our attention again back to Domestic Violence. Is it preventable? Of course. Is it easy to prevent? Not very, especially given the multiple negative social and economic contributors which underlie this violent and damaging behavior. Fortunately, there are very effective strategies that can be implemented to prevent Domestic Violence--now more commonly referred to as “Intimate Partner Violence.” Here is a brief review of what is most effective.
The most valuable preventative intervention is to teach safe and healthy relationship skills. Very often Domestic Violence is a learned response--something a child has grown up experiencing, and having had it modeled to them by both the perpetrator and the victim. Teaching our children how to engage in healthy relationships needs to begin in Middle School and be carried right through high school. Couples need to learn how to discover the culture their partner was raised in, but more importantly, how to develop healthy and safe relationships in order to break any cycle of abuse.
Next, couples must learn to surround themselves with positive, supportive, and influential relationships. Healthy couples engage healthy individuals who are empowered with the freedom to be frank, and exhort when needed. This provides a layer of accountability and protection. These relationships can include close friends and family, but also neighbors or coworkers. Effective prevention includes a degree of visibility and openness. Isolation is a huge red flag.
Research has taught us that Domestic Violence, like child abuse, is very often generational. Socially, every effort must be made to disrupt the developmental pathways toward partner violence. This is where the strategies I wrote about in transforming our Child Welfare Services system really come to play. Everyone needs to help in ensuring the wellbeing of their family, friends and neighbors, and do whatever it takes to get them supportive services. There needs to be Preschool enrichment with routine family engagement. Early childhood home visitation programs by trained professionals are not only excellent “eyes and ears,” but effective conduits for services and supports. Parenting and family relationship building programs work, and should be readily available in every community to everyone. There absolutely must be treatment for at-risk children, youth and families—especially for individuals who have had an Adverse Childhood Experience. Treating trauma is an effective tool for preventing domestic violence. We must continually teach the message across the entire spectrum of social relationships that violence is never an acceptable behavior.
Socially and culturally we must create safe and healthy environments. Schools need to be safe, not battle zones. A high priority must be to modify the physical and social environments of neighborhoods, shifting whatever resources are necessary to disrupt the cycle of violence and promote public health and safety. Communities need to mobilize to promote wellbeing for all, as a shared, valued responsibility.
Poverty, underemployment, and lack of opportunity and upward mobility are huge contributors to domestic violence. Thus, it is essential to strengthen economic support services and opportunities for families. Key initiatives should include: career development programs and pathways, government promoted livable wages, safe childcare, adequate transitional public assistance to support employment development, quality public transportation, and healthy housing availability. Enabling an individual to feel good about what they are doing and able to provide for their family is a tremendous prevention asset.
Lastly, we want to make sure that victims of domestic or partner violence are fully supported through effective treatment and protection interventions. This includes confidential safe houses, and accessible treatment for the individual and partner. A judicial system that supports victims of violence, focusing on treatment and recovery and not punishment. It must include full access to “whatever it takes” to protect, treat and support abuse victims, placing them firmly on the road to recovery, safety and healthy relationships!
I wish there was no domestic violence, and we all do need to be aware that it exists in our society to a much greater degree than we likely assume. But more importantly, it is incumbent upon all of us to ensure that there are public policies, services and supports, and supportive communities available to prevent, or substantially mitigate, its occurrence.
To support local children, youth, and families who may have been impacted by domestic violence, donate today by clicking here. Your donation can go towards things like housing costs to ensure a family's safety from abusers, or childcare costs for single parents who may not have the funds to pay for safe and suitable childcare.