October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a powerful vehicle for keeping this issue visible and for celebrating the strength of survivors and their children. Domestic Violence Awareness Month is a time when domestic violence advocates, healthcare providers, businesses, community leaders, unions, faith-based groups and the public participate in events nationwide to create awareness and raise consciousness about intimate partner violence.
Domestic violence is a pattern of behaviors - including physical, sexual, economic and psychological attacks and coercion - that adults or adolescents use against their intimate partners. Domestic violence victims and perpetrators come from all groups: all ages, races, religious affiliations, occupations, educational levels and personality types.
A child who lives with domestic violence is forever changed, but not forever damaged. That is why this year, the Bellingham-Whatcom County Commission Against Domestic Violence and it partners are making children and youth the focus of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. If we are to truly end domestic violence in Whatcom County, then we must provide prevention and support to children who are impacted by domestic violence.
All children who are exposed to domestic violence are impacted in some way. However, each child is unique. Even children in the same family are affected in different ways, depending upon factors such as age, gender, relationship to the abuser, role in the family and relationships with others.
The effects of domestic violence on children can include: self-harming behaviors, poor boundaries, constant anxiety and stress, feelings of powerlessness, low self-esteem, behavioral problems, taking on adult roles prematurely, constant fear, feelings of isolation, drug and alcohol use and depression. Children who are exposed to domestic violence can also learn how to abuse others as well as how to be victims themselves.
If you know a child who is being exposed to domestic violence:
do reassure the child that s/he is not in trouble and it is not her/his fault;
do remain calm. A child may retract information or stop talking if s/he senses a strong reaction;
do listen and do not press for details;
do think twice before touching the child, and ask permission. Touching may be associated with physical or emotional pain for the child;
do let the child know what you will do: We need to tell (name). S/he knows how to help children and families;
do not press for details or investigate the case yourself;
do not promise you will not tell anyone about the child's disclosure;
do not make angry or critical comments about the alleged perpetrator. The child often knows, loves, or likes this person;
do not make commitments to the child that you cannot honor.
It is especially important to help children find ways to stay safe and get help if violence is happening at home. In an emergency, you should call 911. Otherwise, you should reach out to one of the local domestic violence programs for assistance by calling Womencare Shelter at 877-227-3360 or Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services at 877-715-1563.
This October, there are a myriad of ways to get involved in Domestic Violence Awareness Month and show your commitment to supporting children exposed to domestic violence in our community. Events to commemorate the month include:
Vigil, Healing Labyrinth, and Clothesline Project, Monday, Oct. 1 at 6 p.m. at the downtown Bellingham Public Library Lawn and Community Room. Featuring keynote speaker Riannon Bardsley, executive director of Northwest Youth Services, and the presentation of the annual Outstanding Achievement Award to the Assistance League.
Race for the End, Sunday, Oct. 7 at 9:30 a.m. (registration), 10 a.m. (start) at the Bloedel Donovan Park Pavilion.
Lummi Victims of Crime Domestic Violence Conference, Wednesday, Oct. 10, Thursday, Oct. 11, and Friday, Oct. 12, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m., at the Wex'liam (Frog House) Community Building.
Interfaith Prayer Service, Friday, Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. at Assumption Church, 2116 Cornwall Ave.
For more information about any of these events, please go to dvcommission.org/awareness or call 360-312-5700, extension 201.
Susan Marks is director of the Bellingham-Whatcom County Commission Against Domestic Violence. For more information online, go to dvcommission.org.
The start time for the Race for the End was corrected Oct. 1, 2012.