Our local domestic violence and sexual assault agency has seen a surge of cases in the past few months.
Through its offices in Friday Harbor, Eastsound and Lopez Village, SAFE San Juans provides free victim services and community education as well as 24/7 crisis lines. But because its critical work in our small communities is confidential, we are often unaware of the magnitude of these issues right here at home. SAFE staff has seen as many people this year as they did all of last year — and there are still three months left in 2019.
“I like to think that large growth in people seeking support is happening because people have become more aware of our services and are reaching out. I’m hopeful it isn’t because the issues have gotten worse or even more prevalent,” said executive director Dave Dunaway.
October is domestic violence awareness month. It’s a time to inform the public about the risks and prevalence of DV, which is defined as the intimidation, physical assault, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. It includes physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence and emotional abuse.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men. The U.S. Department of Justice reports that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience severe intimate partner physical and sexual violence and stalking. On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide.
Domestic violence DOES NOT discriminate. Anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender can be a victim – or perpetrator – of domestic violence. It can happen to people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels.
Since 2016, there have been two domestic-violence-related homicides in San Juan County. This past April, news outlets reported on a Northeastern University study that showed homicide among intimate partners is now on the rise, primarily driven by gun violence. The study analyzed gender differences in homicide patterns over a 42-year period, using data obtained from the FBI.
A study released by the CDC in 2017 found that nearly half of all women who were murdered between 2003 and 2014 died at the hands of their partners, and in 10 percent of those cases, violence shortly before the killing could have provided an opportunity for intervention. NPR reported: “More than 55 percent of the deaths were related to partner violence, and the vast majority of those were carried out by a male partner.” While the report found that the deaths affected all racial-ethnic groups, the incidents among black and indigenous women were higher.
Why do people stay?
Because abusers go to extreme and often violent lengths to keep their victims from leaving, it can be incredibly hard for victims to escape. Roadblocks to leaving include the threat of harm coming to them, their children or their pets; financial instability; lack of support from family and friends; and nowhere to live. An abuser’s behavior is driven by power and control, and DV-related deaths are often connected to a victim attempting to leave the relationship.
It can also be confusing to determine if you are in an abusive relationship. Some victims feel that because their partner is loving some of the time, the other instances are excused. Signs of abuse can be: extreme jealousy; possessiveness; unpredictability; bad temper; cruelty to animals; verbal abuse; extremely controlling behavior; antiquated beliefs about roles of women and men in relationships; forced sex or disregard of their partner’s unwillingness to have sex; sabotage of birth control methods or refusal to honor agreed-upon methods; blaming the victim for anything bad that happens; sabotage or obstruction of the victim’s ability to work or attend school; controls of finances; abuse of other family members, children or pets; accusations of the victim flirting with others or having an affair; control of what the victim wears; demeaning the victim privately or publicly and humiliation of the victim in front of others.
How to get help
Nationally and locally, there is incredible work being done to educate people about and prevent the occurrence of domestic violence. This October, look for public awareness campaigns across the country that share information on the prevalence of abuse and how people can seek help and lend support to others.
There are many resources online to help you such as https://ncadv.org/, https://www.thehotline.org/ and https://safesj.org/. If you are afraid your internet usage might be monitored, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. If you are in immediate danger, call 911. SAFE San Juans provides free and confidential services on Orcas (376-5979), Lopez (468-3788) and San Juan (378-8680). It also provides 24/7 crisis lines at 360-378-2345, 360-376-1234 and 360-468-4567.