I can still remember holding my breath as I picked up the phone at the hardest job I’ve ever had. Working the midnight weekend shift at a domestic violence shelter was harrowing. A phone call could be one of many things: a heads-up call from police, meaning that a new woman or family was on the way; a hotline call from a survivor needing solace or referrals; or a call from the hospital, seeking an advocate to come help a rape or domestic assault victim.
However, the call could also be from a shelter resident’s abuser, angrily seeking her location. Or charmingly looking for information about her. Or calling from the front yard of our complex at 4 a.m. to see which room in the sprawling, converted suburban ranch was the office, and therefore the target of his rifle.
Working in a domestic violence and rape crisis program was definitely the hardest job I’ve had. But it was also one of the most rewarding, because I knew, each and every night, that I was making a difference in the lives of women and children. I knew I was learning deep lessons about the complex realities of domestic violence, rape crisis, child abuse, dis-empowerment, abuse, poverty, addiction, and, perhaps most importantly, about both the strength and fragility of hope. I learned a bit about how to bear witness, meet people where they are, and make a change. I certainly gained more than I gave, tenfold.
Sometimes I miss how fast and furious those lessons came at me, but I know there are many ways to continually learn about domestic violence, and be an agent of change in reducing its damages and prevalence. Here are a few ways you can commit to helping fight domestic violence:
Donate Clothing, Food and Household Supplies 1 of 5Imagine starting your life over from scratch. Since domestic violence victims often have to be the one to leave their homes for safety and to break the cycle of power and control, it's common for women and their children to seek help from domestic violence shelter programs for temporary clothes until they can safely return home for their own things, or until a batterer is removed. Many also need to relocate or start over in a new home, where they'll need everything from mops to beds.
Domestic violence programs need donations of toiletries, women's and children's clothing in all sizes (especially nicer clothes for job interviews and school), household furnishings and cleaning supplies, as well as items needed to assist women in shelters, such as bus passes, food, bed linens, and art supplies. Contact your local program to find out about its particular needs and where to donate.
Speak Out and Listen 2 of 5When we break the silence that surrounds interpersonal violence, we create healing, awareness, and the compassion that is necessary to change our society's tolerance for abuse. Participate in candlelight vigils, marches, creative demonstration activities like The Clothesline Project, and victims' rights gatherings to listen to survivors speak the truth about family violence.
If you are a survivor, consider speaking out. You'll be supported in your healing process, and sharing your story is a powerful way to help dissolve the myths and stigma around domestic violence.
Become a Hotline or Shelter Volunteer 3 of 5Most domestic violence programs offer extensive training to volunteers (usually 40 hours or more) about how to provide help to people in complex physical and emotional situations. You can volunteer service on a hotline, assisting women or their children in shelter, leading a support group, sitting with survivors in court, helping a rape survivor get through the forensic exam at a hospital, or helping with fundraisers and donation drives.
Get Political 4 of 5Stopping domestic violence is an important policy issue. Learn about the community effects of domestic violence so you understand the Violence Against Women Act and state and local laws that improve family safety, workplace and school safety, protections for victims, and funding for services. Tell your lawmakers that it matters to you that domestic violence is taken seriously and that you support policies that work to end violence.
Support Violence UnSilenced 5 of 5There's an easy way to stand up against interpersonal violence without even leaving your desk. I am the president of the board of an amazing non-profit, Violence UnSilenced. VU provides an online community where survivors can speak out about rape and family violence, and where readers can support them by bearing witness. VU promotes awareness, education, compassion and healing. You can help by commenting on survivor stories, submitting one of your own, sharing survivor stories on your social media channels, hosting a badge on your site, and by making a small donation via Paypal.
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Resources about domestic violence and how to find a local domestic violence program can be found on ViolenceUnSilenced.com.