What do the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day have in common? Well, they’re both in the month of February (this year) and …anecdotally, they’re also days when rates of domestic violence (DV) increase. Amid the hubbub of the big game and the romantic holiday, one can be easily lulled into believing DV is a rare or a far-away occurrence, but we need to recognize we have a significant problem in our own backyard.
Domestic violence in Spokane, just like in many U.S. cities, is a public health crisis. On average, 3,300 domestic violence victims are identified annually in Spokane County. In one year, domestic violence in Spokane resulted in $6.7 million in hospital charges and constituted one-quarter of all criminal cases. Two thousand children were either witnesses or victims of DV in Spokane County between 2016 and 2017.
Nationally, 20 people are physically abused every minute by an intimate partner, which equates to more than 10 million women and men annually. More than one-third of women seen in emergency rooms for violence-related issues are abused by an intimate partner; unfortunately, many additional incidents go unreported. One in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year; 19 percent involve a weapon, with a firearm in the household increasing the risk of homicide by 500 percent.
Given the heavy consequences to communities, it’s important we all join hands in ending this all-too-often hidden epidemic of violence.
Why does domestic violence happen? It’s about power and control – abusers utilize various methods to control and manipulate victims for their own benefit. While it’s usually equated with severe physical abuse, behaviors such as shoving, name-calling, and repetitive shaming are also abusive. Additional forms include emotional manipulation, threats, intimidation, gaslighting (making someone feel like they are going crazy), economic deprivation, isolating behaviors, and leveraging children or pets against the victim. These behaviors are used to prevent the victim from leaving or seeking assistance.
Multiple factors place people at an increased risk for experiencing domestic violence. An inability to manage stressors, social isolation or lack of social support, gender, cultural norms, and poverty all come into play. Chronic stress from exposure to violence during childhood increases the likelihood of perpetrating DV and revictimization at a later age. As a result, cycles of violence often become embedded into community and family dynamics.
Research demonstrates DV is often characterized by a cycle of tension building, a trigger that incites the violence, a “honeymoon phase” of remorse and apologies, and a brief return to “normalcy” until another stressor presents. Victims tend to avoid seeking help and remain silent because they are scared, ashamed, or they face so many barriers to obtaining assistance that leaving seems impossible. Unfortunately, this silence reinforces the belief that DV is an uncommon or a private matter. Domestic violence does not discriminate and affects all levels of society. To address it, we need to first acknowledge and recognize it, where to find resources, and importantly, provide empathy for the survivor and intolerance for abuse in all its forms.
If you know someone who is experiencing domestic violence, there are several things you can do to help. Listen to the story without judging. Believe them when they tell you what’s going on. Never ask, “Why don’t you just leave?”—questions such as this place responsibility on the person experiencing abuse rather than the perpetrator. Build a foundation of trust by allowing the individual to express their feelings and adequate time to process. Educate yourself regarding community resources such as the YWCA Spokane Domestic Violence Hotline (509-326-2255) and associated safe shelter and share this information. When the person is ready to leave, emotional and physical support from a safe friend or family member is often an integral component of recovery.
If you are a victim of domestic violence, regardless if you are wanting to leave, not ready to leave, want to explore your options, or never intend on leaving, please consider giving the YWCA Spokane Domestic Violence Hotline a call, again, the number for the confidential hotline is 509-326-2255. YWCA Spokane also offers “Wrap Around Wednesdays” for women and those who identify as female from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. This is a public clinic designed to provide access to many of its DV services in one setting. Otherwise, YWCA Spokane offers walk-in services to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, on Mondays between 8:30 a.m. and noon. Most importantly, if you are experiencing domestic violence in any form, know the community is here to support you.
Beth Sheehan is a forensic nurse examiner and co-founder of the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART). Annie Murphey is a member of the Spokane Domestic Violence Coalition. Nicole Nimens is the education and outreach coordinator for YWCA Spokane. Dr. Bob Lutz is a board-certified family medicine physician who is the health officer for Spokane Regional Health District and Asotin County Public Health.