Monday, October 17, 2011

October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that October is also domestic violence awareness month. But so far this month, this country has witnessed one of the worst killing sprees – prompted by a domestic dispute – and a legislative maneuver that used domestic violence victims as pawns in a budget negotiation in Topeka, Kansas.

In Seal Beach, Scott Dekraai walked into a hair salon and shot and killed his ex-wife and eight other people. Many reports say he had been violent towards his ex-wife in the past and was in a custody battle over the couple’s son. The Seal Beach community was shocked by the murders and residents wondered how something like that could happen in their neighborhood. Their grief and shock is understandable. Many people still aren’t aware that domestic violence happens in every community; it’s just that most of the time, it occurs behind closed doors. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, every year approximately 1,200 women are murdered by an intimate partner – defined as a current or former spouse or boyfriend. That represents more than three women murdered a day.

One in four women and one in thirteen men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. While these incidents don’t typically involve mass murders and rarely make headlines, it is not uncommon for domestic violence to spill over to the workplace. According to a 2005 survey by the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence, 21 percent of full-time employed adults were victims of domestic violence and 64 percent said their work performance was significantly impacted.

We must remember the aim of Domestic Violence Awareness Month is to recognize the achievements made in reducing domestic violence and to recommit to the work still to be done. Yet, I am sitting here trying to understand why Breast Cancer Awareness gets more media attention and corporate sponsorship than Domestic Violence Awareness does? I know that 1 of 8 women will be diagnosed with some form of breast cancer. However, I am having a hard time trying to understand is why it seems to be favored (as if one could favor one personal disaster over another), over domestic violence especially when 1 of 4 women will experience some form of domestic violence in their lifetime meaning women are more likely to be exposed to domestic violence than breast cancer.

I mention this not because I think we should reduce the level of attention Breast Cancer Awareness’ initiatives receive because, after all, I am a breast cancer survivor. I see the interconnections and similarities between both issues and believe they should be addressed simultaneously. Maybe it is easier to be more aware of breast cancer than domestic violence because we often blame women for being domestic violence victims but we rarely blame her for getting breast cancer. Many breast cancer survivors are also abused by people who claim to love them, or who are responsible for their care. I am not just speaking about sexual partners or married couples. Most breast cancer survivors are elderly women who rely on their family (husbands, children or grandchildren) to care for them while they go through treatment. And many of these women, as they fight for their lives against an internal demon, have to deal with being abused as well. Elder abuse, financial abuse, emotional abuse... are all very real ramifications of this disease.

Now, I will be the first to say that dealing with cancer is hard. Very hard. It is stressful beyond belief and it takes its toll on the patient and the people who care for them. But abusing someone because you are incapable of handling and channeling your rage in a productive way... is not the answer. It is never the answer. Additionally, many breast cancer survivors end up losing their jobs for lots of reasons, which often leaves them financially vulnerable and dependent on their spouse or their children to help them manage the costs of treating breast cancer. Add to that the stress of being in a weakened economy along with all the stressors of day to day living...and it often leads to abuse. This is why I believe we should see a pink and purple entwined ribbon, attacking both domestic violence and breast cancer together.

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