Edinboro group presents domestic violence awareness

Category:  News
Wednesday, November 15th, 2017 at 5:35 PM

Edinboro’s Wellness Peer Educators, a club promoting mental and physical health on campus and based in the Ghering Health and Wellness Center, hosted a lecture on Nov. 6 to spread awareness about domestic violence. In the wake of the worst mass shooting in Texas history the day before — carried out by convicted domestic abuser Devon P. Kelley, who had once escaped a mental health facility where he was detained after beating his wife and baby stepson — spreading awareness about the dangers of relationship abuse took on enhanced meaning. 

Dozens of students, mostly female, attended the presentation in the Frank G. Pogue Student Center theater. After a disclaimer about the violent and possibly triggering material to be covered, Robyn Young, director of counseling services for the anti-abuse organization Safe Net, shared her knowledge about domestic violence. 

Safe Net and its sister organization, Safe Journey, offers emergency shelter for abuse victims and their pets, in addition to counseling and legal services for free. Young defined domestic abuse as “a pattern of abusive behaviors used to exert control over your dating partner,” and discussed the warning signs of an abusive partner, including constant humiliation, possessiveness, emotional abuse, isolation and shifting blame.

Young stressed that abuse happens to people from every background because abuse happens in any relationship where the balance of power is unequal. “Most victims are women, but that does not mean it doesn’t happen to men,” she said. According to Young, SafeNet’s anonymous, 24-hour hotline received calls from 2,000 women and 90 men this year. She attributes the low number of male callers to societal standards about masculinity and how such standards make men feel that admitting victimization makes them “weak.” 

Amanda Cox, a counselor with Safe Journey, also spoke about domestic violence, sharing that “1 in 3 women are victims of relationship violence.” Saying the most common mistake regarding victims is blaming them for not removing themselves from a dangerous situation, Cox outlined the barriers faced by victims of domestic abuse, such as a lack of resources, children, and most importantly, fear. 

“Victims should never feel embarrassed,” she said, because the chance of a victim being injured increases to 75 percent after leaving an abusive partner. From 2001 to 2008, the number of women in America killed by their current or ex-partner was 11,766 — nearly double the number of American troops killed in Iraq during that time. 

According to Cox, women aged 18 to 24 are most at risk, while 58 percent of people in that age group say they wouldn’t know how to help a friend in an abusive relationship. Cox also attributed the silence of victims to “societal denial,” meaning the abused fear being unfairly treated by authorities. 

The gunman who opened fire in the First Baptist Church of Sutherland, Texas — killing 26 and wounding at least 20 others — should not have legally been able to buy a firearm due to his domestic violence record, but The New York Times reports that, “the Air Force admitted…that it had failed to report Mr. Kelley’s case to the federal databases used for background checks.” 

Both Young and Cox urged students to remain calm and sincere when confronting the abused. Tips they gave were to be detailed when describing worrisome incidents and to show support no matter the decision of the victim. 

Citing the Texas gunman, Cox made her point that treading carefully around violent offenders is essential. “Safety first,” she said, stressing that abusers are often volatile, while attempting to help the victim can sometimes worsen their situation or put others in danger. She spoke of a client she had whose husband began murdering their dogs one at a time to get the victim to leave the shelter and return to him. Relationship abuse can begin with a hand slammed onto a table or a series of degrading jokes; per Cox, “If the person you’re with constantly makes you question yourself, it’s no good.”  

Students with the Wellness Peer Educators gave testimonials about their own experiences with relationship violence and described how asking for help changed their lives. One student illuminated the dangers of gaslighting, which is a form of emotional abuse during which the abuser invalidates the victim’s claims about how they feel to gain control, through her experiences with her abusive best friend during adolescence. 

Another talked about the boyfriend who beat her through high school, telling the supportive audience, “Don’t let someone make you the secondary character in your own story.” 

Both students encouraged anyone being victimized to take their lives back. When asked what she would say to anyone considering getting help for themselves or someone else, Young assured the audience that confidentiality with Safe Net and Safe Journey is absolute with few exceptions. “Reach out,” Young pleaded. “We’ll talk about safety.” Cox voiced a love for her job, saying with a smile, “I empower people.” 

If you or someone you know are struggling with an abusive partner, or if you’re interested in joining the fight against relationship abuse, call Safe Journey, at (814) 438-2675, or the Safe Net Hotline, at (814) 454-8161. Visit campus organizations like Take a Stand Against Sexual Violence, located in Reeder Hall Room 308, and the Peer Wellness Educators, for referrals or simply for someone to listen.

Zeila Hobson can be reached at eupnews.spectator@gmail.com.

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