The buildup to Halloween entails stores brimming with spooky masks, big rubber snakes and spiders (if you happen to fear those things), thousands of calories of chocolate piled into small bags, and oversexualized costumes for children. Some of these are fun; some are not. Either way, we see stores pushing scary things out to us as consumers and we are expected to embrace, accept, and move on.
But October also happens to be Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a time devoted to enlightening our community about interpersonal violence. As an advocate, it is my job to help stop the acceptance of violence, to stop embracing social norms that perpetuate violence, and move into developing a preventative culture to eliminate this pervasive problem.
I have seen a great deal of hope in that goal this year. I attended the Henrico County Domestic Violence Awareness Month proclamation ceremony, wherein the county’s Board of Supervisors made known that October was so devoted. I attended the annual “Walk a Mile in My Shoes,” circling the pond at Byrd Park five times to bring awareness to the community. I sat with 25 new volunteers for Safe Harbor, the Henrico County Domestic Violence program, as they became educated to help aid our survivors and teach our community about stopping the problem.
I have also seen a lot of sad things during this month. I have taken dozens of hotline calls from those in need of supportive services after experiencing interpersonal violence. I have worked face-to-face with many who have needed a safe place to sleep, a job, some food, and a sense of security. While I am happy that I and Safe Harbor were there for these individuals, I am sad that this problem persists in our world. As I am watching children try on masks in the stores, I am unfortunately plagued by something of a trite visual in my head, seeing those children as future adults who are afraid to remove the masks because they are protective and silencing.
We have to engage in our community to stop violence.
We need to help prevent violence before it starts. Through education, kids need to learn what is okay, what is safe, and how to care for their bodies, their minds, and their futures. Adults have to understand that violence is real and persistent, and that it is never the fault of the victim when he or she is abused. We must encourage our neighborhoods to start the dialogue for safe relationships and supportive healing.
I encourage you, as you are out trick-or-treating, to think about the neighbors you have, and how you are connected with them. Think about ways that you can come together to make everybody feel safer, more connected, and whole. Think about the change that everyone can create together.
Safe Harbor Volunteer Advocate
Photo Credit: Kemah