October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Dwarfed by the enormous outpouring for breast cancer awareness month, it receives attention largely from survivors, advocates and activists.
It should warrant far greater and more careful consideration. Domestic violence is not only deadly, it is also associated with a host of other social problems. It costs the country billions in criminal justice expenditures, healthcare, lost productivity and more. It is a contributing factor to many other crimes. Yet it is preventable. This October, I implore everyone to do what they can to support survivors but also to teach our children and young adults how to engage in healthy, peaceful relationships.
Here is why we should all care about domestic violence.
According to the Violence Policy Center, more than 1,600 women were murdered by men in 2013. Of those, 62 percent were wives or intimate partners. Almost one-third of the mass shooting deaths in 2015 were domestic violence-related, and in cases in which four people were killed (but not the shooter), 57 percent included family members or intimate partners as victims. Domestic violence was the reason for more than 20 percent of police officers killed in the line of duty between 2010 and 2014.
Bullying is a predictor of later involvement in an abusive dating or domestic situation. Dating violence is a major cause of school massacres. According to sociologist Jessie Klein of Adelphi University, of 12 school shootings that occurred in the U.S. between 1997 and 2002, assailants specifically targeted girls who had either rejected them or broken up with them. The boys had previously made threats against the girls, typically both in person and online.
The CDC has estimated domestic violence costs $8.3 billion per year, with $5.8 billion of that in medical costs and $2.5 billion in lost productivity. Domestic violence is the most common cause of injury for women in the U.S. ages 15 to 44. Victims of domestic violence use emergency healthcare services eight times more frequently than do non-victims. Women who have been abused are 70 percent more likely to have heart disease, 80 percent more likely to have a stroke, and 60 percent more likely to develop asthma. They are three times more likely to suffer from depression, four times more likely to commit suicide, and endure six times the rate of PTSD as non-victims. Women experiencing physical abuse are also three times more likely to report having an STI than non-abused women. More than one-third (38.8 percent) of adolescent girls tested for STI/HIV have experienced dating violence. The increased healthcare costs for victims can persist 15 years after the abuse.
According to a 2005 survey, some 64 percent of domestic violence victims say the abuse has impacted their work. It is estimated that victims lose eight million paid days of work annually. Abusers often injure or kill others while targeting victims at the workplace, as in the recent shooting at a mall in Burlington, Wash.
Children who witness abuse are at greater risk for becoming either victims or abusers. They are also prone to act out in school, creating a challenging climate for teachers, administrators and classmates. They may require mental health assistance, which is also costly. And many, especially boys, end up involved in the criminal justice system—yet another cost.
The above-listed statistics should be enough for us to take action in our homes, schools, workplaces and communities. We can teach our children healthy, respectful relationship boundaries and to intervene when they witness someone mistreating a date or partner. We can include these topics in our school and college curricula. We can train employers and colleagues to identify the signs of abuse and to be helpful supporters. We can educate healthcare providers and police on best practices in identifying and responding to abuse that help survivors receive the support they need and hold abusers accountable. Amazing resources are available through organizations like Futures Without Violence, The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and the Partnership for Prevention. While it is easy to buy one more pink item that contributes minimally to breast cancer awareness and research, it is equally easy to learn and act to end domestic violence.
Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the The Free Weekly and its staff.