Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center presents the 22nd Annual Women Helping Women event on Friday, May 15, 2020, 11:30 a.m. (Facebook event here.) For the safety of the community, in consideration of coronavirus (COVID-19), the event will be held online. Our “virtual” gathering recognizes the need for continued support for uninsured and underinsured women and children. Domestic abuse, the theme of this year’s initiative, brings to our attention a plight suffered by countless women, children, men, elders, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ individuals.
Mary Riche, this year’s Honoree, points out “This year’s luncheon is even more important to the Center’s ongoing fundraising efforts because of the coronavirus pandemic. Participating in a virtual luncheon will make the 2020 WHW unforgettable!” For updates and information about accessing the event, please visit www.dmpcc.org/whw. The website is updated as new details become available.
Mary said, “Asking for help and naming a problem is a necessary, often emotionally painful first step to transformational change.” She emphasizes, “This is especially important for victims of abuse, because it takes immense personal courage for victims to reach out and begin the process of counseling.” She stated, “Jackie Servellon’s personal story of hope and healing as a survivor of domestic violence draws attention to this problem that may worsen since life, as we know it, has been halted and altered.”
Keynote Speaker Jackie Servellon, owner of Balloon Bar DSM, shares her experience of violent domestic abuse from parents with drug abuse and mental health problems. She said sharing her story, though “sad and shocking,” contributes to her healing. “Mental health is infinitely as important as personal safety,” she said, pointing out, “Conversation stops at [victim] safety.” She went on to say, “Mental health does not heal itself, and low-income women don’t have access to care and other resources.”
Domestic abuse hits close to home for me. I grew up in an era in which American culture recognized “wife beating,” and deemed it a family matter. No one considered emotional abuse, or the damage done to the victims’ mental health. I did not realize for many years that what I experienced in my childhood, adolescence, and adult life was, in fact, abuse. My experiences were emotionally painful, but I thought they were my fault which I have learned is common among victims. As an adult, I adhered to the belief that I could not have been abused because my experiences were not physical. My therapist here at the Center gently helps me discover and claim my strengths, my accomplishments, and my humanity, as he stresses self-compassion, and self-acceptance. He supports, encourages, and helps me celebrate my progress no matter how small. Recognizing and assigning the abusers’ responsibility was a huge step for me. I take ownership of my part in the relationship, but only mine. Today, I am confronting the memories and working to heal from them. The survival skills I developed as a child continue to inform my personality—thoughts, beliefs, decisions, behaviors. I grieve the loss of what I needed in the relationships but could not get from others as well as the loss in the termination of relationships with people I had cared about.
Sadly, not much has changed since those early days. When someone describes her or his experience with emotional, psychological, financial, deprivation, isolation, withholding affection, others often dismiss their story as trivial because they do not see injury and scars. Indeed, all domestic abuse results in invisible scars that may affect the victim for the rest of her or his life.
Domestic abuse is active and prevalent in 2020, yet we hear little about it. We become aware only when sensational or high-profile situations make the headlines, or someone publishes a best-selling book—fiction or nonfiction. Then the issue retreats into the periphery of our collective consciousness. Domestic abuse, no respecter of race, gender, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, age, or disability, is ever-present in the lives of victims. Emotionally stable and strong individuals find themselves battling feelings of helplessness and worthlessness.
Often, people think of domestic abuse only in the context of domestic violence. Domestic abuse and domestic violence are interchangeable terms in that both are used to convey the same types of behaviors. Domestic abuse exists in myriad variations of the following forms:
- Physical, which includes barring the victim from medical care or forcing victim to use drugs or alcohol.
- Sexual, which includes coercion or attempts to coerce in addition to violent attacks and exploitation.
- Emotional, which includes decimating the victim’s sense of self and impairing victim’s relationships with family, friends, and others.
- Economic, which includes controlling or attempting to control financial activities, withholding financial support, and removing money from victim’s accounts against the victim’s will or without the victim’s permission.
- Psychological, which includes intimidation, threats of harm to victim or people or situations important to the victim— the victim’s employment, children, pets, other family members, close friends, etc.—and isolation from family, friends, and support system.
The current protective measures against coronavirus (COVID-19) place victims in their homes with their abusers for prolonged periods. Loss of income, the effects of quarantine, and the stress around the pandemic add tension to already volatile households. Around the world, advocates report distressing rises in reported domestic abuse cases. Victims have fewer places to go as employees of safe places are now also in quarantine leaving agencies with limited or nonexistent staff onsite. The result is locked-out buildings, long hold times for calls, and fewer staff to investigate. Law enforcement report similar problems.
Apart from the shame the abusers heap on victims, the victims experience shame for a host of reasons: 1) they failed ability to please the abuser; 2) bewilderment for getting into the situation; 3) they believe they have let themselves and their family down. Family members, friends, law enforcement and social services workers may underestimate the abuser’s power over the victim. As a result, they may further injure the victim’s fragile self-worth by ridiculing and blaming the victim for the circumstances in which they find themselves and downplay the victim’s precarious circumstances and mental and emotional states.
Abusers are cunning, intuitive, manipulative, and patient—until the victim is hooked. They know what their prey wants to hear and how to shame or intimidate her or him into doing what they want. They know how to threaten what is important to the person. Abusers either instill feelings of low self-worth in the victim or reinforce beliefs already in place. For these reasons, extrication from relationships can be extremely difficult and often dangerous. While abusers may have deep-seated insecurities and fears as well as their own history of abuse, they are responsible for addressing their needs rather than projecting them onto others. However, abusers often crave the intoxicating feelings of power, control, and domination over others. When they feel threatened or self-doubt, they resort to familiar means to relieve their stress.
We all can help in the effort to eradicate domestic abuse. 1) Question the appearance of new injuries; 2) Pay attention to signs of changes in the person’s mental health state; 3) Be aware of changes in someone’s behavior, communication, or questionable fixation on a partner, particularly if the relationship is new or recently altered, e.g. the partner is recently released from incarceration, home from a prolonged absence, newly divorced, married, etc.; 4) Believe the victim is telling the truth; 5) Learn about resources and safety measures that minimize further harm.; 5) Enlist assistance to remove the abuser from the home.
If you or someone you know is at risk or affected by domestic abuse, the resources listed below are available.
- The Center plays a vital role in the hope and healing for people suffering the effects of domestic abuse. Mary Riche affirmed, “The counselors at DMPCC are skilled practitioners with wisdom and expertise to walk alongside all clients in a safe, non-judgmental environment. For information and to schedule an appointment, visit dmpcc.org, call 515-274-4006 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jackie Servillon said, “DMPCC’s funding is how we support the community and save lives. We bury communities by limiting access to mental health care.”
- Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence 4725 Merle Hay Rd Suite 107, Des Moines, IA 50322 (515) 244-8028 https://www.icadv.org
- Children & Families of Iowa 1111 University Ave, Des Moines, IA 50314
(515) 288-1981 https://cfiowa.org
- Your community’s emergency services Call 911
- Domestic Violence Office on Violence Against Women (OVW)
- Signs of domestic violence or abuse
- Differentiating Between Domestic Violence and Abuse
- 5 Types of Abuse, Domestic Violence FAQ
- In quarantine with an abuser: surge in domestic violence reports linked to coronavirus
- Safety Tips
- 9 Ways to Help a Victim of Domestic Violence
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