Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Help exists for domestic abuse victims

When most people think of October, they picture falling leaves, football games and wrapping themselves up in layers before heading to class. However, October has a significant meaning for Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment (PAVE), a student organization on campus.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM), a nationally recognized time of observance and action. This year, PAVE is taking a stand for the UW-Madison, creating awareness about domestic violence's existence on campus.

Domestic violence is an ongoing pattern of behavior in a relationship where one person exerts power and control over another. This includes physical, emotional, verbal or sexual abuse. As such, no one, regardless of sex, gender, race or sexual orientation is immune to the realities of domestic violence.

Some people may think, "Really, it exists on campus? Doesn't it take place in the movies with someone who everyone knows is bad? Surely it can't happen to me. I'm too smart to put myself in that situation, right?"

Unfortunately, domestic violence exists in Wisconsin; it even exists here on campus. From national statistics published by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, and females ages 20-24 are at the highest risk of non-fatal domestic violence.

That means our fellow Badgers, the people we attend class with, "Jump Around" with and party with on the weekends, are often survivors of domestic violence or currently in an abusive relationship.

When it comes to domestic violence, there is often no physical evidence of wrongdoing. It is easy to cover up bruises with long sleeves, and emotional abuse doesn't leave any plainly visible scars. But it is impossible for victims to erase the memories and effects of domestic violence.

According to research conducted by the Domestic Violence and Mental Health Policy Initiative, victims of domestic violence are more likely to have sexual difficulties and eating disorders. Victims are also more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder and are at a significant risk of suicide.

These are the issues plaguing student victims on campus, day in and day out. Try adding the challenges of PTSD on top of worrying about financial aid, getting good grades and the rest of college-imposed stresses.

Conversely, think about how difficult it can seem to rid yourself of your largest support system. It may not make sense to you, but that's what it feels like to victims when they break it off with an abusive partner. It's a situation of constant worry, and it is something that people all over campus experience.

Domestic violence knows no bounds. It is not limited to a specific gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, mental capacity, physical capabilities, etc. It could happen to someone with a 4.0 GPA or someone on academic probation. Unfortunately, it could happen to anyone.

Some of the signs of an abusive partner may be: controlling behaviors, not allowing you to see friends, threatening to harm you or themselves based on your actions, telling you things to put you down or treating you as a sexual object. This list is not at all exhaustive, but demonstrates the different facets of domestic violence.

Because any one of us could be at risk of being in an abusive relationship, it is important to know that there is help. You can get out of it, even though it may seem impossible. The Madison community and our university offer plenty of outlets for assistance. It is OK to ask for help. You are not weak for reaching out. In fact, it is one of the strongest things you can do.

Yesterday marks the 30th anniversary of the National Day of Unity, a day started by the NCADV to bring advocates against domestic violence together. The day of awareness was turned into an entire month, and that is why DVAM is now observed throughout October.

PAVE is observing DVAM in East Campus Mall from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. today to encourage students to sign pledges in support of healthy relationships and the victims of domestic violence. Please come out and show your support for your fellow students, community members and friends.

If you believe you are in an abusive relationship, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-723 for assistance. Locally, you can call the Dane County Rape Crisis Center's rape hotline at 608-251-7273 or Madison's Domestic Abuse Intervention Service's hotline at 608-251-4445.

Tomissa Porath wrote this article and is a PAVE media volunteer.

PAVE is a student organization dedicated to ending sexual assault, dating/domestic violence and stalking on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus through education and activism. PAVE's general member meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Oct. 6 in the PAVE office, suite #3147 of the Student Activity Center. For more information or to find out how to get involved, e-mail

**As published in The Daily Cardinal