As far as taboos go, domestic violence is a biggie. As we’ve seen from the conversations swirling around in the last week in Hollywood, the silence surrounding these topics can be deafening. But, it’s imperative to have these conversations to break the stigma around issues like domestic violence and end the secrecy that can allow it to thrive.
Of course, there is no one type of person that can be affected by domestic violence. It can and does happen to anyone, and doesn’t always *look* the same in every case, or how we might imagine domestic violence to look. A great example of this was seen earlier this year, in Nicole Kidman’s Emmy-winning depiction of Celeste, and her violent but nuanced relationship with husband, Perry (Alexander Skarsgård), in the show Big Little Lies.
Even though domestic violence may not be a topic that we speak about enough, that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. In the US, according to the CDC, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men will experience severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. In New York City in 2016, 11.6% of all major crimes were related to domestic violence.
In support of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we’re thrilled to be partnering with Safe Horizon on their #PutTheNailInIt Campaign (have you painted your ring fingernail purple yet? It’s a great convo starter!!). Safe Horizon provides support to victims of domestic violence and their families and assists victims of human trafficking and child abuse, and works with homeless youth. Safe Horizon is on the frontline of domestic violence support with eight shelters across New York’s five boroughs, all in confidential locations.
Women meet a Safe Horizon representative at a neutral location, like a gas station or a supermarket — they aren’t able to go directly to the shelter, because this could compromise the safety of everyone there, if they are being followed. Often, they aren’t even able to pack a bag, because this might be a red flag for their partners.
I spoke with Rachel Goldsmith, Associate Vice President of the Domestic Violence Shelter Programs, to learn more about the experience of people entering shelters.
“Our clients represent all different types of people. Mothers, people without children, people of all different racial and ethnic backgrounds.” However, as Rachel tells me, there’s one thing that everyone who arrives at a Safe Horizon shelter has in common: “The people that come to the shelters can no longer reside in their homes because of unsafety, due to domestic violence. They either live with their partner, or that violent partner knows where they live.”
The shelters provide a range of support services, from caseworkers to safe places for kids to play (and be kids!). “We want people at our shelters to feel at home,” Rachel says, and Safe Horizon shelters have an array of activities designed to build a sense of community — like group dinners and arts and crafts. A typical shelter stay is usually 3-6 months, and the majority of domestic violence victims in the shelter system are under 30.
But, Rachel emphasized, these dynamic spaces might not be what you envision when you think of urban shelters for victims of domestic violence. Families have their own private rooms, she explains, “some people picture an open gymnasium with beds everywhere, but that’s just not an accurate picture of our domestic violence shelters.”
Rachel also emphasized the importance of making essential items, like menstrual hygiene products, available to women during their stays: “When you arrive, you are leaving a lot of your belongings behind. You might miss days of work, or you may be leaving a partner who might be financially supporting you. The women who are in our shelters are often living on public assistance and stretching a dollar as it is — as we know, menstrual hygiene products add up when you have to pay for them every month, especially when you are thinking about feeding kids and buying clothes and soap….”
Ultimately, Rachel says, Safe Horizon provides places for families to receive support and break through the taboo of domestic violence — because ending up in a shelter does not mean you’re not a strong person. You have options, she reiterated, “there’s a place to go if you need somewhere to be safe.”
For many people who arrive at the shelters, the first couple of nights might be the first time in a while when they can sleep peacefully. “They can lock their door, and breathe easy, knowing that that person can’t hurt them. Just being in a safe place and getting a good sleep is so important. People leave us and move into permanent housing or go back to school… but when I visit the shelters and they say to me, ‘I slept well last night’ or ‘I really felt welcomed by the staff here,’ well, those moments are so powerful.”
We’re partnering with Safe Horizon during Domestic Violence Awareness Month to #PutTheNailInIt. For 48 hours, we’re matching donations of up to $5000. To donate, go here.
If you are experiencing or witnessing domestic violence, please call:
Safe Horizon 1800 621 HOPE (New York)
National Hotline DV: 1800 799 7233 (National)