There’s no one right answer for domestic violence victims and survivors, and that’s OK

SILENT WITNESS CEREMONY: Silhouettes representing individuals who have died as a result of family violence are on display at St. Anthony Church in Tamuning in September 2020 as part of the annual Silent Witness Ceremony in this file photo. David Castro/The Guam Daily Post

It’s understandably hard to admit when there isn’t a perfect solution or a silver bullet to a major problem.

But accepting truths, even when they are inconvenient, is critical to solving long-standing and deep-rooted issues in our community – such as the presence of an escalating cycle of domestic violence.

We acknowledge and applaud members of the social work community who deal with victims and families every day, who were frank in speaking with The Guam Daily Post. Their message was clear: There is no one right answer, no single correct action for everyone who is assaulted by a loved one.

Those of us on the outside looking in may feel motivated to push for wives to move out of an abusive home. We may want to be steadfast in our convictions, because we feel like our friend’s life is in danger. With a recent homicide allegedly stemming from a romantic partner, the sentiment feels justified.

But we also have to recognize that this isn’t our decision to make, and there are understandable motivations behind whatever victims decide for themselves – perhaps even not reporting the violence to law enforcement. As social workers have said, sometimes parents don’t want to disrupt the lives of their children. Maybe there are financial issues at play.

Even though services and programs are there to help with these situations, that shouldn’t force any victim to respond with something with which they’re not comfortable.

Instead, professionals say allies can do their part by understanding and recognizing what abuse is in its different forms, be it physical, emotional, sexual or financial. Many victims don’t realize they’re not in a normal relationship to begin with, which can prolong any cycle of abuse.

Growing up on Guam, many families teach and expect unhealthy habits that can hurt others down the road. Bottling up our feelings, and attempting to handle violence, molestation and harassment behind closed doors is commonplace for a lot of people. Unfortunately, those who spend their days helping victims have seen those behaviors cause even more damage, especially when a child who experienced or witnessed abuse becomes an adult victim down the road.

Social workers say having someone trusted ready to listen and validate a victim’s feelings is the best first step. A co-worker, relative, or friend will do. Losing your sense of empowerment is part of being a victim of domestic violence – those who are trying to help victims should focus their efforts to help their loved ones regain that sense, and not force them to accept advice or respond to judgmental comments.

And whenever a victim is ready to seek help, there are a number of programs and groups ready and willing to assist. Shelter can be provided; preparations can be made to eventually leave an abuser; legal work can begin to obtain protective orders and so much more.

But so much more can also be done by our government. While there’s a variety of nonprofit organizations and government agencies on hand, both those mired in this important work and victims have shared the need to expand these efforts. No man, woman or child in fear for their safety should have to be placed on a waiting list because time is of the essence in a cycle of domestic violence.

There’s also clear room for improvement on the part of our criminal justice system. Habitual and repeat offenders need to understand their crimes won’t be tolerated; favorable plea deals that put abusers back out on the street need to be limited. Victims should be able to trust that police and prosecutors will do their part to protect our island, and not worry that their criminal complaints will be met with hesitation, even if there isn’t an airtight case with irrefutable evidence. People who have been abused have lost enough dignity already without having to deal with even perceived mistrust from law enforcement.

We also can help collectively to break this generational cycle by reaching out to our kids – too many who are witnesses or victims themselves of domestic violence. Programs such as Youth Mental Health First Aid are a great start, and we hope recent efforts to expand and sustain such programs continue. Recognizing and understanding normal, healthy relationships from a young age will go a long way to help rescue victims today, and help prevent children from becoming victims when they, too, have romantic partners.

If you or someone you love is experiencing domestic violence, call or email the local programs available to seek help and information. These groups should not require the filing of a police report just because you have reached out to them – advocates are there to help your situation in the way that is best for you.

There is no cookie-cutter violent relationship, so there can’t be a cookie-cutter answer either. But taking the first steps toward healing, even if they aren’t perfect, will undoubtedly save lives.

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