How I See DV: Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen

Today’s How I See DV perspective comes from Barbara Van Dahlen, named by TIME magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Dr. Van Dahlen is the founder and president of Give an Hour. A licensed clinical psychologist who has been practicing in the Washington, D.C., area for over 20 years, she received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Maryland in 1991. We’re excited to have her share her voice during our DVAM campaign.


Please help us understand what post traumatic stress is and how it differs from post traumatic stress disorder?

When a human being is traumatized, whether it’s due to combat, physical violence, natural disaster or something else, there are certain reactions that we expect people to have. Many of those are the symptoms that are now captured in the diagnosis of posttraumatic stress.

So if I’m in a car accident, we would expect that for quite some time I might be more jumpy, hyper-vigilant when pulling out of my driveway, I might have flashbacks of what happened, I might have bad dreams, I might get depressed…  so all of these reactions are what we expect for the situation that I’m in following my accident. It only becomes a disorder if it doesn’t get resolved, if I don’t heal, if I don’t receive the support I need to address all of my understandable reactions and symptoms  associated with this trauma.

What are some misconceptions around post-traumatic stress in the military and domestic violence?

Most people assume that PTS looks the same for everyone – many think of the Rambo version of PTS. That’s not the typical reaction at all. People who have experienced trauma, whether its due to combat or another event, can experience trauma differently from other folks who may have experienced the exact same event.

You might have two people who were in the same firefight — one person might become withdrawn and depressed, the other might become very anxious, agitated. A third person in the same fight might show no indication of stress – no interference  with their functioning. People assume that PTS looks similar and in fact, the manifestation of PTS really varies. In addition it exists on a continuum. What it looks like today is not what it necessarily looked like six months ago and not what it will look like in six months.

Another misconception is that most soldiers/service members come home with PTS. That is not true either. Depending on the studies you look at — 18%, 20%, high is 35% depending on what we are assessing or measuring. Not everyone comes back with PTS.

Even if someone has PTS that doesn’t mean that they’re an ineffective partner, parent, employee, student. Many people function with the aftermath of trauma. There are some people with severe and possibly disabling PTS – but that’s not the case all of the time.

Also, domestic violence is not a symptom of PTS. That’s really important. PTS, especially when it’s very severe, might, in some people, make them more likely to be violent towards a partner if they’re already agitated and aggressive, if they’re not sleeping or if there’s substance abuse. PTS can be one unfortunate risk factor that may make violence more likely.

It depends on who the person is with PTS. We all carry around our predispositions, our tendencies, our personalities, our view of the world. And that will be compounded or affected by PTS. If someone was already a fairly controlling person, or tended to be hot-tempered but wasn’t ever violent before… if they become distressed and aggressive as a result of trauma, they may be more likely to engage in domestic violence.

Returning servicemen and women may experience PTS and exhibit violent behaviors when they didn’t before they left for duty. What do couples in this situation need to know?

PTS for both the person experiencing it and their partner can be very unnerving and scary because the person who has PTS may not know when a trigger may elicit a reaction, anxiety or aggression. So both partners need to come to understand what PTS is going to look like in themselves or their loved one. It doesn’t mean that the person cant be a good partner. It’s like being diagnosed with diabetes — if you don’t recognize what that means, if you don’t take it seriously, you can get yourself in serious trouble.

If the spouse/ partner reacts angrily to the PTS, because they’re hurt and miss the person they love and they’re angry that the person is having trouble sleeping, doesn’t seem to be the same, etc., it’s like throwing gasoline on the fire. The partner’s reaction can exacerbate a difficult and potentially volatile situation. It’s the same for the person experiencing PTS. I’ve heard soliders say that they learned to be aware of what triggered them and their  reactions. They can also learn how to be more careful with their spouses – learn to be understanding of the feeling their spouses may have that are in reaction to the PTS.  Couples can learn together – to decrease the risk of violence. But they have to work on it.

It’s important to take PTS seriously because under the wrong combination of circumstances, that can really lead to a very dangerous and very upsetting situation … especially if you add alcohol to one or both of the partners. A fight or anger that would normally dissipate with them going off to their own corners, may turn into something far more violent than it ever would have before.

And just because we can understand how/why the violence occurred, that doesn’t mean that we can – or ever should – tolerate it.

What are some behaviors that a person who experienced trauma might exhibit?

There are many ways a person might show that they are processing trauma, especially if they are a victim of domestic violence. Their self-esteem may deteriorate. You can see that both in what they say – they say negative comments about themselves, negative perceptions of themselves – and also how they take care of themselves or don’t. Their self-care will start to be affected, falter, fail. They’re not dressing the way they used to, with care. They’re not working out, they’re not eating healthy. Or maybe there’s substance abuse. So anything that is a self-care clue that somebody is suffering, we can often see those in people we care about and notice them.

We all go through ups and downs in our lives, but if you see people who don’t seem like themselves for extended periods of time, several days or weeks, it may be a reaction to trauma.

What are some myths around mental health and domestic violence?

One myth about mental health is that someone with mental illness is having mental illness makes you more likely to be violent. In fact, having a mental illness makes you more likely to be the victim of violence.

People with severe mental health issues, maybe schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, are more likely to be the victim of domestic violence because they are often less able to take care of themselves, they are more vulnerable, their thinking is not always as clear.

In addition, mental health issues place a person at risk in other ways. Someone who is severely depressed may be less likely to step out of or seek help to get out of a domestic abuse situation. They may get more entrenched, and feel like “I’m worthless” because low self-esteem is part of the depression, so they see abuse as confirmation of how they feel. Or if someone has severe depression and is prone to being abusive, they might be more likely to become violent because of their mental health issue.

Those conditions — depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse — they don’t create domestic violence, or victims. They’re just risk factors on both sides .

About Our Contributor

Concerned about the mental health implications of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Dr. Van Dahlen founded Give an Hour in 2005 to enlist mental health professionals to provide free services to U.S. troops, veterans, their loved ones, and their communities. Currently, the network has nearly 7,000 providers, who have collectively given over $9.4 million worth of services. 

Dr. Van Dahlen, a featured speaker at the October 2012 TEDxMidAtlantic “Be Fearless” event, has joined numerous panels, conferences, and hearings on issues facing veterans and has participated in discussions at the Pentagon, Veterans Administration, White House, and Congress. She has become a notable expert on the psychological impact of war on troops and families and a thought leader in mobilizing civilian constituencies in support of active duty service members, veterans, and their families. Working with other nonprofit leaders, Dr. Van Dahlen developed the Community Blueprint Network, a national initiative and online tool to assist communities in more effectively and strategically supporting veterans and military families. 

Dr. Van Dahlen and Give an Hour have received numerous awards, including selection as one of the five winners of the White House’s Joining Forces Community Challenge, sponsored by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden.


Vice President Biden Tours The Hotline

On October 30, 2013 we were honored with a special visit by Vice President Joe Biden. A vocal advocate for women and men experiencing domestic violence, Vice President Biden helped found the hotline with the Violence Against Women Act. Vice President Biden met with advocates, listened to stories heard on the phone lines and recognized the milestone of the hotline answering its 3 millionth call.

After touring the hotline and loveisrespect, the Vice President spoke at a press conference about the importance of supporting domestic violence services. We are so honored that he he spent time connecting with our advocates and highlighting the work done at the hotline.


I See DV As Complex, Even For Celebrities

Today’s How I See DV perspective is by writer Alex Iwashyna who blogs at Late Enough is a humor blog, except when it’s serious. Alex is a freelance writer, poet and media consultant who writes about about her life intermixed with important ramblings on her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, her kids outsmarting her, and dancing like everyone is watching. We are very excited that she lent her voice — and support — to our campaign. 

blog-posters-alexCelebrities seem to have it all — fame, fortune, the ability to get a book published that is poorly written and yet makes the best-seller list – not to mention the chefs, personal trainers and trips to exotic locales.

They are paid to look and act certain ways at certain times so I don’t mind the commentary on their dresses and hair and ability to act or sing. But I draw the line at holding celebrities to higher standards when it comes to domestic violence. I don’t think being famous gives people magical powers to escape abusive relationships quicker because, while they may have the financial means to leave, abuse is not a basic socio-economic problem. The women and men in these relationships are human beings who are going to respond like abused partners.

Take Rihanna and Chris Brown’s relationship. Almost everyone supported Rihanna when she left Chris Brown after the abuse went public, but when she forgave him and went back to spending time with him, people were mean and angry and ignorant. Ignorant because it takes seven times ON AVERAGE for a woman to leave her abusive partner. Maybe she could’ve been an anomaly and left the first time around, but she’s not. That doesn’t make her a bad role model. That makes her not yet even average. And the public’s reaction to this — the vitriol, the hate — makes it even harder for people to leave again. We set people up to not want to admit the abuse is happening again, to not be willing to seek help. Being kind, thoughtful and understanding is not condoning abusive behavior. Plus, what does an I told you so attitude even achieve?

Another very common reaction to abuse is to normalize it. “He’s just trying to make me better.” “I egged him on.” We rationalize because the truth that someone I love is also hurting me can be difficult to process or understand. “Real Housewife” Melissa Gorga recently wrote a book about her marriage, Love Italian Style. I have only read excerpts, but I noticed warning signs of an unhealthy relationship.

Men, I know you think your woman isn’t the type who wants to be taken. But trust me, she is. Every girl wants to get her hair pulled once in a while. If your wife says “no,” turn her around, and rip her clothes off. She wants to be dominated. (an excerpt from her book, which is a quote of her husband ignoring consent. More quotes can be found on Jezebel)

In the book, she also shares how she is not allowed to go on overnight trips, get a job or say no to sex more than once a day. Most of the public response to her book is how terrible and gross and awful they are as a couple and she is for writing this as an advice book. But, setting her husband aside, Melissa Gorga is just human. She may have more reach than the average person but that does not make her immune to a very human reaction to unhealthy behaviors: normalizing it so she can survive. Instead of demonizing her, we can react by saying, “If your relationship looks like this, know that it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are places to find help.”

These same relationships are happening every day to people we know. Nearly 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men experience abuse over their lifetime. While I would never want anyone to go through domestic violence, seeing complex relationships play out in celebrities’ lives could help us comprehend our own experiences or to be more understanding of our friends and neighbors in similar situations. Will those we care about read how disgusted we are with people being abused or see someone they can turn to and trust to not be judged?

About Our Contributor

Alex Iwashyna holds a medical degree and a political philosophy degree and became a writer, poet and stay-at-home mom with them. She uses her unique perspective on her blog,, to write funny, serious, and always true stories about life, parenting, marriage, culture, religion, and politics. She has a muse of a husband, two young kids and a readership that gives her hope for humanity. While Alex believes Domestic Violence Awareness Month is every month, she’s grateful to be participating in How I #SeeDV this October.

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How Hotline Advocates #SeeDV

Every day, our hotline advocates take calls from all over the country. They speak to victims, survivors, individuals identifying as abusive, concerned friends and family members and others. They talk to people wondering how to leave, and others wondering how to rebuild their lives after they already have.

This past month, our advocates answered the hotline’s 3 millionth call — a milestone that represents those who have been positively impacted by our advocates but also the increasing need for lifesaving services. Help us recognize this moment by pledging 3 minutes of your time to talk to someone you know about healthy relationships and the resources available at the hotline.

This month for DVAM, we turned to our advocates and asked them to tell us how they #SeeDV. Here are some of their responses:

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October is coming to an end but it’s not too late to get involved. This past week we continued to have an outpouring of responses and participation — check it out below, and don’t forget to tell us how you #SeeDV.

We’re approaching the final week of Domestic Violence Awareness Month and the participation and support continues to be amazing. From re-tweeting our own content, to creating your own images and messages tagged with the #SeeDV hashtag, you’ve all shared powerful words throughout the month.

We’re approaching the final week of Domestic Violence Awareness Month and the participation and support continues to be amazing. From re-tweeting our own content, to creating your own images and messages tagged with the #SeeDV hashtag, you’ve all shared powerful words throughout the month.


I See DV as Unacceptable

Today our special How I See DV guest is Tonya Turner, Director of Legal Services at Break the Cycle. In this position, she oversees the legal services program that represents young domestic and dating violence survivors between the ages of 12-24 in civil protection proceedings and custody matters. Tonya is an expert on LGBTQ dating abuse and has provided key trainings on the issue to law enforcement and the American Bar Association.

blog-posters-ttTonya, can you tell us a little about the service you provide to LGBTQ youth?

I provide holistic legal services to young LGBTQ survivors of dating violence, stalking and sexual assault. I also train young people about healthy relationships so that they can better identify unhealthy or abusive ones.

Why did you get involved with this work?

I believe dating violence, stalking and sexual assault are often normalized and minimized and I wish to help shape a world where dating violence is not acceptable or tolerated.

What sustains you in this work?

The fact that I genuinely believe that helping one person actually makes a difference. I believe the impact of my work can really shape the way young people view relationships and assist them in making healthier choices.

What are some of the unique struggles people in abusive LGBTQ relationships face?

Many LGBTQ teens are not yet “out” to their parents or friends and may be afraid that an abusive dating partner will “out” them to friends or family. Also, many young LGBTQ survivors are afraid to ask for help because bullying or harassment may start or increase.

Many LGBTQ teens also are afraid that they will be not believed or taken seriously. Often adults believe that abuse between LGBTQ partners is always mutual, does not occur in lesbian relationships, or that the abuser is only the more dominate partner.

What would you say to someone who is hesitant to get help about their relationship because they are afraid of getting outed?

I would stress that everyone deserves to be in a healthy and loving relationship. Next, I would discuss their concerns about speaking to their parents. If they are not ready to come out, I would encourage them to safety plan and connect them with LGBTQ resources so that they could get additional support.

How do you define a healthy relationship?

A healthy relationship involves two people who can laugh together, talk about anything, encourage each other and respect each other’s differences. In a healthy relationship, your partner makes you feel like nothing is impossible and they will be right there with you.

We know you were involved with the creation of Can you tell us about that project?

Many LGBTQ people do not feel supported or know their legal rights. Show Me Love was a campaign created to celebrate healthy LGBTQ relationships, and to raise awareness in the LGBTQ community about legal rights and resources available to people in unhealthy or abusive relationships.

Please complete this sentence. I see DV_______.

I see domestic violence not being tolerated as we empower people to have healthier relationships and they stand up and say violence is not acceptable.

About Our Contributor

Tonya Turner is currently the Director of Legal Services at Break the Cycle. In her position at Break the Cycle, Tonya trains Metropolitan Police Department Officers and adult service providers about domestic violence laws that impact young people and how to better help young people experiencing abuse. She has provided substantive and skills training with such programs as the ABA’s Commission on Domestic Violence Custody Institute, the National Institute on Civil Representation of Victims of Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, and Sexual Assault Who Are D/deaf, Hard of Hearing and/or with Disabilities, and Best Practices for Lawyers Assisting Pro Se Victims of DV with Civil Protection Orders. Tonya also does outreach and education on LGBTQ domestic and dating violence. She is a board member of Rainbow Response Coalition (RRC). RRC is actively committed to informing LGBT people in the Washington Metropolitan Area of their legal rights and ensuring that law enforcement officers respond to dating/domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking calls involving LGBT people appropriately. Tonya is also on the advisory board for Show Me Love- a local campaign to raise the awareness, inform survivors in DC’s LGBTQ communities about their legal rights, and direct people to resources about maintaining healthy and violence-free relationships. Tonya received her advanced degree from Rutgers School of Law.


I See DV in the Red Flags

This post is by a very talented writer and brave survivor, Courtney Queeney. We were moved by Courtney’s article in the New York Times “The View From the Victim Room” which detailed her experience of renewing an emergency protective order. Today, she shares with us how she saw domestic violence red flags in her past relationship. 

blog-posters-courtneyAfter my ex-boyfriend punched, choked and kicked me one night, I spent a few days in shock. I couldn’t figure out how I had gotten into such a relationship in the first place.

When I reflected on the span of our relationship, the red flags were glaring.

Red Flag: He pursued me for months before I eventually said yes, because after all, I’d met him through a mutual acquaintance and he was a certified yoga instructor. With those credentials he must have been safe, although I was uncomfortable as early as our second date, when he professed his love.

Red Flag: He isolated me from my friends, family, and favorite activities. At first, he was sad to see me go home; then I was staying away from him too long, depriving him of my company so I could write, look for jobs and feed my cat. If I went out with friends, he’d text during the night to tell me how much he missed me. He didn’t want me to have a job, because that would have subtracted from his time, and allowed me greater financial freedom.

Red Flag: He sulked when I didn’t want to sleep with him, like a child who had just been sent to bed without his dessert. Post-breakup, his objectification of women as sexual objects became even more disturbing in both his art and his writing. He’d written about a fantasy he had of flaying an ex so I shouldn’t have been surprised when the death threats he sent me involved him raping me, then attacking the body parts specifically identifying me as female; he didn’t, for example, want to kick me in the shins.)

Red Flag:  The messages he sent after I broke up with him were even more transparently disturbing: I was clearly responsible for his behavior. Why did you provoke me? he wrote. (For the record, I had knocked on a bathroom door, worried he was going to pass out.) He wrote I’m sorry for the way things went down that night. He used the passive tense; he didn’t write: I hit you. Or: I was on drugs. Or: I choked you. Or: I kicked you. In the same message, he wrote: Can you somehow get beyond it? Please find a way to forgive me. Somehow, as a woman, it was my job to make the situation better for him.

Red Flag: He was irrationally jealous of my male friends. When I went to visit two of them for a week, he refused to get out of bed, texting me pitiful messages about how he couldn’t wait until I came home. He set his computer up so I had my own desktop, though I repeatedly told him not to bother. I later learned that monitoring someone’s computer and phone are classic red flags.

Red Flag: After he’d hurt me so badly my ER doctor kept looking at the scans of my face and repeating I can’t believe nothing is broken, I was still responsible for his weight loss, his family asking about my abrupt disappearance, his loneliness, his insomnia and panic attacks.

Red Flag: He repeatedly wrote that he couldn’t live without me. One night, he cut himself badly with a knife and couldn’t staunch the bleeding. When his incessant attempts to contact me suddenly stopped, I knew he’d acted on these threats, probably on my birthday. If he’d succeeded in his suicide attempt, it would have been the ultimate punishment: I would have to carry that guilt for the rest of my life. I don’t think he meant to succeed; it was a play for my sympathy.

I was lucky. I glossed over red flag after red flag, but when it was my relationship or my life, I chose life. I just wish I’d done it sooner.

About Our Contributor: 

Courtney Queeney is the author of Filibuster to Delay a Kiss (Random House). She lives in Chicago.


How I See DV: Heidi Notario

dvam-heidi-notarioOne goal of our “How I See DV” campaign has been to show that people have unique views of domestic violence, specific to their community, their experiences and their own personal situation. We are proud of our many allies in the movement to end abuse, especially the work done by Casa de Esperanza, the National Latin@ Domestic Violence Resource Center whose mission is to mobilize Latinas and Latin@ communities to end domestic violence. Today we hear from Heidi Notario, Training & Technical Assistance Coordinator at Casa de Esperanza as she shares how she sees domestic violence.

I welcome each October as a great opportunity to highlight the work of culturally specific organizations in the context of ending violence against women. All of us in the anti-violence field hear about trauma-informed approaches and evidenced-based practices. These are the buzz words of our times. For some, these concepts seem new, intimidating, and out of their realm as advocates and survivors. “I’m not a researcher”- I hear time and time again.

And yet, many culturally specific organizations have historically provided services that are trauma-informed and carry strong evidence to support their efficacy. A key element to defining trauma- informed approaches relates to the way in which relationships are established between those in a supportive role, and those seeking support. These relationships are based on mutuality and respect. In these instances, helpers do not have the “expert” role as mere prescribers of services. Women and their families are not the “receivers” of such prescriptions in a passive manner. Rather, this is a fluid process where all are constantly learning from one another. In this context, supporting and fostering leadership skills among survivors is crucial in the work to end violence in Latin@ communities.

The work of the Líderes and promotoras/promotores are examples of culturally specific approaches to engage communities while utilizing their natural strength and shared wisdom. The impact of both approaches is long lasting and transformative. Both share the vision of maximizing community resources and supporting the development of leadership from within the communities.

Developed by Casa de Esperanza, the Líderes Program or the Latina Peer Education Initiative is a strategy that taps into the natural leadership among individuals, families and communities to share critical resources, build community and promote healthy relationships. The initiative is led by the women who serve as Líderes (Peer Educators). Líderes develop the trainings and tools that will be used in workshops; they recruit participants, and promote the workshops in the community. The goals of the project are accomplished by recruiting, training and supporting Latina Líderes to engage other individuals and families to acquire knowledge, skills and resources for immediate and long-term health and stability. This program has been adapted by a number of Latin@ organizations in the U.S.

Promotoras and Promotores are also community Líderes and their approach is equally effective. Promotoras started in Latin America as a way of reaching communities from within, on issues mostly related to health and wellness. Promotoras serve as liaisons between their community, health professionals, and others. As liaisons, they often play the roles of educator, mentor, outreach worker, advocate and role model. This approach has been very effective in Latin America and its strength is also evident in communities across the U.S.

What both approaches have in common is a deep recognition of the strengths of Latinas as community leaders, respect for their wisdom, and the belief that living with dignity is a birthright.

Watch:  I am a leader– video.  This inspiring 3 minutes and 49 seconds video describes the experiences of Latina women from Guatemala as they realized their inner leadership potential. This video is a great example of the strength of Latinas and Latin@ communities as resources for social change. Advocates from La Paz, a Latin@ organization in Chattanooga, TN, adapted the Líderes curriculum developed by Casa de Esperanza for this work. La Paz is an organization that works to empower and engage Chattanooga’s Latino population through advocacy, education and inclusion.

About Our Contributor
Heidi Notario, M.A. serves as the Training and Technical Assistance Coordinator of the National  Latin@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities, a project of Casa de Esperanza. Prior to joining Casa’s team, Heidi was the Training Specialist at the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV). She has advocated for the rights of persons with disabilities and Deaf individuals for more than ten years, working closely at the intersections of disabilities and violence against women. Heidi’s interests include a wide variety of issues related to the treatment afforded to survivors of violence with disabilities and Deaf survivors by the criminal justice system, service providers, and society at large. Heidi keeps on the forefront of her anti-oppression work the elimination of barriers that impact immigrant survivors and the LGBTQ community. Heidi views “accessibility” from a human rights framework and is committed to bringing this perspective into her work and personal life. Heidi is originally from Cuba and has resided in the U.S. since 1995. Heidi holds a Masters’ Degree in Sociology from Lehigh University.



How I See DV — Week 3 Recap

As we near the end of October, we’re still going strong with our Domestic Violence Awareness Month “#SeeDV” campaign. This week we had three amazing guest blog posts to share with you all, and people all over continued to tell us how they “See DV.” Check out the highlights of this past week below.


I See DV as the Outcome of Economic, Social & Political Inequality

Money issues can limit a survivor’s ability to move past abuse. Sara Shoener, Research Director at the Center for Survivor Agency and Justice and our guest blogger, works to educate survivors on ways to recover financially from domestic violence. Today she shares her perspective on how abuse, money and freedom intersect.


Please tell us about the work that you do.

I am the Research Director for the Center for Survivor Agency and Justice, which is a national organization dedicated to enhancing advocacy for survivors of domestic violence. We bring together experts to provide training to advocates and attorneys, to organize communities and to offer leadership on addressing the critical issues domestic violence survivors are currently facing across the country.

Right now we are focusing on our Consumer Rights for Domestic Violence Survivors Initiative, where we are working with a group of inspiring consumer rights, anti-poverty, and domestic violence attorneys and advocates to develop some really ground-breaking projects, training, and written resources that focus on domestic violence survivors’ physical and economic security.

How do domestic violence and finances intersect?

Economic hardship and domestic violence exacerbate one another. Research shows that women living in poverty experience domestic violence at twice the rates of those who do not. Domestic violence increases financial insecurity, and in turn, poverty heightens one’s vulnerability to domestic violence. Batterers’ acts of sabotage and control can create economic instability that last long after the abuse has ended.

Domestic violence has been linked to a range of negative economic outcomes such as housing instability, fewer days of employment, job loss and difficulty finding employment. Correspondingly, poverty limits one’s options for achieving long-term safety.

Domestic violence survivors often rank material factors such as income, housing, transportation, and childcare as their biggest considerations when assessing their safety plans. Given the relationship between finances and domestic violence, it’s not surprising that research has often reported income to be one of (if not the) biggest predictors of domestic violence.

What does economic abuse look like?

It can look like a lot of things, but is generally thought of as batterers’ tactics to control their partners or ex-partners by restricting or sabotaging their access to material resources. Something we hear about a lot is abusers putting survivors’ names on bills or taking credit cards out in survivors’ names to drive them into debt and ruin their credit.

Employment sabotage, such as hiding a survivor’s car keys on the day of a job interview or stalking her or him at work, is also economic abuse. Batterers use institutions survivors often navigate to bolster their economic abuse, too. For example, an abuser might use the custody court system to require the mother of his children not to move out of the area, arguing that if she leaves he will not be able to see his children as easily.

Survivors who have received orders like this have been forced to give up economic opportunities in other places such as better jobs, affordable education, and rent sharing with family members. Other batterers continually file protection orders against their partners and ex-partners in order to force them to miss school or work to be present in court.

Domestic violence can create economic damage that endures long after an abusive relationship is over, too. Survivors often face damage to their credit reports, social networks, bodies, mental wellbeing and professional reputations that generate persistent economic loss. These negative economic impacts restrict survivor’s options and as increase their vulnerability to future harm.

What interested you in this work? 

The short answer is that I recently spent many months on a research project where I had the opportunity to meet domestic violence survivors from different communities and interview them about their experiences seeking safety through institutions such as the court system, public housing and law enforcement.

What I heard from all types of people in all types of places was that they didn’t have the economic stability necessary to end the abuse they were experiencing. Sometimes that included huge ongoing expenses such as affording rent on one’s own. Other costs were more of a one-shot-deal, such as having to take time off work to go to court for a protection order.

The beginning of the longer answer is that the domestic violence survivors I have met are some of the strongest, smartest, kindest and most resilient people I will ever be lucky enough to know. Yet, they often face institutional barriers to safety rooted in social factors such as race, class and gender. Because of that, I find this work especially important and meaningful.

Please complete this sentence. I see DV ___________.

I see domestic violence as the outcome of economic, social, and political inequality.

About Our Contributor

Sara Shoener is the Research Director at the Center for Survivor Agency and Justice. She has been advocating for and conducting research on effective approaches to reduce violence against women for over 10 years. Sara’s love of qualitative research stems from the opportunity it grants to listen to and learn from women’s narratives. As a result, she has conducted numerous focus groups, surveys, needs assessments, program evaluations and in-depth interviews related to anti-violence projects. A Truman Scholar and American Association of University Women Dissertation Fellow, Ms. Shoener is a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, where she also obtained her MPH.


I See DV As An Issue That Can Be Resolved If We Can Come Together

Today we’re very excited to have Denver Broncos Chris Harris, Jr. share his perspective on domestic violence and discuss how men and athletes can promote healthy relationships.

dvam-chris-harrisWhat motivated you to speak out against domestic violence?

Domestic violence is an issue that affects everyone whether they know it or not. When you look at the statistics that approximately 1 in 4 women are affected, you know that all of us probably have at least one friend or family member being affected. In the past I think people have viewed domestic violence as a ‘women’s issue’ but I feel it is important for male role models to speak out and set a good example.

How do you define a healthy relationship for yourself?

I think in a healthy relationship there has to be love, support, respect and equality. If any of those aspects are missing you end up having a relationship that just doesn’t really work. Even though two people bring different things to a relationship, you have to respect the other person and realize that what they are bringing is equally important as what you are bringing.

Through your career, the Chris Harris Foundation and your work with Big Brothers Big Sisters, you’ve been such a role model to young boys. What do you hope to teach them about relationships?

I just think it is important for young men and boys to realize that relationships are a two-way street. If they are going to be involved with a woman, they should be bringing out the best in that person and vice versa. Relationships require give and take, so I want young men to realize that and be responsible for the roles they play in relationships. But all of this really comes back to respecting the person they are with and being a source of strength rather than an obstacle.

You’ve faced many challenges in your career. You were an undrafted free agent who worked his way to being named Denver’s Breakout Player of the Year and Overachiever of the Year in 2011. To accomplish this, you must have had a very strong mental game. How do you mentally overcome a bad, or “off” day? 

I just try to stay focused on the positive. Whatever happens happens and nothing can really be gained from dwelling on the past. Obviously we all want to learn from our mistakes, but ultimately we have to stay focused on the challenges that lay ahead. I’ve been very blessed with the talents that I have, so at the end of the day I can be confident that those talents will carry me through even if I have a bad day.

An article once described you and your wife, Leah, as a “packaged deal.” What are some ways the two of you support each other? 

We really are a team in every sense of the word. She is my biggest fan and supports me before and after every game with motivation, love and support. She also handles a lot of business that I am unable to handle due to my busy schedule during the season. She is also starting her own business right now so I am doing all that I can to support that via promoting it with social media and being someone she can talk to about any issues she is facing. Everyone can check out her work at

You were recently the spokesperson for the Domestic Violence Intervention Services program located in your hometown of Tulsa. What did you learn about domestic violence through that experience?

I learned a lot about the statistics of domestic violence and just how big of a problem it is. That experience also really helped me to think about what my role could be in stopping the problem. So much of the domestic violence is caused by attitudes ingrained in children at a young age. I think that if me and other male role models take a stand and teach kids a new way of thinking, we can make progress.

We know that men holding other men accountable for their actions and words makes a difference in promoting a culture of healthy relationships. How do you encourage your friends and teammates to be healthy in their dating behaviors? 

I think the most important thing is just not to be the silent bystander. There are certain issues in our culture that if someone brings it up people are going to tell them they are wrong to think that way. Unfortunately the proper way to treat women or to participate in relationships has not always been one of those issues. We just have to change our thinking about that and make sure that if someone says something that is unacceptable that we call it out and hopefully they won’t be comfortable making those kinds of comments again.

Please finish this sentence. “I see domestic violence ______________________. 

I see domestic violence as an issue that can be resolved if we can come together and change the way people think about it.

About Our Contributor

Denver Broncos Chris Harris, Jr. knows how to make an impact. A third-year cornerback, Harris has played 31 regular-season games in his first two NFL campaigns. While he began his professional career as an undrafted free agent, he finished his rookie season with glowing stats and was voted Denver’s All-Rookie Team, Breakout Player of the Year and Overachiever of the Year. Harris completed the 2012 season ranked 5th in the NFL in receiving yards allowed and holds the record for the longest interception return in Broncos history.

In addition to his on-the-field activities, Harris’ passions extend to helping others experience the same mentorship and opportunity he had growing up. In 2013, he launched the Chris Harris Jr. Foundation to support children of military families. Harris launched a Student Success Challenge, encouraging kids to get involved in school, fitness, community service and more. Harris also participates in Big Brothers Big Sisters, and helps with program initiatives and mentoring children.