Raise Awareness During SAAM

SAA-Month-2015-2The issue of sexual assault has been gaining awareness in recent months as more and more survivors are coming forward to tell their stories. Sexual assault is still a big problem in our country. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network):

  • Every day in the United States, there are 804 incidents of sexual assault.
  • That makes for about 293,000 victims of sexual violence every year.
  • One in six women and one in 33 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

We still have a long way to go towards ending sexual assault, but we believe that there is hope. In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), we can all work together to create a culture of healthy relationships and end sexual violence. This month, RAINN is highlighting four steps to being an active bystander. Using the C.A.R.E. acronym, these steps emphasize the role of friends and loved ones taking action:

Create a distraction: Do what you can to interrupt the situation. A distraction can give the person at risk a chance to get to a safe place.

Ask directly: If you see someone who looks uncomfortable or is at risk, intervene and talk to the person who might be in trouble. If you feel safe, find a way to de-escalate the situation and separate all parties involved.

Refer to an authority: Keeping your friends safe doesn’t have to fall entirely on you alone. Sometimes the safest way to intervene is to involve someone who has more influence than you.

Enlist others: It can be intimidating to approach a situation alone. Enlist another person to support you. There is safety in numbers.

There are plenty of other ways to get involved during SAAM and speak out against sexual violence. Check out the list below, or visit or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center for more info.

April 3: Speak out against victim-blaming on the International Day Against Victim Blaming. On social media use #IDAVB #EndVictimBlaming

April 8: Austin friends, join loveisrespect and many other organizations from 6:30-9 p.m at Take Back the Night on the Main Mall at UT Austin. Hosted by UT’s Voices Against Violence, this gender-inclusive event will serve to illuminate the movement to end sexual violence.

April 12-18: Participate in the It’s on Us Week of Action to raise awareness of college sexual assault. #Itsonus

April 29: Denim Day! Be sure to wear your denim and share the powerful story of this decades-long movement to end misconceptions and victim-blaming. #DenimDay.

All month: Check out RAINN’s 7 Ways to Take Action this April.

All month: Campuses and cities across the country will be screening The Hunting Ground film, which addresses campus sexual assault. Find a screening near you.

All month: Share your SAAM photos and news on Instagram with the NSVRC’s #30DaysofSAAM photo contest!

Additional resources:


Get Involved During Teen DV Month

2015-TeenDVAMFebruary is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (Teen DV Month). At The Hotline, we know that education goes a long way toward prevention, and having conversations with young people about healthy vs. unhealthy dating behaviors can help stop abuse before it starts.

Did you know:

  • One in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a figure that far exceeds rates of other types of youth violence.
  • Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence — almost triple the national average.
  • Eighty one percent of parents believe teen dating violence is not an issue or admit they don’t know if it’s an issue.

Loveisrespect, our project for teens and young adults, has some great activities lined up for Teen DV Month:

  • The National Youth Advisory Board is hosting Respect Week Feb. 9-13. Teens can download the Respect Week 2015 toolkit for ideas and activities for raising awareness in their schools and communities
  • Wear Orange 4 Love. Encourage friends and family to wear something orange on Tuesday, Feb. 10 – hats, shirts, pants, nail polish, accessories, anything orange will do! Let people know you’re wearing orange to show your support for healthy relationships.
  • Join the Twitter Town Hall, hosted by loveisrespect, on Feb. 12 at 6 PM Central. They’ll be having a conversation about relationship rights. Follow along and participate using the hashtag #RespectWeek2015.
  • Support loveisrespect’s Thunderclap and help spread the National Respect Announcement on Friday, Feb. 13, just in time for Valentine’s Day.
  • Encourage teens to take the Dating Pledge. The pledge serves as a reminder for teens and a commitment to any current and future partner that they believe love is respect!
  • Participate in #LIRasks on social media. Each Monday in February loveisrespect will ask a question related to that week’s theme on the loveisrespect blog and on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Everyone is invited to post responses on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram using the #LIRasks hashtag. At the end of each week loveisrespect will compile the top responses and share on their blog. Check out the weekly themes:

Week 1: Starting the Conversation About Dating Abuse & Healthy Relationships
Week 2: Know Your Relationship Rights
Week 3: Helping Someone in an Unhealthy or Abusive Relationship
Week 4: Relationships in the Media

Need information or resources on helping the teens in your life? The Hotline has you covered:

We frequently offer support, information and resources to friends and family members of young people affected by dating violence. You can always contact The Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or loveisrespect at 1-866-331-9474 any time if you have questions or concerns.


Campus Safety Awareness Month

campus-safetyIt’s that time of year again: college campuses are welcoming students for the start of a new semester. Incoming first years are buying books, moving into dorms, and brimming with excitement about what lies ahead. Of course, knowing that one in five college women is sexually assaulted or raped on campus and one in three teens experiences dating violence, we all want to make sure they stay safe.

September is National Campus Safety Awareness Month, which aims to call attention to issues of campus safety and help young adults learn how to stay safe and help keep others safe, too. Throughout the month, our friends at loveisrespect are focusing on bystander awareness and discussing how active bystanders can help prevent assault and violence.

According to loveisrespect, being an active bystander means:

The Clery Center is providing professional development trainings each week in September on topics ranging from dating violence and sexual assault to fire safety. Sign up with them to receive email updates and learn more about how your school can keep students safe!

We believe that everyone deserves safe and healthy relationships, on campus or off. If you have a child who is attending college this fall, there are a few things you can do to help them stay safe and cultivate healthy relationships while away at school:

Keep the lines of communication open. Your child might be gaining more independence, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need you anymore. Regular check-ins by phone, email, or Skype can keep you up to date on what’s happening in their lives and let them know that you’re still there for them.

Familiarize yourselves with relevant laws, university policies, and available resources. The Clery Act and Title IX are important to know. Not sure what a school’s sexual assault policies are? Here are 18 questions to ask. Not Alone, the White House’s official website on campus sexual assault, also lists pertinent resources and information about campus sexual assault.

Talk to them about healthy relationships. This should be an ongoing conversation, but it’s always good to go over the basics.

Talk to them about consent. What it is, what it looks like.

Reiterate digital safety. Technology plays a big role in the lives of college students, so staying safe online is still a good topic to discuss.


April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

SAAMThere is an average of 237,868 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year. (via, U.S. Department of Justice. National Crime Victimization Survey. 2008-2012.)

Nearly 1 in 10 women in the United States (9.4%) has been raped by an intimate partner in her lifetime. (via

1 in 6 men has experienced sexual abuse before age 18. (via

The statistics are sobering, but as with all forms of abuse, they only tell us part of the story. There are countless instances of sexual assault and abuse that go unreported. It’s important to remember that while sexual assault happens disproportionately to females, anyone can be a victim.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), during which activists from all over the nation seek to raise awareness about sexual violence and educate individuals and communities about how to end it. This effort requires many voices – including yours! There are several ways you can get involved, and here are just a few:

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault and you need someone to talk to, contact the hotline 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233 or chat online Monday through Friday, 9am-7pm CST. All contact is free, anonymous, and confidential.

Other resources:

National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE

National Sexual Assault Online Hotline at


Talking to Teens About Digital Safety

digital-safetyTeens are online a lot these days. Whether they’re updating Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, using Snapchat, or “checking in” with various location tools, technology has become highly integrated into their lives. While we definitely support using technology in healthy, fun, and productive ways, sometimes it can make life difficult or dangerous for teens.

Nothing ever really disappears from the internet – whether it’s a photo, a status update, or a tweet – so it’s important to have regular, open and honest conversations with your kids or students about safe ways to use technology. During teenDVmonth, we want to encourage you to start having these conversations as soon as possible! Here are some ideas to get the ball rolling:

  • Open the conversation by using current examples of how sharing online can quickly escalate out of control. In one brilliant experiment, a teacher received a LOT of attention when she posted a photo of herself online to show her 5th grade students how anything can be widely shared or digitally manipulated on the internet.
  • Talk to your teen about privacy. How does he or she define privacy? What types of things would they like to keep private? Be sure to talk about using apps to “check in” to places online, or tagging their location on Instagram and Facebook, and how that might compromise their safety or their friends’ safety.
  • Create “Digital Safety Guidelines” with your teen. Let them have input, and talk through what they are comfortable sharing online and why. Together, you can learn about privacy settings for social networks and how to use them.
  • Talk to your teen about establishing digital boundaries with their boyfriends or girlfriends. These boundaries might shift and change as the relationship progresses, but it’s important for both partners to continue communicating about what they’re comfortable with. Some good questions to discuss are:

– Is it okay to tag or check in?
– Do we post our relationship status?
– Is it okay to friend or follow my friends?
– When is it okay to text me and what is the expectation for when we return it?
– Is it okay to use each other’s devices?
– Is it okay to post, tweet or comment about our relationship?

  • Go over the signs of digital abuse. Ask if they’ve ever experienced any of these signs, or if they know someone who has. Brainstorm ways to deal with this type of abuse.

The internet isn’t going away any time soon, so it’s unrealistic to expect your teens not to use it. By learning more about how the teenagers in your life are using technology, you can help them determine how best to keep themselves safe and healthy.

If you have any other suggestions for how to talk to teens about staying safe online, please leave them in the comments!


Get Involved: Respect Week 2014 is February 10-14!

At loveisrespect, a project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, our advocates take calls, chats, and texts from teens who have questions about relationships, and respect is an issue they frequently discuss. In honor of Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month (teenDVmonth), we hope that you will start conversations with the teens in your life about what healthy relationships look like. Maybe you got things started this past Tuesday on It’s Time to Talk Day, but if not, you still have time – Respect Week 2014 is just around the corner!

Hosted by loveisrespect’s partner Break the Cycle, Respect Week encourages teens and youth leaders to participate in teenDVmonth. From wearing orange to actively engaging your community, here are just a few ways you can help spread awareness of teen dating violence:

      • Download the Respect Week 2014 Guide, created by loveisrespect’s National Youth Advisory Board, for a comprehensive look at information, ideas, and activities for the week
      • Wear orange and be part of the nationwide orange-out on Tuesday, February 11 to help spread awareness of dating violence. Invite your friends to the Facebook event, post a picture and update your social media using the hashtags #teenDVmonth and #RespectWeek2014
      • On Valentine’s Day, ask students to read the National Respect Announcement across your school’s intercom, to your class, youth group or wherever fits best. You’ll raise awareness of teen dating violence and how to end it. You can also spread the word by joining the Thunderclap and sending out the National Respect Announcement to all your social media networks
      • Host an event where you can educate your family and friends about how dating abuse affects one in three teens
      • Keep talking to the teenagers you know and love about healthy relationships

This year, take part and help everyone learn how to build relationships free from abuse. Keep the conversation going and get ready for Respect Week 2014!


February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month

TeenDVMonthAccording to loveisrespect, a project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, one in three teens in the US is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a partner. While teen dating violence can happen to anyone, the majority of the violence affects young women. Women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence – almost triple the national average.

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month (TeenDV Month), a national effort to raise awareness about abuse in teen and 20-something relationships and promote programs that prevent it, and YOU have the power to help! Talk to teachers at your local high school, bring up dating violence at the next school board meeting, and have a conversation with the teens in your life about healthy relationships.

We’ll kick off TeenDVMonth tomorrow, February 4th, with It’s Time to Talk Day. Hosted by Break the Cycle’s Love Is Not Abuse Campaign, It’s Time To Talk Day is an annual awareness day that aims to generate conversations about healthy relationships and prevent teen dating violence and abuse. Learn more and pledge your support on the website!

Another great way to get involved this month is to participate in Respect Week, February 10-14, hosted by the loveisrespect National Youth Advisory Board (NYAB). Check out the loveisrespect website for more information and to download the NYAB’s Respect Week 2014 Guide.

Everyone deserves safe and healthy relationships. Want to know how to help a young person experiencing abuse? Call our advocates today at 1−800−799−SAFE(7233). Also, find us on Facebook and Twitter to stay updated with important resources and information for loved ones who may be experiencing dating violence.

Don’t forget check back with our blog throughout February for more on TeenDVMonth!


I See DV As An Important Public Health Issue

This is our final How I See DV (#SeeDV) post to wrap up our 2013 Domestic Violence Awareness Month campaign. We are so grateful to everyone who participated and supported our efforts in October.

Today’s How I See DV perspective is written by Cora Harrington, the founder and chief editor of The Lingerie Addict. The Lingerie Addict is a fashion blog dedicated to lingerie, and has been featured on the websites for CNN, Vogue Italia, Forbes, and Time. Cora is a former domestic violence advocate, sexual assault crisis line worker, and family advocate for victims of violent crime. She currently lives and works in Seattle, WA.

coraIn the last few decades, issues affecting health, and, in particular, women’s health, have taken center stage. From Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October to American Heart Month in February, people are talking more and more about ways to get healthy and stay healthy. That’s a wonderful thing, and I’m glad these conversations are happening. But there’s still one issue that is all too often ignored in the discussion about health…and that’s domestic violence.

While anyone of any gender can be affected by intimate partner violence, 85% of domestic violence victims are women, and 1 out of 3 women in the United States will experience domestic in her lifetime. For African American women and Native American women, those percentages are shockingly higher; almost 50% of Native American women have been beaten, raped, or stalked by their partners, and intimate partner homicide is one of the leading causes of death for African American women aged 15 to 35.

More women require medical attention for domestic violence than for rape, muggings, and accidents combined, and domestic violence during pregnancy is the #1 cause of maternal mortality (maternal deaths) in America. Imagine. If we had these kinds of numbers for any other disease – heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes – people would be protesting in the streets demanding an immediate solution. But since the issue is intimate partner violence (a “personal matter” or a “domestic dispute”), the response, all too often, is just more silence.

I’m not a medical professional or a first responder, so I don’t see domestic violence on the “front lines,” so to speak. Nor am I a Domestic Violence Advocate (though I used to be). So if you’re someone like me reading this, who has a job that has nothing to do with intimate partner violence or sexual assault or the healthcare field, how is thinking of domestic violence as a public health issue possibly relevant to you?

Because a public health perspective helps to give a framework for both understanding DV and for talking with and being supportive of survivors of DV.

Sometimes, when a victim of domestic violence attempts to confide in a friend, that friend is less than supportive.  Often, victims of domestic violence are asked why they don’t “just leave,” and have to cope with people implying that enjoy or even like the violence because they’re still in the relationship. However, those kinds of statements would be unthinkable for any other health issue.

No one would ask a cancer patient if she liked having cancer because she needed time to explore treatment options, make a treatment plan, or because she chose to reject one treatment in favor of another. No one would tell a PTSD survivor that he enjoyed having PTSD because he took awhile to find a therapist, tried multiple therapists, or even stopped and started therapy more than once. No one would tell a stroke survivor that she must have enjoyed having a stroke because she was concerned about her physical limitations or because she had financial worries. So why are these assumptions okay for survivors of domestic violence, many of whom have been physically and verbally battered into physical and emotional injuries? They’re not.

I’m not saying survivors of domestic violence are sick or unwell. Nor am I encouraging others to adopt a patronizing attitude towards them. I just think it’s worth thinking of other ways to frame this problem…and its solutions. After all, you probably know someone who’s dealing with domestic violence right now.



I See DV as an LGBTQ Issue

We know that today is November 1, but really, shouldn’t every month be Domestic Violence Awareness Month? We have two more #SeeDV posts, including today’s thought-provoking piece from Tasha Amezcua and Ursula Campos-Johnson of the New York City Anti-Violence Project.

avpJulio was scared to call the police.  Last time he called, they refused to take the report.  His partner Jim’s violent tactics were escalating.  Jim made Julio feel isolated and ashamed of being gay, often reminding him of how his family kicked him out. Julio couldn’t reach out to his friends for help because all of his friends were Jim’s friends, too.  Jim told Julio he would kill him if he tried to leave.  Julio called a few domestic violence shelters.  Most turned him away because he was a man.  Finally, after many calls he was accepted to a shelter that had very little experience sheltering LGBTQ survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV).

Once in shelter Julio began attending mandatory group counseling for shelter residents.  The group’s theme was “women supporting women,” so he felt out of place.  When he finally spoke up in group about the violence he experienced, the residents mocked him.  He tried to make friends in the shelter, but was greeted with homophobic remarks by staff and fellow residents. Julio looked to his caseworker for support, but all she could offer was that he should practice empathy, since he and the residents have similar experiences.  Despite the homophobia of the residents and staff, Julio continued to attend group because he really needed the support and the shelter, and it was nearly impossible for him, a young gay man, to find another DV shelter that would accept him.

The anti-violence movement, and society at large, often make assumptions about the identities of IPV survivors.  The assumption is that women are victims of IPV and men are abusive partners.  For Julio and many LGBTQ IPV survivors, these personal biases result in institutional barriers that can lead to a survivor disengaging with services, if they are even able to receive services in the first place.  Without full access to safe IPV services, including shelters and counseling, an LGBTQ identified survivor may feel as unsafe in the shelter as in their abusive relationship.  In accessing services like shelters, many LGBTQ survivors of IPV experience secondary trauma, by service providers, shelter staff, and other shelter residents, either through overt homophobia and transphobia, or through more subtle barriers to critical services, like women-only support groups or heteronormative intakes.

The stakes for LGBTQ IPV survivors are high.  It’s often difficult to imagine the deadly reality of IPV in LGBTQ communities when we’ve been socialized to believe that all the victims are ciswomen (cis or cisgender is a term used to describe people who, for the most part, feel that their gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth.  Cis is often used as a prefix, i.e. ciswoman) and all the abusive partners are men.  So, here are the facts: IPV occurs within same sex relationships at the same rate as in heterosexual relationships, with a 25% to 33% prevalence rate.  People of color, transgender, gender non-conforming people, and young people are disproportionately affected by IPV in LGBTQ relationships.  The 2012 National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs Report on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and HIV-Affected Intimate Partner Violence found that people of color made up the majority (62.1%) of IPV survivors.  Transgender survivors were two (2.0) times as likely to face threats/intimidation within violent relationships, and nearly two (1.8) times more likely to experience harassment within violent relationships.  The 2012 report also found that youth and young adults were close to two times (1.8) as likely to face anti-LGBTQ bias in IPV tactics as compared to non-youth.

LGBTQ people are dying as a result of IPV at a higher rate than ever before.  2012 saw the highest recorded number of LGBTQ IPV homicides: 21 in 2012, 2 more than in 2011, and 15 more than in 2010.  Nearly half of LGBTQ IPV murder victims last year were gay men.

Key to reaching and providing effective support services to all survivors of violence is understanding that IPV survivors can be queer, transgender or gender non-conforming, straight or gay men, lesbian or bisexual women, or gay, lesbian, bisexual, or heterosexual transgender people.  The people who harm are as diverse in gender and sexual orientation as the survivors we serve.

At the New York City Anti Violence Project (AVP), we collaborate with many IPV/DV service providers who historically serve heterosexual cisgender women.  Making the transition to all gender and sexual orientation inclusive can seem like a daunting task.  To offer support, AVP coordinates the New York State LGBTQ Domestic Violence Network, in which AVP staff and other network members support each other toward a shared commitment to “work towards the inclusion of LGBTQ survivors of domestic and intimate partner violence, specifically regarding LGBTQ shelter access and inclusion.”

Expanding accessibility to services for LGBTQ survivors is only possible because of the legacy of the battered women’s movement, feminism, and the hard work of domestic violence service providers. This is where we came from.  This legacy opened shelters, insisted on visibility, and increased safety for many women survivors.  Now it’s time to broaden access to ALL survivors of intimate partner violence, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.  This is a call to action for all of us, but especially service providers, to shift our understanding of who can and does experience intimate partner violence.  With the reauthorization of an LGBTQ inclusive VAWA, it is time that all DV service providers realize the deep impact IPV has on all people, including LGBTQ survivors and victims.  Only when we can expand our understanding of who can be a victim or a survivor can we begin to expand our services, including shelter, to all survivors of intimate partner violence.

Please note that the National Domestic Violence Hotline works hard to find a solution for all of our callers. Please call us if you need support or help at 1-800-799-7233.

About Our Contributors

Ursula Campos-Johnson is a New York City native, mixed race Latina, and survivor of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). Ursula has worked with LGBTQ survivors of violence for over five years. Ursula is dedicated to promoting social justice within and outside of systems for many marginalized communities, especially Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, HIV-affected (LGBTQH) survivors of IPV, and youth impacted by violence. Ursula has done this through program development, direct services, and training and education. As an Intimate Partner Violence Counselor Advocate at the New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP), Ursula has created a unique support group model for LGBTQH survivors and victims of IPV and has lead an initiative at AVP to create a culturally competent IPV assessment model, inclusive of intersecting identities and free of assumptions around a binary understanding of gender identity. Ursula has provided workshops and trainings on intimate partner violence, sexual violence, hate violence and gender-based violence and their intersection with other forms of oppression, including poverty, sexism, heteronormativity, heteropatriarchy, and racism for service providers and community members. Ursula has presented at the Columbia School of Social Work, Columbia School of Nursing, CPS, the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter and has provided trainings to youth service providers at The Door, and Ali Forney Center. Ursula is currently an MSW candidate at Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College.

Tasha Amezcua, the Intimate Partner Violence & Sexual Violence Community Organizer in AVP’s Community Organizing and Public Advocacy department, supports coordination of statewide and local community organizing, public advocacy and policy programming related to LGBTQ intimate partner violence and sexual violence. Tasha develops and coordinates intimate partner violence and sexual violence programming and survivor-informed campaigns, conducts outreach to LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities in New York City, and develops the leadership of LGBTQ and HIV-affected community members and survivors to participate within organizing and advocacy campaigns. Tasha works to maintain and grow the work of the New York State LGBTQ Domestic Violence (DV) Network and provides technical assistance, training, and recruitment to the DV Network and serves as a liaison between AVP and the DV Network. She attended Columbia University, majoring in Women’s and Gender Studies, with a concentration in Queer Theories. Tasha, a femme-identified queer Chicana survivor of violence, is originally from Santa Ana, CA, but has called New York City her home away from home since 2003.


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.