If I asked a room of random people to envision a survivor of domestic violence, chances are most of those individuals would visualize a similar picture. For years, domestic violence has been portrayed as an issue that mostly victimizes married, able-bodied, white women in heterosexual relationships. No doubt, many survivors fit this description, but like all stereotypes, it fails to show us the big picture.
We know that anyone can experience domestic violence, and anyone can perpetrate it. With that knowledge, it is important to recognize that the domestic violence awareness movement must learn how to center those on the margins. Systems of oppression, such as racism, sexism, classism, or ableism, are all linked to one another. This connectedness implies that justice movements that do not acknowledge or work to eliminate all forms of oppression may end up perpetuating other forms of oppression in the end. For example, when one looks at the feminist movement, the centering of white, heterosexual, able-bodied women actually works to further oppress women who do not fit that identity.
How does this relate to the Domestic Violence Awareness Movement? Domestic violence, or intimate partner violence, is a power imbalance in an intimate relationship, where one partner exerts power and control over another partner. Stereotypically, this power imbalance is portrayed with white, heterosexual, able-bodied women as the victim and able-bodied, heterosexual men as the perpetrator. This suggests that the power imbalance seen in domestic violence only occurs from sexism. However, abusers can draw their power from other forms of oppression, such as racism, ableism, classism, and homophobia. Ignoring the important role that all these forms of oppression play in intimate partner violence erases and minimizes the experiences of survivors who identify as people of color, disabled, immigrants, queer, and more.
This topic may seem broad and irrelevant to what we deal with here in our small valley, but it is not. When we look at domestic violence in our community, the main resource survivors can turn to is Family Safety Network. At our organization, we are clear in our dedication to serving all survivors. However, that promise requires intentional policies and services to harbor accessibility for all. For example, in the past decade Family Safety Network has made important strides toward increasing the accessibility of our services for the local Hispanic community. Survivors who identify as Hispanic not only face oppression in the form of intimate partner violence but may also face discrimination and oppression for being a person of color or for their documentation status. These combined forms of oppression create immense barriers to seeking help.
These barriers can include but are not limited to barriers around language, cultural norms, finances, fear of discrimination based on ethnicity or legal status, and more. For example, at FSN, we often serve survivors who need financial assistance as they transition away from living with their abuser. Sometimes, these services include assisting survivors in applying for government aid to help with their financial situation. Survivors who are undocumented are not eligible for these funds making it extremely challenging for them to leave their abusers and make ends meet during the time of transition. With knowledge and sensitivity of this barrier, FSN has worked to secure other funding streams allowing us to provide financial support to all survivors regardless of immigration status. In addition to addressing this barrier, FSN has increased our accessibility through robust bilingual advocacy: a dedicated bilingual staff advocate and volunteer bilingual advocates, increased training on culturally appropriate and sensitive services, expanded outreach, and services that serve the unique needs of survivors who identify with the Hispanic community. Since intentionally increasing our accessibility, FSN has seen an increase from 2% to 35% of our clients identifying as Hispanic. However, this does not mean that our job is done. We still have great strides to make when eliminating barriers that not only the Hispanic individuals in our community face, but other marginalized individuals and communities living in this valley as well.
The future painted by the domestic violence awareness movement is one where all survivors are seen, heard, and valued. Domestic violence does not occur in a vacuum; survivors face barriers not just from their experience with intimate partner violence, but also from the many identities that make them an individual. As this movement moves forward, creating space for the interconnected forms of oppression in the lives of survivors and removing barriers to services, will be important steps toward creating safety, healing, and justice for all survivors in our community.