Dean Osteen’s Message for Domestic Violence Awareness Month
Dear Social Work Community,
The trauma of domestic violence can spread its toxic roots through family trees, across generations, and into the communities that support survivors. The most recent data from the CDC’s National Intimate Partners and Sexual Violence Survey shows, “More than 1 in 4 women and more than 1 in 10 men have experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner and reported significant short- or long-term impacts, such as post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and injury.” They go on to note that people who have experienced domestic violence are more likely to exhibit poor physical and mental health, including symptoms such as headaches or insomnia. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “In the United States, more than 10 million adults experience domestic violence annually.” It’s a crisis that cuts across demographics, reaching into every corner of our communities, and—in one way or another—impacting everyone we know.
And yet, for too many, consideration of the impacts of domestic violence only come to mind as an afterthought, if at all. It is often invisible to outside observers; verbal, emotional, and financial violence leave no visible bruises, and evidence of physical and sexual abuse may be hidden by clothing. It is extraordinarily difficult for those experiencing domestic violence to escape the situation, and it is nearly impossible for outside observers to truly understand all the reasons why.
So, for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I issue this call to action: consider trauma first, and offer some form of support whenever you can. Social workers are good at accounting for trauma when working with clients, but try to expand your trauma-informed lens outside of professional settings. What else might be happening in the life of the rude woman at the gas station? How might the day’s news be impacting a colleague? Why is that kid so reactive to mild corrections? Consider not only what others might be experiencing in the moment, but also what they’ve experienced in the past, and even what trauma they may have experienced vicariously.
In your day to day life, you won’t always know what others are going through. But you can choose to watch for warning signs and to believe survivors when they trust you with their stories. Be generous with your emotional support, and consider what physical resources survivors might need. Help survivors find and access trauma-informed legal support. Choose to give those around you a little more grace, a little more understanding, and to be a little more patient and loving in all your daily interactions.
Philip Osteen, PhD
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please remember that many caring people are available to help. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233), text “START” to 88788, or visit their website at thehotline.org, where you can make a safety plan, access numerous guides, and find resources. University of Utah campus resources include the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention (violenceprevention.utah.edu), the Center for Campus Wellness (wellness.utah.edu), the Women’s Resource Center (womenscenter.utah.edu), and the Basic Needs Collective (basicneeds.utah.edu).