However according to Chris Handberg, Director of Programs and Research for the Domestic Violence Network (DVN), because domestic violence is so unreported, it is difficult to know for sure how many people are suffering.
The same can be said for sexual assault. In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that Indiana ranks second in the nation for sexual assault against young women in grades nine through 12.
DVN is beginning a new community wide plan called Intersections.
According to Handberg, Intersections is a three-year community wide plan, and it is the fourth one that DVN has implemented. Intersections will focus on risk factors from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention and how it intersects with domestic violence. The risk factors include economics, education, childhood experiences, substance abuse, mental health and suicide. Each risk factor and how it intersects with domestic violence will be the focus for six months, and during that time, community conversations will be hosted by DVN. DVN will consult experts and educational opportunities will be provided as well. Handberg said that DVN also will hold special training for advocates.
The Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention of Greater Indianapolis, Inc. (CHIP) will host a discussion on the intersection between economics and domestic violence February 28 from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Besides CHIP, Handberg said that DVN will also be reaching out to Progress House, which works with substance abuse, and some agencies that help with suicide prevention.
“This community wide plan really does give us the opportunity to reach out to new partners that we haven’t traditionally worked with in the past,” Handberg said. “So that’s pretty exciting.”
Handberg hopes that by holding discussions about each risk factor and domestic violence, Hoosiers will be able to understand domestic violence, respond to it and bring it to an end.
“The first and most important [misconception] is it is never as easy as just, ‘Leave the relationship,’” Handberg said. “When people who have friends and family who have experienced violence, the piece of advice is always, ‘Just leave or change the locks or move out.’ And there are so many issues as to why people don’t leave. There’s financial issues. There’s child custody issues. There’s genuine love for the person who is abusing them, which kind of leads into the second one [misconception].”
Handberg said the second misconception about domestic violence is that people who experience domestic violence are abused every day. Handberg said that, in the majority of cases, it is in fact periodic, and that along with physical abuse, there is a lot of emotional and verbal abuse as well. Victims of domestic violence are often told they are not smart or not good enough, according to Handberg, and that victims are conditioned to believe that they cannot leave their abusive partner.
“There’s just a lot of mental barriers to break through because you’ve been abused emotionally for so long,” Handberg said.
Handberg hopes that by the end of the three-year period when Intersections is finished, domestic violence will be addressed and awareness of it and the risk factors will continue to spread.
“It’s hard because it’s [domestic violence] so unreported because of the social stigma attached to it,” Handberg said. “But reporting is up, and I think that’s a good sign. I don’t think that it’s all of a sudden domestic violence has just reared its head and now it’s a part of the social construct. Domestic violence has always been with us, but it’s just there hasn’t always been places to go and resources available. So I hope that, as we look towards the future of our country, we’ll continue to look at domestic violence as an important issue that needs to be addressed, and we’ll continue to fund that at federal levels because a lot of shelters and social providers rely on that money to help keep us moving forward.”
Another service that has been started to help victims is a partnership expansion between Eskenazi Health and Indiana Legal Services (ILS). The expansion, called the Eskenazi Health Medical-Legal Partnership, will provide legal support to domestic violence and sexual assault victims onsite.
“This is the first time where we’re sort of directly addressing the needs of victims of sexual assault by trying to be at the point of location when they have reached to the hospital system for help by being at the emergency room, at the emergency department and working specifically with the Center of Hope, which is the group of folks that specialize in working with folks who are the victims of sexual assaults,” said Adam Mueller, the Director of Advocacy for ILS.
A $30,000 grant from the Indiana Criminal Justice System is what funded the partnership expansion, and Mueller said that MLP will allow victims to speak with an attorney and receive help with a variety of issues, such as finding housing, no contact orders, immigration, health insurance and what the criminal system looks like, even though ILS is not a criminal lawyer firm.
Mueller is hopeful that MLP and its services will give protection to victims who want to come forward and seek safety from their abusers.
“Our hope is that by letting folks know that these resources are available, they may be more willing to come forward to seek the medical treatment, and then, in turn, also seek protection that are available for victims via the civil legal system and via the immigration system,” he said.
DVN and ILS and Eskenazi Health hope that these new initiatives will change the numbers on domestic violence and sexual assault for the better, and maybe then, there will no longer be a woman abused in the nine seconds it takes to finish reading this sentence.