Giving Thought: Bringing awareness to break the silence

Allison Alexander
Giving Thought

Looking around our idyllic valley, the idea that members of our community are living with abuse and violence can feel incongruent. The hidden nature of intimate violence can further victimize those living through the experience. Awareness is critical for shifting outcomes for these victims because the isolation further victimizes them through the perception that they are outliers or not a part of the community leading to further shame.

October was Domestic Violence Awareness month. Last month, a local nonprofit, Response, revived their storytelling event, “Voices of Courage,” at the Wheeler Opera House. This event featured live storytelling from victims of gender-based violence. Five storytellers shared their unique and varied experiences highlighting not just what happened to them but, perhaps more poignantly, how they have moved beyond and are now thriving.

“The primary purpose of holding a storytelling event during Domestic Violence Awareness Month is to raise awareness of this issue and put a face to a problem that is often swept under the rug and not talked about. People can’t help or care about things they don’t understand,” said Shannon Meyer, executive director of Response.

Response’s mission is to work with our community to end domestic and sexual abuse and to support survivors in achieving safety and empowerment. By allowing survivors a safe and supportive space to share their stories, the event highlights the problem of gender-based violence in a humanizing way. The hope is that hearing these stories will motivate others to speak out against violence in their lives and the lives of others and to join Response in their mission.

Storytelling has been shown to be critical for human connection and part of our collective evolution. Details shared in stories often shift beliefs and perspectives in ways that facts and figures cannot. One storyteller shared the experience of being mocked by police when she reported her stalker as a college freshman. It is one thing to hear that victims often feel unable or afraid to tell their stories with law enforcement, which can feel counterintuitive to hear as a data point, but witnessing another human share their experience is quite another.

National domestic-violence statistics show that one in three women and one in five men will experience some form of abuse from an intimate partner in their lifetime. If this type of abuse has not personally impacted you, it has probably impacted some of those around you.

“There is a common misconception that abuse is always physical; but, emotional, psychological, and financial abuse are also very common and serious problems,” Meyer said.

People often wonder how someone could find themselves in an abusive relationship. Several of the storytellers vulnerably and masterfully shared the slow unfolding of how they found themselves in their situations, allowing the audience to develop a deeper understanding and perspective on how it could happen to anyone.

Other storytellers shared that they either witnessed or experienced abuse in their childhood, illustrating the generational impacts of abuse on families. This reality catalyzed several to ultimately leave their abusers to create different outcomes for their children.

As with many social issues, incidents of domestic violence have increased during the pandemic. Meyer said they have seen a 20% increase in clients since the start of the pandemic.

Fear of losing housing is one of the top reasons that victims do not leave their abusers. Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness for women and children in this country. Housing is a challenge for many people in this valley, and, for people fleeing domestic violence, that challenge can feel insurmountable.

Response believes people should not have to choose between being safe and having a home. Their housing-for-survivors program helps their clients with emergency shelter, short-term housing, and rapid rehousing assistance. The demand for this program continues to grow, and the organization is exploring options to expand to meet this demand.

Children who grow up in homes with abuse are more likely to experience long-term physical and mental-health issues and struggle in future relationships. They are also more likely to wrestle with substance abuse, drop out of high school, and become teen parents.

When victims of abuse cannot access support and leave their abusers, there is a ripple effect that moves through the community. By raising awareness and providing support to those impacted, we can improve long-term outcomes.

Realizing domestic violence does not discriminate by gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or even geography is essential to breaking cycles and creating stories where all can thrive.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing domestic or sexual abuse, stalking, or sexual harassment, please reach out to Response at (970) 920-5357 or, if in crisis, through their 24-hour crisis helpline (970) 925-SAFE (7233).

Allison Alexander is the development director of Aspen Community Foundation, which, with the support of its donors, works with nonprofits in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys.