Among the many other health observations this month, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Though it is true that anyone – female or male – can be a victim of domestic violence, it is an issue that disproportionately affects women adversely. As the brochure for the Domestic Violence Program at Northwest Hospital informs us,
Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women. It can happen to anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion, gender or income level. Domestic violence is among the leading causes of death for pregnant women, and 52 percent of female murder victims are killed by their male partners.
Initiatives at both Sinai and Northwest hospitals are aimed at identifying and helping people who come in with domestic violence injuries. In addition to treating them and helping them seek safety from immanent physical threat, these programs help foster emotional healing as well.
The Women’s Relationship Support Group at Sinai Hospital is one such way survivors of domestic violence can find their hopes restored. This year, the group is participating in The Clothesline Project, an initiative started in Massachusetts a little over 15 years ago. Those who are domestic violence or rape survivors, or their friends and family, decorate t-shirts that are displayed on clotheslines.
Beth Huber, LCSW-C, manager of M. Peter Moser Community Initiatives and Sinai’s Family Violence program, says that Sinai has done the Clothesline Project in past years but this is the first year it’s been done in some time.
“It’s an expression of each woman’s self – whether they’re in a happy place and have come a long way and want to share their success or whether they want to speak out against domestic violence,” says Huber of the project.
At Sinai, the women depicted something they wish to leave behind on the back of their shirts. On the front, they created images that show something they are hopeful about. One woman painted a beautiful picture of a hot air balloon floating above a verdant landscape. She says the balloon signifies “going up and getting above things.” She felt so down and low, she says, that she now wants “to soar above the damage.”
Another woman decorated her shirt with words spelling the values she holds most dear. Love was a prominent one. “You need to love yourself or you can’t love anyone else,” she says. Loyalty, honesty, respect and trust were listed as what she deems the four most important things of any relationship.
One woman wanted to represent her experience by drawing a little girl holding a bunch of balloons, one of which has burst. She describes the feeling of the burst balloon as comparable to hearing the ice cream truck but not being able to run out in time to meet it. Yet, she doesn’t feel like this feeling has to dominate her life. “I’ve just lost one; it’s not like I don’t have more in my hand,” she says. “I have a whole lot to look forward to.”
Huber adds that the shirts help bring recognition to the problem of domestic violence, which she calls still “a very hush, hush topic.”
“We have a long way to go before people will freely talk about [domestic violence],” she says.
However, the optimism in the room during the support group meeting was palpable. One woman credited “the program itself” with helping her get to a place where she can function. She said that programs for survivors of domestic violence need employees and volunteers who are enthusiastic about their work, and she says it’s something that makes Sinai’s program stand out to her.
What can you do to highlight the problem of domestic violence? Have you ever participated in something similar to The Clothesline Project?
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