Karen Magee: Bringing Awareness To Domestic Violence

Oct 27, 2016

Imagine a social, political and economic environment in which domestic violence has disappeared.

Wouldn’t that be terrific?

Sadly, as we commemorate Domestic Violence Month this October, our nation is a long way from reaching that aspirational goal.

On average in the United States, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner.

Notice how carefully I phrased that.

“Intimate partner” means that domestic violence is not just physical violence by a man against a woman, although that is most prevalent. One in four men report being victimized by an intimate partner and more than 5 million men have reported being stalked. Intimate partner violence takes many forms and same-sex relationships are not immune.

As you may imagine, domestic violence is an important issue for the union I lead as president.

Women make up more than 70 percent of NYSUT’s membership, and domestic violence is one of the issues we’ll be exploring at an upcoming Women’s Conference devoted to issues impacting this large and important segment of NYSUT’s membership.

At our conference, we will explore strategies about how best to enlighten NYSUT members to recognize the signs of domestic violence. We want our members to know how to assist victims in getting help. That may take the form of helping victims develop plans to escape their abusers … or supporting them if and when they hold their abusers accountable.

We also want women – and of course, men, too – to know that domestic violence doesn’t always manifest itself in physical abuse. Emotional and psychological abuse can be just as extreme, and just as devastating. Ultimately, domestic violence is about power and control, and one partner’s desire to exercise power and control over the other.

Ironically, this Domestic Violence Month has coincided with the introduction of abuse into our national political dialogue.

October has been marked by some of the worst words about women ever uttered by a major party candidate. There is no acceptable explanation or excuse for anyone who degrades women; comments inappropriately about their appearance, or touches them without consent. Boorish behavior from someone aspiring to be leader of the free world has re-opened old wounds for many who have been victims of domestic violence.

I feel very much the same as First Lady Michelle Obama: She nailed it when she said the kind behavior we have seen and heard is more than “locker room talk.” It is wrong on every single level and it, too, has shaken me to my core.

But let me be clear: I’m not discouraged one bit. It’s re-energized me to keep NYSUT out there, and fighting back.

NYSUT will be taking its lead from the Centers for Disease Control and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Both recommend a focus on stopping Intimate Partner Violence before it begins.

Through outreach and education, we’re going to use our teaching skills – with students and adults – to promote respectful, non-violent relationships.

We’re going to work as individuals – and in our communities – to stress positive communication and create protective environments where everyone feels valued and respected.

Bringing awareness to strategies for ending domestic violence in every form is good for women, good for men and, most importantly, good for our country.

Karen E. Magee is president of the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.

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