Halloween and Domestic Violence Awareness Month

vintage-costumes-1953Lesley Pratt Bannatyne, explains that Halloween has changed. Prior to the 1970s, costumes for this children’s holiday featured astronauts, doctors, firefighters and nurses, allowing children to dress as heroes or people they aspired to become. Or they were of clowns, cats and dogs.  Then in 1968, the movie industry cancelled the production code that stopped the use of obscene imagery. More and more graphic movies and more horror movies resulted including the 1978 release of the film Halloween. It was the first time that Halloween had been directly equated with horror cinema, says Bannatyne, and the association has stuck ever since.

After October 31st, Halloween, has come and gone, may be a perfect time to post on Domestic Violence Awareness Month. What does this celebration have to do with Domestic Violence Awareness? Why is there a need for awareness? Perhaps because we are often unaware that our neighbors, friends, family are living their daily lives in the fear and horror that Halloween seems to celebrate.

The Health Communication, Health Literacy and Social Sciences asked participants to share their insights on Domestic Violence.

Dr. Gia Sison thinks that “Awareness is key to having a major impact and long term effect on domestic violence. Along with awareness we need the victims to start speaking up, to empower them to make a stand against it “

Annete McKinnon, patient support advocate, believes this awareness month is needed because “Domestic Violence isn’t always evident. “ A friend was being physically abused and yet, “I believed my friend when she said she kept having accidents.” Andrew Lopez a nurse sees awareness of domestic violence as crucial, “Domestic Violence, Intimate Partner Violence is filling up Emergency Departments in a vicious cycle….Unless awareness is raised of Domestic Violence, the vicious cycle will repeat itself, over and over.”

One in five women are raped at some point in their lifetime; nearly half of women in the US experience sexual assault other than rape. Yet only 60% of domestic violence and intimate partner violence incidents are ever reported to the police.

“Here in the US, we have to make it safe for them to stand up, and they have to be heard and believed!” Darline Turner, physician assistant working with pregnant women, states. “I see reports all the time where partner violence is not taken as seriously because it happens within a relationship. “

Lopez agrees, “Yes, many suffer in silence, never reporting domestic violence, never getting the help they need. We can talk about filing Restraining Orders, pressing charges, but the risk of escalation is ever present. “

Dr. Sison confirms that, “it turns out to be a vicious cycle when the abuser is enabled and … the person being abused makes excuses for the abuser, enabling further abuse. By encouraging them to speak up, people help them go through recovery, then they can help prevent others from becoming victim.”

“Unless the victim comes forward and agrees to press charges,” Lopez said, “the hands of police and healthcare professionals are tied.” Yet Turner feels that it can be difficult to get the victim to act, with “the emotional abuse that typically accompanies the physical abuse. These women are really beaten down!

Once a victim is beaten down emotionally, its really hard to get them to speak up or even admit there is a problem.” “The head trips that often occur make the abused feel like its their fault, like they deserve it. That’s much of the shame.” Natrice Rese, patient advocate said, “ victims feel they brought it on themselves. [We] need to change that, empower.”

What is the impact of domestic violence on health?

recent study in Iowa found adults with 4 or more adverse experiences as a child to be more likely to have diabetes and heart disease! People who experience rape or stalking are more likely to report frequent headaches, chronic pain, difficulty sleeping, poor physical and mental health. The same Iowa study found abused adults are 4 times as likely to have obstructive pulmonary artery disease .

Lopez stated, ”it leaves long lasting, often permanent emotional scars.” Dr. Sison agrees, “Psychiatric health is very much affected leading to major depression in most cases.”

Turner descries the generational nature of domestic violence, Many kids who grow up in abusive homes grow up to abuse or be abused. Unfortunately, there are high rates of domestic violence against pregnant women.” Jen Romnes entered the chat to agree, “It impacts children. I am a child of domestic abuse. Colours my world view. Just finished memoir.”

Patricia Anderson, a librarian and domestic violence survivor advises, “Don’t pressure them or make them feel forced. [It] took me decades to write my story. I did not realize I was a battered wife until I’d been divorced a year. Your brain just doesn’t apply that context to your own life.” Anderson further explains, “Remember, it isn’t always PHYSICAL violence. There is sexual, economic, social, and emotional. Someone might think they are not a victim because the violence wasn’t physical.”

People who are abused experience a great deal of shame, Turner believes. “Somehow we have to impress upon the victims its not their fault. So much stems from “I should do, I should be better.” Lissanthea Taylor, a physical therapist said, “Shame needs silence to grow, shame correlates with so many other physical and mental health issues. [It’s important to] open a context for talking.”

RV Rikard, sociologist, brought up the salient point that men are also victims of domestic violence. In response, Turner relates her experience as a health care provider for a man, “I once treated a man who was being beaten by his wife. When I figured it out, he was mortified that I had found out and begged me not to say anything to anyone. He stopped coming to the office. I wonder what happened to him? Men are far less likely to disclose the abuse or report it. This is even worse in same sex couples.”

Among the 70% of women who experienced domestic violence and then told someone about it, more than 1/2 (58%) said no one helped them.

If over 1/2 of victims told someone and didn’t get help…what does that say about speaking up? Alisa Hughely replied, “ It say WE don’t know how to listen or we are not equipped to give effective help it’s our job as HP’s to meet people where they are at- not what we think they must do.” Yet Romnes points out, “It’s hard for victims of DV to get help. Not only is their safety at stake, but children’s safety too.”

Having been a victim of domestic violence Anderson is one of the people who does act to help. “I always had a reason to not tell. If no one asked, I wouldn’t tell. But who would ever ask. I was so lucky. Someone did listen, did help. Now that’s something I do. I always ask. I always follow up. And having been a victim, you can spot it easier. Educating needs to include how to spot victims and NOT become another abuser.”

Three out of four (73%) parents with children under the age of 18 said that they haven’t had a conversation about domestic violence with them. That is a dangerous strategy because approximately 9% of high school students report experiencing dating violence in the form of hitting, slapping, etc.

Lopez suggested a video for all women over the age of 13 called “Just Yell Fire.”

Compared to homes without guns, the presence of guns in home is associated with a 3-fold increased homicide risk within the home. Homicide risk is 20 times higher where previous domestic violence exists and there is a gun in the house and homicide risk connected to gun ownership increases to 8-fold when offender is an intimate partner or relative of the victim.

These are just numbers until it happens to someone you know. Anderson said, [My] “Friend had a friend with a restraining order against her ex. He showed up on her porch with a gun and killed her. Really distressing. My friend never got over it. Adding insult to injury, the killer only got five years in prison.” Romnes feels that there needs to be a change in expectations and increase the penalties for the abuser. “Flip the losses from the victim fleeing with just a shirt on her back to the abuser bearing the hardship. The abuse will stop if the abuser becomes controlled as penalty for acts of violence: flip the power imbalance.”

Many worry about the impact of domestic abuse on children. Those who are abused are equally concerned as Anderson notes, Anderson said, “I never ever hit my kids. Found other ways to discipline. They didn’t like them either. There are ways. I looked for mentors in good parenting, intentionally made friends with people in good marriages.”

Rikard shared a domestic violence and fathering intervention program .

What can we do to prevent domestic violence? “Keep talking, keep communication lines open, watch for signs,” Natrice said. “Awareness, awareness, awareness,” Dr. Sison advises.

What do we need? Not a holiday that celebrates scaring people with graphic and horrible costumes, masks and decorations, but an open discussion of the fears and horrors that are perpetrated every day on families, friends and loved ones by abusers.

To check out the quotes on Domestic Violence take a look at these links:

More work to do against domestic violence

Study Ties Early Trauma, Health Risks



4 thoughts on “Halloween and Domestic Violence Awareness Month”

  1. Thank you, Kathleen, for using Halloween as a segue into a warning about the dangers of domestic violence. The two certainly go hand in hand. We need more reasoned voices to counter the culture that started removing anti-violence standards from movies in the sixties. We’ve not come a long way in this regard. Thanks again. xo

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