During the month of October, bright pink ribbons are proudly featured on people’s chests. Pink bows are tied into women’s hair, while pink balloons often line the walls of events aimed at raising awareness for those suffering from breast cancer and those who have proudly fought and survived it. Yet, there are not many signs of the color purple, the official color representing Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which is also in October.
Even in the year 2012, many feel as though the issue of domestic violence is one that belongs within the home and not out in public for people to discuss. While breast cancer is a devastating disease, affecting millions, in contrast, according to studies, ten-times more women are victims of domestic abuse than those who will be diagnosed with breast cancer.
The statistic itself originates from The New England Journal Of Medicine and is only one of the many disturbing figures accessible on the topic of domestic violence. According to The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, an estimated four million women are battered every year by an intimate partner, with the actual figure expected to be far closer to six million. Even the FBI reports that within the United States, a woman is beaten on an average of every twelve-to-fifteen seconds. The effects of domestic abuse do not just stop at the men or women suffering from partner violence, with children who witness domestic violence expected to be at an annual average of three million, according to the Child Witness To Violence Project. For those who witness such violence, the lack of awareness on the issue leaves them unsettled.
“It’s something people think should be kept behind closed doors at home,” said Sofia De Pierola, a senior at Saint Peter’s University. “There’s too much silence and fear involved with experiencing [domestic violence].”
De Pierola is a 21-year-old woman who currently and proudly showcases a bright purple streak in her hair, but has only recently spoken about what occurred to her and her mother years ago on a much more public platform.
“My father [was] behind our front door, waiting with an aluminum bat,” said De Pierola, when recounting her experience of witnessing domestic violence. “He proceeded to scream at my mother, while I was there – only three years old.”
Children who witness domestic violence are also more likely to be possible victims of it at a rate that is estimated as 1500-times greater than those who come from homes where no domestic violence takes place, according to the Child Witness to Violence Project. It is also believe that 50 to 60 percent of those who witness domestic violence will eventually become victims of actual abuse themselves.
“He was ready to strike and I actually jumped in front of my mom to try to protect her, and she broke her fingers because she put her hand out when he swung with the bat,” explained De Pierola. “He actually tried to kill me. [He] tried to kill her.”
What bothers De Pierola the most, it seems, is not what had happened to her and her mother, Fatima, who, since the attack, now speaks to men within prisons about what had been done to her, but the way that issues of domestic violence are still ignored on college campuses, including Saint Peter’s. At the time of publication, October will have seen several on-campus events about Halloween, weekly events to discuss the upcoming election, and even a walk aimed at making strides again breast cancer, while any signs of domestic violence awareness are absent from on-campus promotion or that of the Master Calendar on the school’s website.
The statistics prove to be on De Pierola’s side, as high school and college-students are also extremely likely to be victims of intimate partner violence. In actuality, physical abuse is considered to be just as common among those in high school and college-age couples as married couples, with the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reporting that one-third of young people will experience domestic violence in an intimate or dating relationship. For many college students, being away from home and loved-ones could be a gateway in allowing abuse to continue without interference from outside parties. The FBI’s 1991 Uniform Crime Report states that 80% of girls who have been physically abused in their intimate relationships continue to date their abuser after the onset of violence.
With college being an environment where relationships could quickly turn dangerous, offices like Saint Peter’s Center for Personal Development act as gatekeepers responsible for making sure the overall physical and mental well-being of students is maintained. The Center’s web page on the school’s site has emergency resources that include the numbers to 24/7 hotlines like that of the Women Rising Domestic Violence Hotline and the Hudson County Rape Crisis Center. The Center also emphasizes that its services are free and confidential, with sessions and records not incorporated into either a student’s academic or health records, while neither parents or college faculty being able to access the Center’s records either.
Still, despite the resources on-campus for those who may be suffering from a harmful relationship, the clear lack of on-campus awareness among the students is undeniable and, as some students feel, is uncomfortable. After all, one does not need to have experienced domestic violence to be aware of how damaging it can be to both men and women who are victims to the life-altering physical, mental, and emotional abuse that can occur in intimate partner violence.
In fact, the only actual sign around campus that would allow people to know that October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month is a sign that De Pierola made out of frustration that states that “Love [Doesn't Equal] Pain”. It currently hangs in Jazzman’s Cafe.
Despite where she feels society and the school need to improve, De Pierola still counts her blessings for how different her life could have been that one night when she was three-years-old.
“I watched my father – my dad – hit my mother over and over again with a bat,” said De Pierola. “He slit her throat open with a box cutter. When the police finally came to my house, the last memory I have of that night is of my mom being pulled away on a stretcher. That night, I almost lost my mom and, everyday, I thank God that she’s still here.”
The Center for Personal Development offers confidential and private counseling sessions and other networking to put students in touch with other services they may need, according to Gail Conte, who works within the Center.