October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and this year’s is unlike any of the 39 others in terms of national psyche and severity.
Kathy Mull, executive director of The Cocoon, a Bowling Green-based nonprofit that aids survivors of domestic and sexual abuse, tells why. But first, she explains the significance of the designation, which was established in 1981 by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
“It was established to provide an opportunity to share with the community the prevalence of domestic violence in our country and how it affects society,” Mull says. She adds that the designation raises the level of awareness of domestic violence, gives survivors a voice, and provides people with an opportunity to recognize domestic violence and offer help. It also is a way for communities to learn how to help domestic violence agencies—such as The Cocoon—and to work toward preventing such violence from occurring.
“Domestic violence is physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, or verbal abuse,” she says. “It usually occurs in intimate partner relationships. Typically, one individual in the relationship is using these tactics to gain as much control as they can in a relationship.” Mull adds that the relationship usually is heterosexual, but sometimes is same-sex.
What makes this year’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month unique is the COVID-19 pandemic. Domestic violence is fostered by isolation and financial strain. “When the stay-at-home order was issued in March,” Mull says, “there was increased isolation and increased strain—sort of the perfect storm for survivors.”
Mull adds, “Last year, we served 717 survivors total. This year, we’re on track to serve more than that. By
the end of July this year, we served almost 400. In March, we had an increase of 40 percent of survivors seeking help from the previous month. And the level of violence is increasing. This is
a dangerous and scary time right now for those experiencing domestic violence.” She says that each month since March, the numbers have stayed up consistently.
Mull says 80 percent of the survivors helped by The Cocoon in recent years are from domestic violence; the others are survivors of sexual violence or sex trafficking.
The Cocoon provides services free of charge to survivors. Operating money comes through grants, donations, and fundraisers—the last of which has particularly been hurt by the pandemic. “The biggest thing that has changed for us is that we cannot have any large gatherings,” she says. “Our major annual fundraiser usually is in October. This year we had to cancel that. We’ve had to revamp our awareness events so they can be seen in a socially distanced manner.”
To that end, The Cocoon is planning three events this month: selling special T-shirts through its website (thecocoon.org); displaying at several locations in Wood County the Clothesline Project, which is composed of T-shirts designed by survivors depicting their experiences; and a drive-in movie night sponsored by the Thayer auto dealerships.
Mull says there may be one more fundraiser. News of that event, any additional ones, and ways people can support the agency are available on The Cocoon’s website.
The Cocoon aims, especially this month, to reach out to survivors and those who might know of a possible victim. “To the survivors, we want them to know that help is available, on their own terms. At no cost. We urge survivors to reach out. We provide shelter, help to navigate the legal system, anything they may need.”
To those who suspect domestic violence, Mull suggests, “If they’re concerned, reach out to those loved ones and ask how they can help. Try to connect them with us. Give them our phone number [419-373-1730]. What to look for are what we call ‘red flags.’ If the partner is extremely possessive. If there’s a lot of emotional abuse, like name-calling. If the survivor is less excited about hobbies or shows a general lack of interest.”
She says one of the biggest missteps that a friend can do is to try to solve the problem themselves. A survivor is in a relationship that’s about control. It’s not helpful for a friend to enter the picture and try to exert control.
“What we know,” Mull says, “is that domestic violence is bigger than a family issue. It’s a community issue, a society issue. And there needs to be a placing of the blame where it belongs. Usually it’s on the survivor instead of looking at the offender and holding that person accountable for their actions.
“Everybody can be part of the solution by reaching out, extending a hand. If we come together as a society to demand change, that’s what it’ll take to eradicate domestic violence.”
Dennis Bova is a freelance writer, editor, and marketer.