The Be Project: Empowering Youth to be part of the solution to end relationship violence

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Oct 28, 2016

Domestic Violence Affects Us All by LaToya Davis

In Texas, 38% of women have experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetime. (Texas Council of Family Violence) To the average person , 38% might seem low, but for those, like myself, who work to put an end to domestic violence, that number is far too high. Domestic violence affects more than just the person being abused, but also those who witness the abuse-- children, families, and communities. Within these communities are youth of all ages, like the students I work with on a daily basis.


When sitting in a classroom full of eighth grade students, I ask them, “What does an abusive relationship look like to you?” A lot of the students would respond with things like “When a guy hits their girlfriend.” It always blows my mind that domestic violence unfortunately has become a “woman’s issue,” which implies that only women can be victims in the case of abusive relationships. Because of a long history of violence towards women, we typically associate women with victims of domestic violence. Although women have a long history of violence against them, men too are victims of abuse. When I ask these same students , “Can men be victims of an abusive relationship? Is abuse only physical?” I typically get mixed responses depending on the demographic of the school. Overall, many students are aware of what an abusive relationship is. An abusive relationship is a repeated pattern of physical, verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse to gain power and control over someone else.


“To gain power and control” is a phrase that reminds most people of a man using his physical strength to dominate a woman. Why? Because from a societal standpoint men are taught to express their emotions aggressively, while women express their emotions passively.  Although men and women express their emotions differently, when it comes to exerting power and control over a significant other, both men and women do so physically, verbally/emotionally, sexually, or digitally. Though we hear more about women being victims of domestic violence, this is still an underreported crime for women. It is also a highly underreported crime for male victims as well. Male victims are too afraid of what others will think of him so unfortunately they don’t report. One in seven men has been the victim of physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence). On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. In just one year, this equates to more than 10 million men and women. (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence).


I have asked groups of students why violence in relationships has become so normal. To my surprise, they are usually quite aware that it’s become normalized within our society because of the media and different individuals in our lives, such as family, friends, and communities we live in.  Violence is normalized through music, movies, social media, advertisements, and even video games. If you turn on your television or listen to the radio on your drive home, you’ve probably heard familiar celebrity names, like Chris Brown, Amber Portwood , Ray Rice, Carmen Electra, Charlie Sheen, Whitney Houston, Mike Tyson, Chad Johnson, and Columbus Short-- all  have been involved in domestic violence incidents.  Some abusers were condemned for their actions; however, many others were ignored and victims were blamed for their abuser’s actions. We hear it all the time: “They were asking for it” or “what did they do to piss them off?” The real questions should be: “Why should anyone believe that love is supposed to hurt?”

Violence doesn’t equal love. The thought of having to walk around in fear for my life is terrifying to even fathom, but there are so many people that live in that reality. If you see someone being abused, don’t just stand by and watch, do something. There are a number of people that don’t do anything because the situation is far too dangerous for them to intervene, which is totally understandable. However,  picking up the phone to call the police is doing something, going to an adult you trust is doing something, talking to the victim and letting them know it’s not their fault is doing something. If the victim is someone you care about, they need your love and support NOT your ridicule. It isn’t easy for a victim to disclose to  someone that they are being abused, so don’t make them regret telling you. The best thing you can do to help a victim involved in an abusive relationship is to tell them that they don’t deserve the abuse and that you are there for them. It’s important to let your loved ones make the decision to leave and get help; don’t try to force them. Let’s all come together and help break the silence.


Aug 1, 2016

Empathy and Empowerment by Sangeetha Thomas

Recent news puts me at a loss for words. It seems like it’s only a matter of time before news breaks of yet another shooting, assault, racial profiling, or act of terrorism taking place on American soil or somewhere overseas. It all weighs heavily on my heart and makes me question whether “world peace” is nothing more than idealistic, naive, hippie-talk reserved for bumper stickers and beauty pageants.

How can people hate people so much? These events, when taken out of context, make no sense at all. But social work and psychology teach us to see behaviors in context, to seek to understand the mind behind the action—to practice empathy. Now, it should be noted that there is no amount of psychology that can ever justify acts of hatred; however, approaching these horrific acts through the mindset of empathy can lead us to the doorstep of empowerment—and that is crucial. Empathy teaches us to see the pain, the anger, the misguidedness in another person’s heart before we judge him on his actions alone. Empowerment, when coupled with empathy, teaches us to do something about the problem in an effective way that benefits a greater cause than ourselves. An article I read recently defines a similar concept as “interpersonal empowerment: the sense that we are all responsible for outcomes that affect other people’s well-being, in addition to our own.”


I know it almost seems odd to discuss something like empathy and empowerment at a time like this, especially when everyone else is writing passionately about what policy-makers or law enforcement or social activists should or should not be doing to make the world a better place. But I personally believe that the simple selflessness of empathy is exactly what we all need right now—because this is a change we can all work to achieve in our own lives. In the midst of so many senseless acts of hate, nothing seems more sensible than acting on love.


I believe this concept reflects the deeper meaning behind Dallas Police Chief David Brown’s now-famous “we’re hiring” statement to protesters as well as his notable influence with the Dallas Police Department’s efforts to reduce police brutality. The moment we choose to stop drawing lines between us-versus-them, the moment we look at ourselves critically and admit that there is a problem, the moment we seek to cooperate with and understand those who are different than ourselves—that is when we can become a part of the solution, one person at a time. That is when we can realistically move past a history of prejudice and move towards a better future by unifying our nation, and our world, into one human race.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness;
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate;
only love can do that.
Hate multiplies hate,
violence multiplies violence,
and toughness multiplies toughness
in a descending spiral of destruction....
The chain reaction of evil –
hate begetting hate,
wars producing more wars –
must be broken,
or we shall be plunged
into the dark abyss of annihilation.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Strength To Love, 1963

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