October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. And, unfortunately, the number of reported cases are actually on the rise. As of September 30, 2011, Memphis has a reported 18 domestic violence homicides, 636 domestic violence arrests and 30 forcible rapes. While these numbers are quite disturbing, I’d like to focus more on one word in particular, ‘reported’. As a community, domestic violence and sexual assault are viewed more as ‘private matters’. How many times has it been said that ‘what goes on in this house, stays in this house’? A few common myths are: it’s none of my business, she must like it or she would’ve left by now, a man couldn’t ever be abused by a woman because he’s bigger and stronger or, what God has put together, let no man put asunder. With repeated attitudes and responses such as these, the likelihood of positive change is going to be pretty nonexistent.

The more we view this epidemic as a private issue, the more public it seems to become. It’s made public in the thousands of dollars spent monthly in court costs, medical expenses, public assistance & time off work. It’s made public in a child’s behavioral problems or lack of school attendance. Why do we work so hard to keep domestic violence a secret? It is time for us, as a community, to work twice as hard, and work together, to speak up and speak out, and acknowledge that what we DON’T say could actually make the difference between life and death, literally and figuratively.

Transition can be difficult, and the journey to self sufficiency is not an easy one to travel. Making the decision to leave an abusive situation is often times emotionally challenging. It is only the beginning. The mental, physical, spiritual, financial and educational barriers can prove to be overwhelming without the proper support and guidance. Helplessness, fear, shame, anxiety and uncertainty are common feelings. Compounded with potentially limited education & understanding and a lack of substantial resources, the transition can be overwhelming. And, when you’re a male victim, there’s the added stigma of being weak.

Speaking from experience regarding some of the myths, I offer this food for thought. What we put in eventually comes out. Having said that, if you continue to keep negative people in your home, dwell in negative places and hold on to negative things you cannot expect to have positive outcomes. Doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. Further, for those who believe in a higher spiritual power, one should truly consider whether or not “God” actually “put together” that particular relationship. Additionally, men make up approximately 17% of reported cases where acts of violence were committed against them. Men are told from an early age not to cry, not to shout, not to show emotion, never show fear or any form of weakness. “Man Up” we tell our young boys. However, how often are they actually instructed on what they SHOULD do? We have to provide alternatives on how to channel feelings. Additionally, we have to offer alternatives when it comes to leaving violent situations.

If we truly want to see positive change take place in our community, we must be the change we want to see. Domestic violence is running rampant within our community, destroying families and ruining the lives of both young and old. We see it, we talk about it, shake our heads, feel bad and then we turn the channel, walk away, get back on the phone or go back to work. Then of course, there are the ones who gossip. You know the ones. They look and whisper, make assumptions and accusations, but that’s as far as it goes.

It starts with one person; one person willing to go the extra mile, despite the opposition, the persecution, the ridicule and the disbelief. You have to go places that others dare not travel. Be willing to get involved, make it your business, be a listening ear, educate yourself on domestic violence and sexual assault, consult with professionals about how to get help or assist someone else and remember that counseling doesn’t make you crazy. Not getting any may prove to present a different outcome.

I’m a survivor. I took a series of bad personal and professional relationships and turned them into something positive and beneficial for myself and others. I started “Walking Into A New Life” to allow others to see and hear someone they can relate to on a grassroots level, knowing that I am no longer ashamed nor afraid. It is my goal to be viewed as a positive example of what it means to not only survive, but also, to thrive. I want to establish hope and belief in the system, in others but most of all, belief in yourself. Let us be found exposing domestic violence for the hideous problem that it is, for when a problem is exposed, we are then made aware and accountable for what we elect to do (or not) to solve it.