To end domestic violence, communities cannot tolerate the root dynamics

Suicide Prevention: , Recognizing the Signs.According to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.... in 2020, suicide was the cause of death for close to 46,000 people in the U.S. .Medical professionals say that recognizing the signs of a person who may be considering suicide is complex.You can look back in time, when someone’s made an attempt or has died, and go, ‘Oh, look at all these things that were going on in their life.’ , Justin Baker, Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, via CNN.The difficulty is that a lot of people handle or experience those types of stressors as well but never go on to [attempt suicide], Justin Baker, Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, via CNN.However, professionals say that those who are considering suicide often exhibit behavioral changes.A lot of times people need to kind of work up to that actual making an attempt because it’s a biologic thing you have to go against, your own survival, Justin Baker, Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, via CNN.Some signs that a person is considering suicide may include unusual behaviors concerning pills or guns.Letting go of belongings, unusual sleep patterns, isolation and expressions of anger are also potential signs.Health professionals say that if a person mentions a desire to die in conversation, it should always be taken seriously. .If someone is struggling to come up with a reason for living, that’s a much higher-risk person than someone who’s even able to identify one [reason], Justin Baker, Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, via CNN.In addition, professionals recommend talking to loved ones who exhibit signs they might be considering suicide and offering to help them connect with professionals.We are no better able to predict who will die by suicide than who will be in a car accident, Justin Baker, Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, via CNN.This does not help to alleviate the grief or pain for those who have lost loved ones to suicide, but hopefully it helps remove some of the guilt and responsibility, Justin Baker, Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, via CNN

The day Gora ran from her home, she was petrified her abuser would find out what she was doing, but she was single-minded about survival.

She’d planned her escape for a week, and she was protecting not only herself but her beloved pet from someone whose abuse had moved from verbal one-upmanship to choking, hitting and hair-pulling over the course of an 18-year relationship.

“I thought it was going to get better, and it didn’t,” Gora told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as she looked back on the development of that violence over the course of the relationship.

Gora, who’s name has been changed to protect her privacy, didn’t have much close family, but after stints in three shelters in separate cities, she landed with a family member who kept her pet for her. She traveled on from there, putting miles between herself and her abuser. She eventually sold the vehicle she’d been driving and slipped into Atlanta by bus.

At yet another shelter, an advocate let her know about transitional housing in another part of the state, and Gora stayed for a year while she took classes that helped her transition to independence.

“I did all the resources offered to me, which was a good thing,” she told the AJC. “I started seeing a counselor, and that started making me feel better because I didn’t know who I was. I had to get back to being me. He stole a lot from my brain as far as confidence and the real me.”

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Gora’s narrative highlights an opportunity to reflect on a dynamic one local expert says communities can influence by refusing to accept.

Support at the ready

Community support is critical for those experiencing intimate parter violence (IPV), according to Ayonna Johnson, director of legal services for the Decatur-based Women’s Resource Center to End Domestic Violence. The public, she said, can take steps to make the dynamic nonpermissible.

“It requires a collective response,” she said.

Some of those steps can include trusting a survivor’s instincts and simply listening to their experiences. Some good questions to ask are simple ones, Johnson added: “How can we support you? What do you need in this moment?”

And when they’re ready, the center is standing by with support services, including a safe house, a 24-hour hotline, advocacy, legal advocacy and support groups.

“(It’s) meeting someone where they are,” Johnson said. “It’s just an opportunity to breathe.”

Connecting with the center often marks the first time a survivor has told their story, she noted. Threats from perpetrators often keep them quiet.

“It’s because it’s effective,” Johnson said. “They’ve isolated them from friends and family.”

A vulnerable population

Seniors who rely on a partner for care and management of resources may be especially vulnerable to IPV, according to Johnson. Health, cognitive and mobility issues can complicate victims’ chances for independence, especially if a victim wants to remain in their residence, she said.

Abuse can change in its presentation over time, sometimes shifting from physical attacks to emotional and psychological ones, Johnson explained. Some older people stay in situations they know are unhealthy because they don’t want to inconvenience their families with the complications of leaving, she added.

“And so, they try to navigate the dynamic by themselves,” she said.

A fixed income or love for their abusers may keep others in place. Recognizing a dynamic in which a perpetrator is loving sometimes and violent at other times can take time and space, Johnson said. Sometimes, that space means time in the center’s safe house so a survivor can determine a next move, she said; it can also include assistance with relocation and legal relief or advocacy or support from the courts.

Beyond survival

For survivors who have moved beyond the initial stages of healing, there’s assistance available for reaching education and career goals.

The Women’s Independence Scholarship Program, Inc., a nonprofit based in Wilmington, North Carolina, has helped thousands of IPV survivors graduate from postsecondary and graduate education programs in its 24-year existence, according to Executive Director Tammy Simmons. WISP works with domestic violence prevention organizations across the country to assist individuals who identify as female.

“We run the gamut,” Simmons said in regard to the types of students the organization helps. “Some come in wanting to do certificates or trade programs. We do associates, bachelors, masters, so most that are doing masters, they’ve come in doing and associates or bachelor’s degree and then they’re continuing on.”

WISP assistance often goes beyond tuition, books and fees and can include housing, transportation and childcare.

“That’s what makes us stand out a little differently than most scholarship programs,” Simmons said. “If they don’t have internet, they’re not going to school, so we can help with that.”

At the end of 2022, the organization had given away $46.5 million, and it’s currently helped 2,720 graduates. Applicants need to have been separated from their abusers a minimum of a year before seeking help but not more than 10, Simmons said.

‘I am back to being me’

Today, many years after the violence in her home reached a point where Gora felt things could turn deadly for her, she’s been able to finish a college degree she began much earlier in life. And she has friends in her community and beyond who encourage her to share her story.

A few years ago, with assistance from WISP for tuition and supplies, she entered a cherished area of study at a college near her. Coursework filled her time, but Gora didn’t have a computer at first.

“I would have had to stay in the library and sleep in there in order to get all that stuff done,” she said.

WISP sent her a brand-new laptop, and she completed the necessary research, reports and papers.

Gora had begun courses as a much younger person, but her abuser, she said, wouldn’t let her finish her education. Fortunately, her credits transferred to the new institution. Now, she maintains connections with the academic community, and she’s actively working on projects related to her degree.

She acknowledges her own hard work and applauds the resources that helped her get to this point. And she looks for chances to help others experiencing IPV.

“There are women that will still get their arm broken and go back and get another arm broken. Some go back seven and eight times, and others don’t keep their lives,” she said. “So, I want to help save lives and show them that there is a way out. You have to have confidence in yourself, but first of all, you have to believe in God.”

Gora still sees a counselor who helps her process her experience. The flashbacks haven’t ended, but her coping skills and sense of self have returned.

“I’m still having nightmares sometimes, but I can wake up and say, ‘Oh, that’s just a dream,’ pray about it and go back to sleep,” she said. “I’m still having issues, but I am back to being me. I know who I am now, after all this time.”