How Fraternity Men Can Help Fight Domestic Violence
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and it is the perfect time for fraternity men to show a true commitment to maintaining healthy communities by supporting the health of families. As I read Felecia Commodore’s piece, “Black Sororities and Violence Against Women Awareness”, I realized that we cannot sit on the sidelines and pass up the opportunity to lead this important national conversation. If so many of us can be so steadfast in protecting our mothers, sisters, daughters, nieces, wives, etc. why can we not do the same for other women? Understanding that men are not exempt from domestic violence, we cannot brush off the notion that some of our very own frat brothers may also be victims of domestic violence.
The statistics according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) are staggering. For example:
Domestic victimization correlates with a higher rate of depression and suicidal behavior.
19% of domestic violence involves a weapon and 72% of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner with 94% of the victims of murder suicides being female.
Between 2003 and 2008, 142 women were murdered in their workplace by their abusers.
The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%.
An average of nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the U.S. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.
1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime.
1 in 7 women and 1 in 18 men have been stalked by an intimate partner during their lifetime to the point that they felt very fearful, or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed. In fact, 19.3 million women and 5.1 million men in the U.S. have been stalked in their lifetime with 60.8% of women and 43.5% men reported being stalked by a current or former intimate partner.
1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the United States has been raped in their lifetime.
1 in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year, and 90% of these children are eyewitnesses to this violence.
On top of that, the effects of domestic violence are diverse. According to NCADV, "victims of intimate partner violence lose a total of 8 million days of paid work each year" and "the cost of intimate partner violence exceeds $8.3 billion per year." There is also the job loss suffered by these victims as well as the obvious physical and mental impact including contracting sexually transmitted diseases, the aforementioned suicidal behavior, neurological disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, cardiovascular diseases, and even cancer.
There are five things that I believe fraternity men, especially members of the Divine Nine, can do to help promote awareness about domestic, dating, and sexual violence. Many thanks to my wife Halima--a Zeta Phi Beta woman--for her assistance on this piece. She is a charitable giving professional who works closely with the Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation (TMWF), an agency that provides services for domestic violence victims.
1. Create a barbershop-like atmosphere to openly discuss domestic violence.
It may now seem cliché but the barbershop is one of the safest spaces, particularly among my fellow black men, to openly discuss sensitive issues in a masculine way. The fraternal bond is especially a catalyst for this kind of healthy conversation. Creating this safe space at chapter meetings and informal gatherings gives us opportunities to challenge each other with questions like, “What would you do to someone abusing your mother, your daughter, your sister, or your niece?” It helps to hear ourselves and our brothers discuss our attitudes about protecting others.
2. Create a culture that truly values women.
While we should pay attention to all victims of domestic violence, we should not forget how much female victims can use our support. Women enjoy attending fraternity events where we cater to them but for real (for real, for real) we have to go beyond roses and chocolates to show women that we value them. Let's level up by correcting brothers who are rude to women, educate brothers who do not understand how their actions may negatively affect women, and take notes from brothers who show genuine care and respect for the women in their lives. Also, take time to publicly recognize women who achieve great things, especially if they had to cut through gender discrimination to achieve those great things.
3. Produce domestic violence awareness events.
Fraternity chapters across the country already do this. Bravo! Going forward, chapters should continue their efforts and always remember to include domestic violence professionals and agencies in these events. On college campuses, fraternity chapters should consider visiting their respective health centers for consultation about hosting relevant, meaningful events. Most importantly, produce events that provide safe spaces for people to express their thoughts and empower each other.
In 2013, the City of Dallas produced a huge men’s rally for domestic violence awareness. I was pleased to see all of our Divine Nine fraternities and other fraternities support the rally, but let’s take real action. Some domestic violence shelters need help with things such as facility repairs and beautification. We can also volunteer for organizations such as batterers intervention programs. Volunteering gives us the opportunity to learn from professionals about the dimensions of domestic violence.
5. Say something.
It’s great to partner with organizations for events but we know people in our circles who are victims of domestic, dating, and sexual violence especially on college campuses. We have an opportunity to use the influence of our brotherhoods to protect others. Instead of gossiping and/or “pleading the Fifth,” consult with professionals to get victims help. Ultimately, the best thing is for us to get educated. Examples of great resources include the Collin College Dignity Initiative, the Red Flag Campaign, and the Domestic Violence Hotline. Please share any resource you come across with your frat brothers. Most importantly, take notice of the countless stories on social media and the stories you hear personally and share them, as well.
One valuable lesson I learned from TMWF is that the fight against domestic violence is a fight for healthy families and communities, not fights against individuals. That being said, domestic violence is not an opportunity for us to play hero. Not only are there statistics to remind us of the dangers of getting personally involved in domestic violence disputes, but many of us probably know of situations where someone attempting to step in was seriously harmed or killed.
Here's the biggest lesson. Domestic violence isn't always obvious. Victims hide their pain. That means there is a good chance that someone you care about has a domestic violence story that you have never heard. While fraternity men can’t do everything, I know that victims would appreciate our willingness to do something.