Monday, July 11, 2016


Collaborating to create safer homes and communities

Most people shudder at the words “domestic violence.” Domestic abuse, also known as spousal abuse, occurs when one person in an intimate relationship or marriage tries to dominate and control the other person. Domestic abuse that includes physical violence is called domestic violence.

It’s hard for most of us to understand how and why it occurs, unless we have experienced this heartache firsthand, or have witnessed someone living through domestic violence. I recently discovered that a co-worker of mine was the victim of domestic violence. I was shocked as she is an intelligent, beautiful, generous lady and I just couldn’t fathom how this could happen. In an effort to gain some understanding about this complicated issue, I contacted Melva O’Neill, the Community Engagement Coordinator of Safe Futures, formerly The Women’s Center of Southeastern CT.

Melva explained, “We often think of domestic violence as being physical. Indeed, serious injuries are inflicted on victims every single day, by coercion, by force, by fist or by gun. What is not so often recognized is the emotional impact it has on an individual and on others within their circle. Those victims are both male and female, and they vary greatly in age.

“Living in a controlled, demeaning environment can break down our self-confidence, create negative coping mechanisms, and cause life-long psychological damage. Many survivors of intimate partner violence have post-traumatic stress disorder, trouble concentrating, high levels of anxiety, and panic attacks. They may be hypervigilant, and may have trust issues, which makes it difficult to form relationships of any kind or to feel safe in any environment.

“These health issues are not limited to the primary victim alone. Other family members often develop similar symptoms, including the children. If a child is worried about what happened at home last night, or what could happen tonight, that child will not be able to concentrate in school. Grades will suffer, friendships will suffer. Emotional challenges perpetuated by the situation at home may bring about physical illnesses as well. Additionally, children who grow up in homes or environments where there is violence within the relationship are more likely to develop those negative behaviors. They may also have more difficulty standing up for themselves, which could lead to involvement in risky situations.

“It is important that we remember not to blame the victim. A person does not go into a relationship looking to be harmed, physically or emotionally, and it is often difficult to leave a relationship for many, many reasons.”

Melva told me about a wonderful collaboration between Safe Futures and Writer’s Block Ink (WBI). Writer’s Block Ink was started in 2003 as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization to encourage youth to use writing and performance as tools to address personal and social challenges on the community stage. Students create original productions which explore critical themes and issues. WBI and Safe Futures have now partnered in a project called “Raising voices against domestic violence!” This project aims to engage the Southeastern Connecticut community in the collecting and expressing of first-person stories through interactive community forums, and creative storytelling studio sessions chronicling stories of survival and hope.

The next community engagement forum will be held at the ISAAC School in New London on Saturday, July 16, from 10 a.m. to noon, immediately followed by an Open Arts Studio. This event is for women and men, teens and adults, survivors and witnesses, first responders and community members — all are welcome. Forums will include testimonial from inspiring survivors, educational information and discussion, and theater-based group activities exploring what you can do to prevent violence. For more information, visit

We should all applaud this effort by the youth of our community to collaborate with Safe Futures, working together to understand and prevent the philosophies and behaviors that support this type of degradation in our society. Efforts and events like this will hopefully help us realize what we can do to help stop domestic violence, find help for all affected by it, and ultimately change our culture for the better.

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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