“INTERSECTIONS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, SEXUAL ASSAULT AND MENTAL HEALTH WELLNESS”
Over the recent months I have been asked, “Why is there an increase in Domestic Violence and Sexual assault cases.” My answer, “More victims are reporting. It has always existed, but their stories were never told.”
In 2019 the Alliance asked survivors questions about their journey, and nine (9) women were willing to share their story. Of the nine first-experiences, only one abuser was arrested. When asked “Why were the police not involved?” one victim stated she did not think it was warranted, another said, she was “too scared of the perpetrator and didn’t want to bring shame” to her family. She felt the situation was her fault. Another stated, “I didn’t know what to feel or do, it was complete confusion.” The victim shared the experience was embarrassing, as well as concern for what others would think of her. She stated, “It was like deep loneliness as this to be brought upon one (person) and I had a fear of everyone and everything—the incident took my mind into a blank space and emptiness.”
Victims of domestic violence and sexual assault have a higher risk of experiencing multitude of mental health conditions. Studies show Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is seven times higher in victims of domestic and sexual violence. Depression is 2.7 times greater, anxiety four times greater and drug-alcohol misuse six times greater. Victims are 3.5 times greater to have suicidal thoughts than those who have not experienced violence. During acts of violence (domestic or sexual), the abuser will commonly be remorseful and apologize for their actions, which is often referred to as the “honeymoon” period and supports the cycle of abuse. These cycles of physical and emotional pressure impact the mental and physical well-being.
This was evident in our findings with our local survivors as respondents were unable to cope with their experiences and did not know where to find the appropriate support to make decisions. A nineteen (19) year old sexual assault victim shared, “Three of the guys were my brother-in-law’s first cousins (brothers) and three were friends of theirs so my brain was not all there.” Additionally, she did not want her parents to find out. She only told her sister in fear of retaliation. The incident was “swept under the rug”. Another victim of domestic violence — beaten by her husband kept pictures of the bruises with the intention of reporting him but decided to divorce him instead. When the women were asked why they didn’t take their cases to court the overwhelming response pointed towards self-preservation: “I didn’t want to start a fuss or talk about it: it was easier to ignore,” or “I didn’t want to see this guy that did this to me and add on to that—it was for my own safety.”
I have been asked, “How do we stop the violence?”, and the answer is extremely complex. Mindsets must be changed for the community. I follow up with the question: “How do we help our victims get to healing?” There are simple things we can all do to make a difference for a victim. We can let them know, “I believe you, and support you.” There are a higher number of victims of violence that report, versus victims who falsely report. Teaching our first responders how to engage with victims of domestic and sexual assault, as the victims in our survey stated when the police were called, they felt they (victims) were too crazy, and did not make an arrest. In a training I attend with Honolulu Police Officers, they are taught to let the evidence be the determining factor, and not the comments about the victim sway — focus on the facts of the case. Our healthcare providers can be taught how to ask appropriate questions from their patients to disclose abuse — to ensure they get the needed services. It’s about making stronger systems to getting support faster. A greater awareness of the relationship between domestic abuse and sexual assault, and mental health will help people get the support they need quicker.
During the month of May, the Alliance will hold Webinar’s regarding Wellness, focusing on tips to achieve mental wellness. They are simple, not complexed and we encourage the community to participate. We will continue to host “Talanoa Tables” to learn from the community, while practicing social distancing. If you are interested and would like more information please contact our office at 699-0272 and ask for Judy Matautia, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information regarding the report, “Defining an Effective Response to Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault in American Samoa” visit our website: as alliance.co.