As Hawaii’s economy continues to see challenges amid the global economic crisis, one negative side effect that often falls below the radar of policymakers is an increase in domestic abuse. According to studies by the U.S. Department of Justice, abuse is more than three times as likely to occur when families are experiencing high levels of financial strain. Last year, 73 percent of shelters across the nation reported that the top reason for abuse was financial strain. Worse yet, not only do financial difficulties make abuse more likely, they also give batterers leverage in using money and emotional manipulation to control their partners. It is essential that we recognize the increased threat of domestic abuse in this economic climate and take steps to prevent it.
What is domestic abuse? Put simply, domestic abuse is a pattern of coercive, controlling behaviors that affects millions of Americans. Most people think of domestic abuse as just being beaten by a partner’s fists or a sexual violation, but it also includes the use of financial manipulation, psychological/emotional torment and even social aggression (sabotaging a partner’s other relationships and connections to create pressure). Domestic abuse takes forms which existing laws are incapable of addressing, because one doesn’t have to have bruises or broken bones to be an abuse victim.
The first step to combating domestic abuse is to end the culture of silence and "saving face," which is very common in the islands. If you are being abused or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, it is important that you don’t hesitate to say something either to family members who can help, church leaders, an abuse counselor and, when necessary, law enforcement. It is often very difficult for victims to speak up because many times they suffer from low self-esteem, false condemnation and fear of more retaliation. "Ohana values" mean looking out and speaking up for friends and family, even when they can’t.
The second step is to remember that with government unable to be everywhere for everyone, people need to take an active role in helping abuse victims. Many shelters and non-profits need financial contributions and volunteers. Other organizations need things like toiletries, clothes and even cell phones to offer to abuse victims. The key thing to remember is to get involved.
Last and most important, the final step to fighting abuse is to remember to walk in love and to always put the needs of others above your own. Many people who are batterers are themselves former victims of abuse and suffer from feelings of unworthiness and insecurity. Hurt people have the tendency to hurt others. We can stop the cycle of abuse by making a conscious effort to love, forgive and be merciful to both ourselves and the other people in our lives.
Love trumps everything and is unstoppable when unleashed. Ralph Waldo Emerson tells us, "A deep man … believes that the evil eye can wither, that the heart’s blessing can heal, that love can exalt talent and overcome all odds."
Danny de Gracia II is an ordained minister who has counseled numerous victims. Cassie Ann Sumimoto is the former 2009 Miss Teen United States World whose platform was to bring awareness to the domestic abuse crisis in Hawaii.