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Many options available to help victims of abuse

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This is the final article in a series about domestic violence.

Q: How can communities help domestic violence victims and their families?

A: The Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 2009 published a list of recommendations to help victims of domestic violence. First, the coalition recommends treating domestic violence as a human-rights issue. Men need to become empowered bystanders who can confront abusive abusers. Employers need to support safe workplace environments and policies that offer information services and legal advice.

The coalition recommends involving religious leaders and developing ways faith communities can promote healthy relationships, support victims and children, and promote messages that domestic violence does not have community acceptance. This group also recommends not looking the other way if observing abusive behavior in friends, relatives, classmates, coworkers or teammates. This tip is different from the one about approaching victims because it means approaching abusers about their behavior. Another strategy is to encourage boys to be nurturing and girls to be strong, so both genders are capable of both qualities.

Collaboration among groups in communities working on domestic violence prevention is necessary. Connections exist among youth violence, child abuse, bullying and domestic violence areas. Information and resources should be shared. The coalition also recommends volunteers in communities need to support events and money raising efforts for community domestic violence programs and sexual assault education.

In general, community members can demonstrate respect and promote acceptance in communities. Combating discrimination, violence or abusive behaviors toward anyone creates environments not conducive to domestic violence.

Parents should model respectful and nonabusive behaviors at home. Families need to actively teach children to reject violence, in the context of resisting peer pressures and cultural messages in pop culture that openly support violence toward others.

Together with addressing domestic violence education initiatives, communities need to develop programs on teen dating violence. A worthy goal is to encourage schools to include healthy relationships in their curricula materials. Domestic violence victims should be offered training on technology and how to protect themselves from online harassment and bullying.

Additional strategies come from the Office on Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Most of the suggestions duplicate those already reiterated. But there are several suggestions beyond those already mentioned that are significant. Calling the police is appropriate if observing domestic violence or child abuse.

Volunteering at shelters for hotlines is helpful to provide services for victims. Speaking up against condoning violence in schools, workplaces or any community events are good ways to change cultures that condone violence. Activism means taking leadership roles in mobilizing and participating in anti-violence demonstrations or events. An example of such an event is the Take Back the Night March.

Community volunteers have numerous opportunities to work directly with youth. Such roles include 4-H, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), scouts and coaching in all sports. Modeling nonviolence in relationships, together with teaching youth nonviolent conflict resolution skills, and working directly with youth offer opportunities to teach teens how to become involved and active bystanders when observing bullying or physical violence among peers.

Strategies to engage communities were published by the Family Violence Prevention Fund. Communities are crucial for preventing domestic violence. Studies show abused women turn to friends, families and neighbors before they seek help from agencies and shelters. Women seek out police, courts and child protection services last.

Families with abuse frequently are disconnected from service providers and isolated from resources outside their neighborhood. Many times, community members will know what families need help and which services they need. Members of the community also are familiar with cultural traditions and practices that support violence and those that do not. Communities have the leaders and residents who have the motivation and abilities to establish family violence programs and intervention strategies.

Community members need to see family violence as a priority to address. Residents and community leaders need to avoid terms and labels such as abusers. Since some perpetrators are women, communities need to be sure not to stigmatize men. Men might be the most effective persons to convey nonviolent messages to boys.

Mobilizing communities has to be done in the context of the cultures of the communities, meaning compatible with community values and traditions. Another goal for communities is to seek new ways to hold perpetrators accountable who do not depend so much on the criminal justice system or the child welfare system. Very significant would be integrating education about family violence into community events. Examples would be health fairs, back-to-school picnics, block parties, carnivals and special holiday celebrations.

Offering information and education to individuals via workshops and classes to empower people so they can help victims, domestic violence advocates need to include trusted leaders and community experts respected by local communities. Communities are more apt to listen to people they trust.

Judy Caprez is associate professor

of social work at Fort Hays State University. Send your questions

in care of the department

of sociology and social work.

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