October 27, 2021

Equity conversation must include keeping women safe

Author: Liza Frenette
Source:  NYSUT Communications
domestic violence awareness

It needs to be said, often. It’s not okay for someone to hit you, abuse you or control your life. Doing something about that can be challenging.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. There is a good chance that at least one person you know has been affected by domestic violence.

“I have known a colleague and fellow union leader, as well as a person quite close to me, who are survivors of domestic abuse,” said NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango, who heads the statewide union’s Women’s Committee.

Domestic violence — a human rights violation — is a life and death problem that exists every day of the year – right next to the Christmas tree, outside on the summer lawn, in the bedroom, in daylight and dark, right next to the kitchen sink. According to many news reports, domestic violence has accelerated throughout the pandemic.

Victims will always remember the first time – the shock, the twist.

It’s rarely, almost never, the only time. But it’s predominately kept under wraps.

“We cannot underestimate the shame and the fear,” said Ani Shahinian of NYSUT’s Social Services department, where union members or their family members can reach out to get connected with resources in their region for help with many different types of problems.

Victims are concerned about their safety if they reveal what is happening, and they worry that an employer will find out, or friends and neighbors – who can be judgmental, not understanding why they haven’t simply left. Lack of money or opportunity for stable housing can pin some women down from leaving. The circular nature of the social services network can make it difficult to access services, and it can be very frustrating, Shahinian explained.

“Even with money, it’s not easy to leave, especially if there’s children,” said Shahinian. If a victim decides to leave a violent household, the best route is often to begin with a domestic violence shelter, she said, because they can advocate for women, and they know what steps to take next to get additional support.

The NYSUT Women’s Committee has heard from several union members who spoke about their personal experiences with domestic violence.

This year’s committee meeting is slated for Nov. 19-20.

DiBrango said domestic violence is an ongoing concern as part of an overall examination of equity. She will also be discussing the need to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which is expired and awaiting support and reauthorization in the Senate. The law protected essential resources for survivors, increased support for underserved communities, improved healthcare responses, and provided added rights to survivors.