Not blaming the victim: Hilltown survey seeks to demystify domestic violence, reach out to the abused

Last modified: Friday, December 27, 2013
HUNTINGTON — A recent survey conducted by the Southern Hilltown Domestic Violence Task Force indicates that people are getting better at identifying domestic abuse and increasingly more prepared about how to respond to abusive situations.

“One thing that we are always concerned about is that people might not be identifying situations as domestic abuse if they are not specifically being hit,” Southern Hilltown Domestic Violence Task Force coordinator Monica Moran said.

The survey, conducted during the summer, was the first of its kind to be implemented by the task force. The effort surpassed its goal of 300 respondents when 326 surveys were completed by people from the rural communities of Huntington, Worthington, Blandford, Chester, Granville, Middlefield, Montgomery, Russell and Tolland.

The Task Force plans to use the survey findings to launch an outreach and public education campaign beginning in January.

Moran said research has shown that perpetrators of abuse both over-estimate the number of people who share their attitudes, and they rely on those false beliefs to justify their behavior.

She said the task force aims to ensure that abusers are aware the community does not support or accept abusive behavior whether it is physical or emotional.

In addition, when people who are abused realize that few people actually blame them, advocates hope they will find it easier to reach out for help and be less likely to remain silent for fear of being blamed.

“When these misperceptions are corrected, attitudes and behaviors change, and that is how we can achieve a cultural shift on domestic violence,” Moran said.

Mary A. Kociela, Director of Domestic Violence Projects for the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office, had high praise for task force efforts she said in a statement “are critical to increasing safety for domestic violence survivors and their children.”

According to survey results, 96 percent of respondents agreed that it is possible to abuse someone without using physical violence.

Among the non-physical abusive behaviors identified in the survey: efforts to control where someone goes and what they do, extreme jealousy or possessiveness, isolating someone from their family or friends, threatening loved ones or pets, threatening to take the children away, making jobs impossible to keep, and controlling all finances.

Interestingly, only 66 percent of those surveyed believed that other Hilltown residents would agree that abuse can occur without physical violence.

Another factor the task force addressed was the phenomenon of the blaming the victim. Survey results said that 85 percent of those responding believe abuse is never the fault of the person being abused.

“Many perpetrators of domestic violence try to convince the victims that the abuse is their own fault,” said Moran. Based on the survey, she said, “people aren’t really buying that anymore, which is good news.”

Once again however, there was something of a contradiction in the findings in that only 54 percent of respondents thought others in the community would agree that abuse is not the fault of the victim.

The survey polled respondents about the behavior of those who witness abuse and found that 69 percent of respondents reported that they would do or say something if someone they knew was being abused. About 51 percent said they would do or say something if someone they knew was abusive.

These agencies include Safe Passage (586-5066), Hilltown Safety at Home (559-8039), the Center for Women and Community (658-4756), the YWCA New Beginnings (667-8784), and for people who are abusive, Moving Forward (888-636-9050).