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In The Past Year

Being the only man on staff at an organization named A Woman’s Place (AWP) can be a fascinating experience at times.  October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and I’ll get right back to that, but it is also my first anniversary at AWP. So I want to reflect on that briefly.

Hmm. I’d best pause and clarify. I’m the only man working at the main office — HQ, if you will — day in and day out. There is one other gent employed full time by AWP, and he works at the In Full Swing thrift shop, which is a different location and focus. (Although, I imagine he too has occasion to ponder what it is like being a minority of one.)

As the only male at an otherwise all-female office, my work day is not without its humorous moments. Such as when I answer the main phone and a confused caller has to double-check, “This is a WOMAN’S place, right? Or when, bless her heart, another staff member half my size needs help reaching something high or lifting a heavy object… then apologizes awkwardly for requesting my assistance as if it was politically incorrect.

Working for a domestic violence organization has been eye-opening to say the least… illusion-shattering would actually be a more accurate description. I came on board a year ago with plenty of cultural baggage and misconceptions about domestic violence: I thought of it as physical violence only, was certain that there are always two sides to every story, and honestly believed that a relationship can’t really be all that bad if she hasn’t left him yet.

Boy, was I naïve.

In the past year, I learned that many of AWP’s clients feel that the mental and emotional abuse is as bad if not worse than the physical. Abusers will go to extreme lengths to tear down the self-esteem and obliterate their victim’s confidence. I heard one story of a husband who would slightly rearrange objects in the house. Nothing overt, just enough that over time she started to fear that she was losing her sanity. Another demanded his wife have three different meal options for him to choose from when he came home each evening. Yet another stranded his spouse in their native country after she traveled back there (at his insistence) for a family wedding, threatening that she would never see her children in America again.

In the past year, I learned that that there are two sides to every healthy story. When it comes to unhealthy stories, it is quite possible that this is not the case at all. People who commit domestic violence can be so narcissistic, so oblivious to anyone else’s needs but their own, and so utterly committed to controlling another people that nothing their victims can say or do that will make the least bit of difference. Abusers can have many “positive” qualities such as charm and high intelligence… but they commonly lack the empathy and sense of fairness required for a healthy “two sides to every story” relationship.

In the past year, I learned that most people trying to leave a domestic violence situation will make 6-7 attempts before they finally succeed. One AWP client spoke of her despair at being unable to find any relatives who believed that she was being beaten. Another spoke of having family that took her in temporarily but asked her to leave a week later because she “hadn’t found a job yet.” Seriously! Even when people know about AWP and call the hotline for assistance, sometimes our shelter (which is not large to begin with) is already full and they are forced to wait.

When I started at AWP in October 2014, the video of Ray Rice knocking out then fiancee Janay Palmer had gone viral and a long overdue national dialog about domestic violence was well underway. This year, I believe that Domestic Violence Awareness Month challenges us to up the ante. To move beyond talk and not just raise awareness but take action as well.

In the past year, I’ve learned that while national progress can be painfully slow there are always opportunities for local people to get involved and help break the cycle of domestic violence right here in Bucks County. AWP has real impact and improves real lives every day… but we can’t do it without you!  Saturday, October 17 is the annual Race to Empower and we’d love to have you join us for either the 5K trail run or the 1-Mile fun walk.  Or visit our calendar of events and see what else is happening.

That way, when October 2016 rolls around, you’ll be able to say:

In the past year, I got active… and I made a difference!

Michael Hicks
AWP Communications Manager

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