“Domestic Violence Awareness Month” Competes For Awareness



A “Story by Story” participant warms up before the 42 story climb. Photo: Simone M. Scully.

Nine hundred people climbed to the top of the 42-story skyscraper at 1411 Broadway on a mid-October night, to the cheers and encouragement of Teresa Edwards, WNBA basketball player and Olympian gold medalist. The “Story by Story” stair climb, now in its third year, was organized by the non-profit legal organization inMotion as one of 54 “Domestic Violence Awareness Month” events in New York City this month. But despite the popularity of some of these events, they seem to be outshone by “Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” even though both initiatives were founded 25 years ago.

In New York City, the NYPD responded to 257,813 domestic violence incidents last year, an average of 700 a day, according to the NYC Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence.  By September 30th, 2012, the city’s Domestic Violence Hotline had answered 85,020 calls. Preliminary data provided by the NYPD also indicates that there have been 48 family-related homicides so far this year, which included violence between intimate partners as well as toward children in abusive homes. Sixty-seven percent of the cases involved no previous police contact before the homicide occurred.

“I think domestic violence victims need a lot of support,” said Margaret Dolson, one of the participants in Thursday’s “Story by Story” climb, who had heard about the event through a group email sent around the legal department at JPMorgan Chase, where she works. “Part of what makes domestic violence such a difficult issue is that it’s hard [for women] to get out. We should do everything we can to support them.”

“Story by Story” has raised $560,000 so far, and fundraising will continue until November 16th. The funds raised by the participants, as well as virtually through the “Story by Story” website, go primarily to support the lawyers and staff of inMotion, which helps low-income women get free representation in family, matrimonial and immigration law, by supporting and training attorneys at over 80 law firms in Manhattan.

Approximately eighty percent of inMotion’s clients are victims of domestic violence, which is part of the reason“Story by Story” moved from November, which is when it was held in its first year, to October, according to Carol Lindley, inMotion senior director of development and communications. Rescheduling to the official awareness month got the event listed in the NYC Mayor’s Office of Domestic Violence Events Calendar.

The move was a mixed blessing. Some invited political guests were unable to attend “Story by Story”, explained Lindley, because they were already attending other events. “It is difficult. New York City has a lot of competing events all the time. You’re never going to get the perfect date,” she said.

Samuel Aymer, assistant professor at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College, said, “When Domestic Violence Awareness Month first started, you didn’t have all these competing ‘[awareness] months’ and I think that’s kind of a challenge. The public [gets] so saturated by so many causes, but at the same time… I don’t know what month would be best, because every month, there are causes.”

October is also Adopt-a-Shelter Dog Month, Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, Down Syndrome Awareness Month and SIDS Awareness Month, among others.

“I would like to see the events associated with Domestic Violence Awareness Month more widely publicized as are the events and public announcements for breast cancer awareness,” said Yolanda Ortiz-Rodriguez, adjunct lecturer at the John Jay College Department of Sociology, who is currently researching intimate partner violence. “I would especially like to see the purple ribbon be easily recognized and associated with domestic violence by everyone [and see] the organizations, local agencies and businesses that support breast cancer awareness show the same type of ‘wide spread’ support for domestic violence.”

Debby Tucker, executive director of the National Center of Domestic and Sexual Violence, confirmed that “Domestic Violence Awareness Month being the same [month] as Breast Cancer Awareness is something that we’ve really struggled with in the movement,” leading them a few years ago to briefly consider changing the time of year.

They decided not to change the timing, but instead to try to change their campaign awareness strategies.

“I think that part of what we have to do is acknowledge how much [the breast cancer awareness campaign] has accomplished,” said Tucker. “It’s an opportunity for us to [realize that] we can’t just rely on having a candlelight vigil and hoping that we don’t burn ourselves with our little candles. We have to use much more sophisticated approaches… to get involvement more widespread.”

“Story by Story” seemed to prove her point, appealing a broader audience than only activists.

“I came because I love working out,” said law student, David Maunion, who added that he often looks for these types of active events. “I came in specifically from Ithaca for this.”

Tucker added that the “Domestic Violence Awareness” initiative has struggled with overcoming some people’s bias towards the issue, something that other causes have not.  “It is a hard issue because I think with breast cancer, there’s not that confusion or underlying question about the individual and what did she do to cause herself to get breast cancer.   [Our Campaign] still struggles with overcoming that “what did she do?” question that underlies domestic violence…”

“[It] means that we have to be more sophisticated in educating [people] in such a way that they get it…Because if you don’t understand it, you kind of dismiss it,” she said.

Despite the widespread reach of other causes, Sara Bensman, inMotion events director, said, “We are absolutely happy with how it went. The crowd exceeded our expectations. Every year it just gets better.”