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October ends, but domestic violence continues

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As I wrote in this space a few weeks ago, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Now, the beauty of an "Awareness Month" is that important issues, like domestic violence, are highlighted and discussed in ways that do not necessarily happen during other times of the year. It is an opportunity to go all out to bring pressing issues to the forefront.

The danger of an Awareness Month, however, is that important issues, like domestic violence, get relegated to one month out of the year -- when it is something that we should be working to end 365 days each year. Unfortunately, unless a major pop star gets beaten up by another pop star or celebrity (a la Chris Brown and Rihanna, Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson Lee), then conversations and activism appear to reside in the margins of society as opposed to front and center, which is what it will take to end domestic violence.

Having said that, each time that Domestic Violence Awareness Month comes around, I endeavor to learn something about the issue that I did not previously know. Those of you who follow this column know that I am committed to exploring and exposing gender issues. Over the last year, I have written tirelessly about victims of domestic violence, mostly women. Although I never feel that I am writing in vain, I do wonder why it is so hard to get people to do the right thing.

Although most of the programming and resources about domestic violence are geared toward women, because we are the main victims and survivors of this community disease, men are also victims of domestic violence. How many little boys witness domestic violence incidents against their mothers? How many men have been on the receiving end of an intimate partner's physical or mental abuse? According to Battered Men, an organization that helps male victims/survivors of domestic violence, intimate partners batter 835,000 men each year.

This is clearly an issue that affects us all, so why do we only confront it as a nation once a year? According to the domestic violence prevention group SOAR, intimate partners in the United States physically assault 1.5 million women annually. Since many women experience multiple victimizations every year, an estimated 5.9 million physical assaults are perpetrated against U.S. women annually. More than 1,500 women are killed by intimate-partner violence each year. That means that each day, more than three women are killed by an intimate partner.

Domestic violence has become so normalized that we rarely flinch when we hear about such stories on the news. These stories are reported every day of the year, multiple times, yet and still, the number of incidents increase each year.

One-third of all 911 calls are related to domestic violence incidents. According to EHS Today, domestic violence costs businesses $7 billion per year in lost wages, sick leave, absenteeism, non-productivity and direct medical care costs.

While people are hemming and hawing over this health care debate, imagine how much money would be saved if we ended domestic violence. In terms of the workplace, partner violence is a major security issue for victims and co-workers. How many more news stories do we have to read about someone murdering an intimate partner and his or her co-workers in the process at work?

Often we discuss domestic violence as a physical and emotional issue, which it really is, but it also impacts us in ways that we don't normally consider. For example, some insurance companies consider domestic violence injuries a pre-existing condition. If you have been a victim, you can be denied insurance because of how your injuries were sustained.

The majority of states have barred insurance companies from using abuse as grounds for denying coverage, but eight states and the District of Columbia have not. Even when states do have a law against re-victimizing domestic violence victims and survivors, it does not prevent carriers from initially rejecting applicants who are victims of violence. Typically, applicants must petition an insurance company to provide coverage, but how many people know to do that? This is an issue that I learned about only recently, and I've been working to help end domestic violence for years.

That's the beauty, so to speak, of Domestic Violence Awareness Month -- it makes me want to learn more about the issue and figure out what I can personally do to help end this epidemic that is destroying our families, our community, our workplaces and our lives.

Just because the month of October is ending does not mean that the need to do all that we can to address and eradicate this problem should end. In fact, it should be a new beginning to solving and ending this problem for the sake of our families and our country.

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. is managing editor of TheLoop21.com. She is an assistant professor of Communication and Media Studies at Goucher College and writes the blog Tune N (http://nsengaburton.wordpress.com), which examines popular culture through the lens of race, class, gender and sexuality.

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