Anarae Schunk’s body was found by a Rice County highway worker in a roadside ditch near Lonsdale last week. The 20-year-old college student disappeared after she went to meet her ex-boyfriend. Her death resonates with all in the community. How did a young woman – a sociology student at the University of Minnesota, a competitive chess player, and who spoke at her high school graduation – become involved with a man with such a long and violent criminal record?
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It is an opportunity for dialogue about domestic violence. Public awareness can shed light upon the prevalence of abuse in our own community, encourage people to take action to end abuse, and alert survivors to resources for help.
Above and beyond awareness, we need to discuss prevention. The number of domestic violence deaths is up dramatically in Minnesota in 2013. It has been reported that Minnesota is averaging about one domestic violence death per WEEK this year!
Prosecution of domestic violence is critical, but it is not the cure to end domestic violence – we need to work together as a community toward that goal.
There is an old story that comes to mind:
While walking along a riverbank, a man rescues a drowning victim. The rescuer then sees another person drowning, and then another. Before long, the river was a chaotic scene of victims and rescuers. Finally, a rescuer runs upstream, discovering that people were falling through a hole while attempting to cross the local bridge. He quickly fixed the hole, preventing further victims, much to everyone’s relief.
Far too often, prevention is an afterthought.
Let us use Domestic Violence Awareness Month as a “move upstream” – as an opportunity to take preventive actions toward ending domestic violence. We do not need to limit ourselves to only reacting to the sad consequences of the violence.
We have successfully used prevention efforts to shed light on drunk driving and drug abuse in our community. (i.e., Sober Cab, prescription drug collection efforts, etc.) The prevention efforts are proactive, addressed to all in the community, not a select few individuals. We need to be clear that prevention will benefit not only those at greatest risk of a problem, but all in the community. Returning to the “upstream” analogy, fixing the hole in the bridge obviously benefited those crossing the bridge, but it also kept the rescuers downstream from further danger.
Prevention efforts focused on changing individual behaviors alone, while ignoring the societal context surrounding them, will fail. An effective prevention strategy toward ending domestic violence must not target just individual behaviors, but also the environment in which domestic violence occurs. Awareness and prevention efforts should be directed to all in our community – businesses, schools, faith organizations, civic organizations, health institutions, media entities, etc., not just individuals already involved in the court system.
Changes in attitudes and community values are possible through prevention and awareness campaigns. Successful prevention programs will work to: foster empathy towards victims; change attitudes and behaviors of perpetrators; educate young men and women to stop the cycle of violence; raise funds to provide resources to victims; increase positive attitudes toward nonviolence; empower victims to reach out for assistance; teach our children to respect others; and empower all of us to speak up against violence in our community.
Prevention is our best hope for reducing unnecessary deaths and suffering caused by domestic violence. Let’s all be part of the solution. An easy start – prevent domestic violence through your own words and actions.