Posted by Aaron Agulnek
On March 6, I proudly took the Massachusetts White Ribbon Day pledge with my own little twist, that “From this day forward, I promise to be part of the solution in ending violence against women (and all victims of domestic and dating abuse).” I am grateful to work as the Director of Government Affairs at the Jewish Community Relations Council in Greater Boston (JCRC) and will use this platform and visibility to lift up my voice.
Many people instinctively feel that domestic violence is only a women’s issue: Women are the victims and women are the advocates. But it is more nuanced than that. This is everybody’s issue. We all have a stake in the safety and security of our community and we all have an obligation to be advocates.
There is also a sense of otherness that is associated with domestic violence. Only “those people” are impacted by domestic violence, not people like me, not people in my community, not my friends. This fiction surrounding the typical domestic violence victim, perpetrator, and scenario is a myth that needs to be busted.
Domestic violence does not discriminate. It is undeniable that women are overwhelmingly more likely to be the victim. In 2007, the rate for rape/sexual assault for persons age 12 or older was 1.8 per 1,000 for females and 0.1 per 1,000 for males. Victims come from all races, ethnicities, religions, gender identities, sexualities, socio-economic backgrounds, educational attainment levels, ages, and any other categorical metric. Nobody is immune.
Domestic and dating violence is not only about acts of physical violence. It can take the form of emotional, verbal, sexual, financial, or spiritual abuse and stems from the threat, exertion, or existence of a controlling relationship. The perpetrator will use his/her position of power to prey on any vulnerability, often resulting in an untenable situation for the victim. These vulnerabilities and the resultant fear are a clear rebuttal to the popular refrain, “Why didn’t she just leave?”
At the JCRC, we stand with our partners and advocate for increased funding for the RISE line-item. RISE funding supports advocates who work specifically with immigrant and refugee survivors of domestic and sexual violence in locations around Massachusetts. These RISE advocates, including JF&CS, provide linguistically and culturally appropriate services to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking. The immigrant and refugee community face particularly heightened barriers, including exploitation of immigration status, lower levels of educational attainment, higher rates of poverty, and a lack of housing options were they to leave their abuser. This perfect storm of vulnerability can feel suffocating and impossible to overcome. For this community, like every community, it takes an incredibly strong support system for somebody to risk his/her safety, livelihood, and stability to speak out and seek help. It takes a village.
That is why I will speak up on White Ribbon Day. I will speak up so that my friends, neighbors, and colleagues know that my door is open and that I am an ally in their own personal journey. I will speak up so that my son knows that violence, threats, and intimidation in any form are unacceptable. If we all speak up, our collective voices can help create an atmosphere where shame and fear is banished and support and dignity conquer. All it takes is one person, for as it says in the Talmud, “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” Join with me, speak up, and save the world.
Aaron Agulnek is the Director of Government Affairs at the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and the Director of the Massachusetts Association of Jewish Federations (MAJF) where he advocates to the federal and state government on behalf of the Jewish community. Prior to joining JCRC, Aaron served as Legal Counsel to Senator Marian Walsh, where he worked on major issues such as marriage equality and child abuse prevention legislation. Aaron helped organize and lead HeadCount, a non-partisan voter registration organization focusing on concerts and music festivals across the country. He served as the New England Regional Director prior to becoming General Counsel. Aaron was selected in 2007 by the Boston Bar Association as a fellow in its Public Interest Leadership Program, designed to develop the next generation of leaders in the legal profession. He gives lectures on public policy, networking, and advocacy. Aaron currently serves on the Camp Avoda Alumni Association’s Board of Directors.