Posted by Elizabeth Schön Vainer

Domestic Violence Awareness MonthAs many of us enjoy Sukkot, a time when families and friends gather under temporary shelters, we also arrive at the beginning of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I find this intersection quite powerful. Sukkot is associated with warmth, love, and for many omarf us, the knowledge that even though our sukkah is fragile, our homes are safe. Yet, for so many people – including many Jews in our community – the fragility, vulnerability, uncertainty, and instability of the sukkah reflects the ongoing reality of their lives.

As we circulate our domestic violence awareness posters and video this month, you might ask, "What does Love Should Be Safe mean anyway? Isn't it obvious?" But then again, what does "safe" mean?

Several years ago Journey to Safety intentionally changed the term we use from domestic violence to domestic abuse when describing our program. Why? Because so often the kinds of controlling behavior that make a dating, live-in, or marital partner feel unsafe are not explicitly violent. Punching walls, making threats, throwing objects (as a warning), controlling finances, and regularly interrupting sleep are all examples of abusive behaviors, even though they don't result in a physical injury. And there are many other behaviors that make abuse survivors feel unsafe, exhausted, and overwhelmed.

We often hear from survivors that they didn't know that the pain and hurt they suffered is considered domestic abuse. They didn't feel safe, but without a black eye or other injury, they didn't know that they could ask for help. And then there is the shame that goes with talking about these experiences. The stigma of abuse runs so deeply that people live years suffering in silence and isolation.

Pondering the question "how can we hasten the process that leads to survivors reaching out for help?" I recently ran into a woman I have known for many years who was suffering in silence. She frequents a building where a Jewish Domestic Violence Coalition poster hangs inside the bathroom stall doors. "Those questions on the bathroom poster helped me to realize my partner was abusive and gave me strength to leave him." I asked how she is today and she said, "Stronger and safe, but it hasn't been easy."

Humbled by this woman's courage and bravery, I remain more convinced than ever that we must find ways to get the word out that love should be safe. Abuse survivors will often tell us that they have seen the poster or heard a similar message as a public service announcement. And then one day – for as many reasons as there are survivors – someone decides to reach out and get help. Therefore we must work to create a community where people have many chances to recognize themselves, a loved one, friend, neighbor, congregant, colleague, or employee and reach out to ask for or offer help and support.

The Jewish Domestic Violence Coalition's newly updated restroom poster asks:

Does your partner/spouse:

  • Make it difficult for you to see family and friends?
  • Make decisions for you?
  • Frighten you?
  • Hurt you?

Do you:

  • Feel like you are walking on eggshells?
  • Feel disrespected?
  • Feel like things are getting worse?

As a friend, colleague, neighbor, clergy person, relative, or employer, think about people in your community or under your sukkah. Might there be someone in your life who could use your help and support? If you can do it safely, share this blog, our powerful Love Should Be Safe video, and our phone number. And if you yourself would like to speak with someone about your relationship, please reach out for confidential help and support.

Why, you ask?

Because Love Should Be Safe.

Elizabeth Schon VainerElizabeth Schön Vainer has been the program director of Journey to Safety, the domestic abuse program of JF&CS, since March 2010. Elizabeth is passionate about Journey to Safety's commitment to prevent domestic abuse. She believes that we must work at the individual, community, and legislative levels to shift our societal view that allows abusive behavior to remain so prevalent and damaging. When we focus on speaking up, listening to, and collaborating with others we can have a real impact. Prior to working at JF&CS, Elizabeth worked for 25 years in victim services at both the Middlesex and Suffolk County District Attorney's offices. Elizabeth holds a BSW from the University of Tel Aviv and a MS in organization and management from Antioch University.

Elizabeth Schon Vainer