Editor’s note: The author of this column was granted anonymity due to the intensely personal nature of the events described.
Most kids left with kisses on the cheek. I left with red marks and some raw skin on my forearm. These left a bruise, and I wore a long sleeve shirt the next day even though it was unbearably hot and humid.
Move-in day ended with my mom and myself crouched behind the left side of my bed, whispering angrily at each other as we went head-to-head about whether I actually needed a shoe rack. She insisted; I resisted. She grabbed my arm; I grabbed hers. Neither of us relented, even as I felt her fingers dig into my forearm. My roommate was chattering happily with friends on the other side of the room, just a few feet away. And my dad simply stood at the foot of the bed, feigning ignorance as he tinkered with a Command hook.
Two minutes later, I pushed her away and scrambled up, fighting off tears. My friends suspected nothing, and my parents left soon thereafter.
Now, as I scroll through Facebook, I see pictures of buildings being lit purple, people wearing purple and lists of statistics in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and I grow sad. I think about last year and how the only thing I recall from October was how most people weren’t even aware of October being Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and how the small fraction of those who actually knew donned purple for a single day. Most of my friends shrugged the day off, contending that “purple doesn’t look good” on them — many of the same people who always incredulously question why I don’t like going back home for breaks, the same friends who can’t and won’t understand why that is.
And when they can’t understand, they will often cast me a strange look. Some who can’t afford a plane ticket home look at me strangely, others who live halfway around the world and cannot go home until the summer do as well. Just because I’m fortunate enough to be able to fly back home does not mean I feel at home when I’m there.
I try to explain, patiently and delicately, why: starting in broader terms about an immutably rocky, if even existent, relationship with my parents. Sometimes I’ll bring up specific days this past summer or the summer before that, or the years before that, when passions have flared beyond a normal point. Sometimes I’ll flinch or cower when someone reaches out merely to gesture toward me — a reflex and instinct I will never be able to shake off. And yet I talk about it detachedly, nonchalantly, even flippantly, hoping that indifference coupled with perverse humor will help make the conversation a bit easier, for the listener and for myself.
I still haven’t learned how to bring up domestic violence as a non-taboo conversation topic without eliciting an “I’m so sorry.”
But pity and sympathy are not what I seek. I try to talk about it to give people perspective so that they may stop passing judgment about me, my family or how I handle it all. I have grown used to friends and peers prodding and prying and pointing at a bruise or scratch, since I never cared enough to cover it up. I will never, however, grow accustomed to people, namely those with good relationships with their parents, trying to advise me to work on my relationship, as though I haven’t already tried that. They tell me that repairing my relationship only requires some patience and work, as though I am the one to blame for circumstances that frankly are beyond my control — as though they know what it’s like.
This is largely due to the stigmatized nature of this topic. We have no dialogue on campus surrounding this issue, one that is undeniably difficult to tackle and talk about. We talk about sexual assault, harassment, racism and a variety of issues facing our student body, but domestic violence and its effects on individuals, such as depression, anxiety, trauma and other problems in interpersonal relationships, are rarely, if ever, talked about.
Still, the physical, emotional and psychological damage inflicted within relationships isn’t limited to those between parent and child. Dating violence remains a prevalent problem across college campuses, including the University. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 53 percent of victims of domestic violence report having been abused by a current or former significant other.
Activists across campuses have felt that domestic violence has always come secondary to sexual assault, and it certainly feels that way. Sexual assault has been addressed through photo campaigns, documentary showings and an entire student group dedicated to addressing sexual assault policies on campus, though I won’t argue that such efforts aren’t enough. However, when are we going to start addressing domestic violence beyond wearing a purple shirt in hopes of making a statement?
So here we are, a week into October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, with no awareness. I call upon Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources & Education to step up and color this campus purple, through awareness and dialogue. However, I don’t place this burden on any one group. We cannot continue as though domestic violence is not an issue that some students on this campus deal with every day.