To address gender-based violence, we must end all forms of oppression

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  • Kellyan Kostyal-Larrier speaks at the opening ceremony and press conference for "The Clothesline Project" on Oct. 2 (Photo provided)

To the Editor:

Domestic Violence Awareness Month launched nationwide 30 years ago as both a way to raise awareness and to connect and unite individuals and organizations working on domestic violence issues. Over the last 30 years, an enormous amount of progress, change, and movement have occurred. Our country has seen the creation of the Violence against Women Act (VAWA), the development of domestic violence services in every state, and the criminalization of domestic violence at both the state and federal level. Agencies such as ours have worked tirelessly to help educate and inform their communities, businesses, and systems about what domestic violence is, who can be affected, what services are available, and what the long term impact of violence is to victims, communities, as well as our country as a whole.

This progress has had unintentional ripple effects. Domestic violence agencies and the services provided by these agencies have become increasingly constrained by invisible chains. At times, victims’ lives and their experiences become politicized by groups, governmental agencies can create systemic barriers that impact the ability to provide holistic wraparound services, and the risk and challenge is often great when speaking out while others are silenced. What started this movement was that very risk and challenge — now more than ever we have to go back to where we started.

This has been a challenging year for individuals, our communities, and our country as a whole. There is a real fear for many in Orange County of what lies ahead and Safe Homes has witnessed the consequences first hand. We have seen an increase in calls to our hotline from not just victims, but also those who care about victims, looking for guidance and tools for support. Safe Homes advocates have observed fear and withdrawal from services in our undocumented communities, one of the most marginalized demographics affected by domestic violence.

What we know unequivocally is that in order to address gender-based violence we must work toward ending all forms of oppression. Not only must we address the intersectionality between racism and sexism, we must also understand violence in the context of how criminal and civil systems impact communities of color.

Within this journey for liberation we will need to reinvent ourselves. We must ensure all voices are not only heard, but valued. We must move forward during these challenging and difficult times with the understanding and commitment that until the most marginalized are free, none of us are truly free. If we want to end sexism and racism, then we must work to dismantle the social systems built to support them. Those of us that have power and/or privilege — whether born, earned, or taken — must do our own work. People’s lives are depending on it.

I challenge you to think bigger and dig deeper. Learn about what domestic and sexual violence is; learn about what help is available here in your community. Learn about the partnerships we at Safe Homes have created to enhance our response to domestic violence here in Orange County. Let’s challenge ourselves to do the hard work: our own self work. Let’s listen to and lift up the voices that have been silenced. Now is the time: let’s vow that no matter what lies ahead, we won’t step away, sit down, or stop until every one of us is free.

Kellyann Kostyal-Larrier, Executive Director

Safe Homes of Orange County, N.Y.

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