Wherever you are in the world, statistics on gender-based violence are overwhelming – if not terrifying. At a time when 1 in 3 women will experience some form of violence over the course of her life, reducing the figures can seem like an insurmountable task. For an individual especially, it’s all too easy to feel like no match for a problem of this scale.
But there is a simple thing we can all do to make a difference; we can celebrate the young people who are increasingly choosing to devote their time, energy and skills to eliminating violence and protecting vulnerable people in their communities.
Young people like 25-year-old student, Stephanie Moniz. Stephanie is currently studying for a Masters in Clinical Counseling Psychology at Brenau University, and as part of that she’s completing an internship at Gateway Domestic Violence Center. When she’s not in class or doing her internship, she spends her time working at the shelter as an employee. I talked to her about her studies, her work, and her thoughts on gender-based violence.
So first of all, can you tell me a bit about your internship?
So one of the internships I do is at a center for families affected by domestic violence. Through crisis intervention, comprehensive support services and community collaboration, Gateway tries to create an environment for safe, healthy, self-sufficient growth and violence prevention. It can house up to 20 families on a temporary or more permanent basis and is run entirely on donations. I run children’s groups twice a week for 4-6 and 7-11 year-olds. It’s kind of like a support/art therapy group and we all just chat and make things together. We have anywhere between 10 and 30 kids- it varies a lot. I also see the mothers for individual counseling services if they would like to do that.
And you work there too when you’re not at university?
Yes, my job is to answer the crisis line, and around once a month I manage the shelter for the whole weekend. This means making sure all the women and kids have what they need, answering the crisis line, inputting stats for grants, monitoring security cameras, cleaning the shelter with the women, and offering emotional support when and where I can. On those weekends I sleep at the shelter; a paid employee is there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
When you talk to people about what you do, do you feel like there’s a good general understanding of gender-based violence?
As a whole, yes, but often people don’t realise how prevalent GBV is or how many different types of abuse there are. Domestic violence, in particular, is sometimes seen as just ‘a man hitting a woman’, but abuse can be physical, emotional, sexual, financial or psychological and comes in many forms – like manipulation, control or isolation. People often don’t realise how it affects the families and children whose trust is shattered by the violence, manipulation, and control of someone who was once a child themselves.
What do you think can be done to reduce violence?
I think we need to focus on educating children and on reducing the stigma around counselling. Very often the violent person in a relationship has experienced some sort of trauma themselves and their behaviour stems from there, so addressing this earlier would help massively. Some people think that talking to children about domestic violence is insensitive and could traumatise them, but in reality experiencing or participating in domestic violence later on in life is a lot more traumatic.
And for people who aren’t studying or working full time on these issues…can they still help?
People who want to help can definitely do so. So many organisations like Gateway are non-profit and always need volunteers, financial support, supplies, donated meals, and collaborators in the school systems, after-school clubs, activities etc. Find the contact details of a center close to where you live and talk to them about what you can do to help. Even something as quick and easy as sharing posts on social media to raise awareness or talking to your friends and family about something you’ve read is a good place to start.
It must be pretty difficult to spend so much of your time working on an issue like domestic violence. What makes you want to keep doing it?
I have spent every month of 2016 at Gateway working with children whose short lives have been so dramatically affected by violence inflicted on a loved one, often by a loved one. These kids are some of the most loving and caring people I know, despite their lives having been turned upside down and inside out. I never thought that I would consider myself lucky to work in a place that can leave me so disheartened and saddened, but here I am, enjoying every minute of it. I love every hug, high five and smile from kids who are not even half my age but who have seen more than double the trauma than most people see in a lifetime. The innocence of these children is so raw, and though their stories are rooted in sadness, I really believe that their future is full of hope.
Ending violence against women is our joint responsibility, and no one is immune to it or its impacts not only on women and girls, but entire societies. Be inspired by Stephanie and others like her, and join the fight to end violence against women everywhere in the world!
Featured image: StockSnap