Most people are unaware that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. We generally recognize it as a month dedicated to raising awareness (and money) for breast cancer. It gets a bit more attention because breast cancer does not have a stigma and it’s not the victim’s fault. It’s not something to be worked out between a wife and husband. People shy away from domestic violence in Rhode Island and in California and everywhere in between. Yet, we know people care. I know this because when I tell people I work for the Women’s Center of Rhode Island, someone always says how horrible it is that a woman must go through “something like that” or someone tells me that a sibling went through it or a friend is going through it right now or “it happened to me.” I hear stories by teens, pregnant women, and the elderly. I have heard stories from family members of homicide victims.
While at a women’s health fair last year, I visited the Gloria Gemma Foundation’s pink bus. Within a half hour, three women had disclosed being both survivors of breast cancer and domestic violence. At least one woman said that the abuse and cancer occurred simultaneously.
Since this is awareness month for both, I thought I would provide you with some comparisons and contrasts between domestic violence and breast cancer and make some suggestions on how to help victims and survivors.
- Breast cancer most often occurs (or is detected) after 40. Unlike breast cancer, age is not a risk for domestic violence. Violence can occur to women at any age, from thirteen to ninety.
- Family history is a significant risk factor. If your mother had breast cancer, you are at a higher risk to contract it. If you saw your parent being abused, you are at a higher risk for abuse. Children who witness domestic violence are more likely to be victims or abusers. It is one of the biggest indicators.
- Rates of breast cancer vary by race and ethnicity. According to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, Caucasians have the highest rates, followed by African Americans. While there is no specific race or ethnicity that is linked to domestic violence, it is important to note that women of color tend to have fewer resources available to them since our society does not practice equity. However, just like breast cancer you can be the richest or poorest woman on the block and still be at risk. Wealth doesn’t keep you safe from domestic violence, nor can it keep you safe from breast cancer.
- Men get breast cancer. According to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, on average 1.3 per 100,000 men can get breast cancer, vs. 123 per 100,000 women. Men are also victims of domestic violence, but at a smaller percentage than women. Many men are embarrassed by both domestic violence and breast cancer because they are often seen as a woman’s problem.
Both claim lives. In 2005, breast cancer claimed the lives of 40, 410 women. In 2005, 1,181 women were murdered by an intimate partner. We cannot rate the importance of one over the other. The loss of life, regardless of the cause, is horrible.
What can you do to protect yourself? There are recommendations on how to decrease your risks for breast cancer. You can find those here. There are guidelines on how to decrease your risk for domestic violence. Among the things that reduce risks are high self-esteem and the ability to recognize conflict before it begins and use positive communication to resolve it peacefully. Those people who respect themselves and demand it from others are less likely to experience domestic violence.
What can you do for others? Learn more and talk about the issues. Point out red flags. Share information. Tell your story as a survivor to others who may or may not be suffering. Encourage your friend to get that suspicious lump looked at. Share a crisis hotline number to a domestic violence agency. Hold your friend’s hand.
Originally published in RightHer, the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island blog