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Breaking the cycle of domestic violence starts with education on available services and not turning a blind eye

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, though raising awareness and preventing abuse year-round is the focus of Mid Central Community Action in Bloomington.

Domestic violence, also known as domestic abuse and intimate partner violence, happens more often than you might imagine. The Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports 1 in 3 women and 1 in 7 men are victims of domestic violence.

And it's not just adults. The National Domestic Violence hotline reports 1 in 10 high school students have endured physical violence from a partner within the last year.

This abuse includes physical, sexual, emotional, psychological and economic actions or threats seeking to control or have power over a partner. The United Nations says physical and sexual threats or actions are the most common forms of abuse, but it does not start here.

Michell Cervantes, Countering Domestic Violence program director at Mid Central Community Action in Bloomington, said the red flags usually do not show up in the initial stages of intimate relationships.

“They (perpetrators) are really good at what they do, so it doesn’t start out with the red flags. Everything is so sweet and charming, and these victims fall in love. And once they’re in love, that’s when the violence starts. It’s so hard to just walk away for multiple reasons, and I think at the end of the day we need to be focusing on perpetrators more than the survivors,” Cervantes said.

Cervantes said violence is a learned behavior. Statistically, perpetrators usually grew up in homes where they too experienced or witnessed violence.

With that in mind, Cervantes said implementing programs to educate people from a young age on having healthy relationships and recognizing abuse is important. Cervantes said this would make an impact on the number of domestic violence cases each year.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, domestic violence rates increased by 8.1%. Experts said this is because of lockdowns forcing high stress among billions worldwide and causing families to spend their days at home in close quarters for months on end.

The UN has referred to this as the “shadow pandemic.”

“I think it just comes down to making awareness more of a priority, speaking out. This isn’t a family issue. This is definitely a community issue. And the more community members that are aware of that, the more we are in it together,” Cervantes said.

Knowing which services are available

Cervantes said combatting the control that perpetuators seek to gain through violence comes down to raising awareness of the services available.

“A lot of people unfortunately aren’t familiar with the services. They know that they can go to the courthouse to get an order or protection, but they don’t realize us, the advocates, are the ones helping and assisting you through that,” Cervantes said. “We have a 24-hour emergency hotline, and it’s completely confidential. So even if you aren’t comfortable giving your name, you still have a resource available just to ask questions. ‘Is this OK?’ ‘Is this normal?’ ‘Is this a healthy relationship?’ You can call 50 times before you’re ready to utilize services, and that’s fine. We’re always available.”

Cervantes said she hopes people in compromising situations and abusive relationships know that they aren’t alone and there is 24/7 free and confidential help services available.

There is an emergency shelter (Mid Central's Neville House) for victims needing to relocate, and the advocates located at the courthouse are available to assist with orders of protection. Cervantes also said there are adult therapists, youth service advocates and outreach medical advocates available to help victims and families.

When it comes to witnesses, Cervantes said people need to take bold steps and stop turning a blind eye to all forms of abuse.

“If you see someone grab someone, stop, record, (and) call the police. It takes everyone, and it takes witnesses. Unfortunately, in a lot of cases, it’s hard to recant when we have other witnesses, and the victim is not the only witness,” Cervantes said. “I truly believe that building cases around the evidence of the witnesses that aren’t’ victim based are the ones that are going to hold people accountable.”

The 24-hour domestic violence hotline number is (309) 827-7070. The Mid Central Community Action is a confidential and available resource for all victims and survivors of domestic violence in the Central Illinois area.

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