In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, several Binghamton University organizations came together to shine a light on the issue.

In the midst of COVID-19, access to help has been limited for those enduring domestic abuse. The Multicultural Resource Center (MRC), in collaboration with The African Student Organization (ASO), the Zulu Zay Kingdom of MALIK Fraternity Inc. and the Delta Chapter of Omega Phi Beta Sorority Inc., organized a webinar titled “Silence Hides Violence” to discuss domestic violence and how students can identify and confront it.

Lillian Carr, a senior majoring in sociology, was one of the producers for the webinar. Carr feels that educating and providing resources on domestic violence is imperative, especially for the community served by the MRC.

“You never know what is going on with a person, you may ask and they might not tell you,” Carr wrote in an email. “It’s important to have conversations like these because you don’t know everyone’s situation. I know in my community we really don’t talk about domestic violence or even mental health. The most I might hear from my family is, ‘Don’t let a man put his hands on you,’ but they don’t talk about if you are in a situation where the relationship is toxic [or] abusive.”

The Omega Phi Beta Sorority, founded in 1989 as a Latina-led organization accepting people of all backgrounds, has historically served as advocates for rights and justice for all who belong to the category of “womxn.” “Womxn” is a term used to encompass cisgender women, transgender women, nonbinary, gender-nonconforming and gender-fluid people who have feminine expressions of gender identity. Marisol Pina, a junior majoring in Spanish and president of the sorority’s Delta Chapter, discussed why her organization took part in the event, citing a statistic from the Women of Color Network.

“For womxn of color, ‘high rates of poverty, poor education, limited job resources, language barriers and fear of deportation increase their difficulty finding help and support services,’” Pina wrote. “It is this very fact that pushes my organization to continue to participate in events that discuss domestic violence. It is our job, as womxn of color, to continue to use our platform to support other womxn of color and give back to our communities.”

The presentation opened with the characteristics of toxic relationships, including violence, jealousy, belittlement, controlling behavior and disrespect. According to the presentation, there is often a cycle of peace, tension building, violence and reconciliation. The presentation emphasized the severity of domestic violence during COVID-19, which may have forced victims and abusers to quarantine together while restricting access to friends or doctors, who can serve to identify and aid victims. Even before COVID-19, it was often dangerous for victims to leave their abusers, as manipulation of finances, stalking and attempts of violence and murder are all potential dangers.

One discussion prompt, “Are you the type of person that believes the survivor or do you need evidence to make your decision?” led to the topic of gaslighting. According to Medical News Today, gaslighting is defined as “a form of psychological abuse where a person or group makes someone question their sanity, perception of reality or memories.” Manipulation of this sort can make it extremely difficult for a victim to come forward or even realize that they are being abused. In a TED Talk from 2012 shown at the beginning of the webinar, domestic violence survivor Leslie Morgan Steiner talked about how even while she endured extreme physical abuse, she never saw herself as abused. Rather, she saw herself as “a very strong woman in love with a deeply troubled man” who was “the only person on Earth who could help [her abuser] face his demons.”

Another question, “How does your community respond to domestic violence?” turned the conversation toward the normalization of domestic violence. Participants talked about their cultures, where sometimes the victim is blamed for staying, and the effects of domestic violence can be ignored or misunderstood. There was also discussion on the harms of being a bystander, as well as the difficulties that people face when seeking to help a friend who is a victim. One participant, Addy Abbey-Peter, an undeclared freshman, reflected on what it means to be a bystander.

“I learned telling someone to ‘just leave’ is negating their experience,” Abbey-Peter said. “Though as an outsider looking in, it may seem easy to just leave, but the trauma and restrictions may be hard for the harmed party. Realizing their experience and helping them find ways to get out or even just supporting them is better than ignoring them.”

The webinar concluded with resources for victims, including anonymous and confidential avenues, as well as ways to be supportive of someone experiencing abuse. Pina later shared a message for domestic violence survivors.

“To all the survivors out there, you are strong, resilient and courageous,” Pina wrote. “As a whole, we all need to continue to fight for all [domestic violence] survivors — those who have shared their stories, those who may not be ready to share their stories and those who never had the chance to share their own stories. Their fight is our fight!”

If you believe you or a friend are experiencing domestic violence, visit BU’s Interpersonal Violence Resource page here.