Every 9 seconds, someone somewhere in the world is physically abused or threatened by a spouse or partner. More than 1 in 4 women and more than 1 in 10 men ages 18 and older in the United States have experienced sexual violence, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner and reported negative impacts and health consequences, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is a fact Dionysica Stewart ’16, an MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling graduate, knows all too well.
“My best friend from college was a confident, beautiful, and successful woman,” Stewart says. “She was a social work supervisor making six figures. She said her relationship with her husband was great, and I thought he was very charming. Then one day he murdered my friend and killed himself in front of their 8-year-old daughter. Of all the people in the world, I would never have thought my friend’s life would be ended by domestic violence.
“People often think there’s a specific type of person who becomes a victim of domestic and intimate partner violence,” Stewart says. “But anyone can be a victim, and it’s often difficult to see the warning signs from the outside.”
The death of Stewart’s friend inspired her to focus her education on finding ways to prevent this type of violence and support survivors.
"I spent a year being angry and confused,” she says. “Then I knew I had to learn more and find ways to become part of the solution.”
She started volunteering at her local YMCA, which offers a range of support services to domestic violence survivors, including accompanying them to the hospital and providing individual and family therapy. Stewart also regularly attends conferences hosted by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence to learn more about how to advocate for victims and what prevention and treatment approaches are most effective.
In her current role as a therapist, Stewart takes every opportunity to educate the people she works with about the subtle complexities of the issue. When she was a parole officer, she gave presentations on the topic at the all-staff meetings for the court employees. She also worked with attorneys prosecuting and defending domestic violence cases to help them better understand the impact of this crime on survivors and their families.
Stewart also educates community pastors about the dangers of encouraging domestic violence victims to remain in the relationship at all costs. She’s even talked with teens about dating violence and what makes a relationship healthy or unhealthy.
“My goal is to give people the information they need to be part of the fight against this epidemic,” Stewart says. “The more people understand and the more the system works to get both victims and offenders the help they need, the more impact we can have. We need to get the information out there. There’s too much stigma and silence around domestic violence. That’s what keeps it in the dark where the cycle can continue.”
Someone you know may be a victim of domestic or intimate partner violence. The signs are not always obvious, and the abuse can be psychological and/or physical. Some of the signs of an abusive relationship include:
AWARENESS: The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence is a good resource to learn more about the issue in the U.S. The National Domestic Violence Hotline provides tools and support to victims and their families.
ACTION: No More provides education and a state-by-state online tool that helps you find volunteer opportunities in your community, such as working at a shelter for domestic violence victims, providing dating violence workshops in high schools and on college campuses, and collecting toys and books for children displaced by domestic violence.
ADVOCACY: Futures Without Violence offers information on how to advocate for women and girls around the world who are victims of domestic violence, trafficking, child marriage, and other forms of violence against women. Through the That’s Not Cool Ambassador Program, teens educate their peers about digital dating abuse, and educators are encouraged to use the Start Strong toolkit to implement school-based programs for their students.