BY CHERYL LEAMAN
October has drawn to a close and unless you were living in a cave, you were probably keenly aware that it was Breast Cancer Awareness Month. My email inbox, Facebook newsfeed and mailbox all included daily notices about events and merchandise.
The magazines I subscribe to carried touching stories of breast cancer survival, advertisements for treatment and reconstructive surgery, and statistics about the number diagnosed and treated as well as those who succumbed to the disease.
Pink-ribbon product endorsements were everywhere — everything from shoe strings to expensive baubles. Breasts sell, even sick breasts. From Foot Locker to Estee Lauder, merchandisers for every gamut in between jumped on the bandwagon and raised an estimated $6 billion for research and awareness campaigns.
Another women’s health issue also shared the month of October. Unbeknownst to many, October was also Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Domestic or intimate partner violence is the “silent killer” of women. It is a phenomena that most people don’t want to talk about. It’s perceived as the dirty little secret that happens in our homes behind closed doors.
The media do little to promote domestic violence awareness even though they are in a unique position to give merit to it by presenting it as a public health problem. Magazines don’t want to publish articles where women are victims with black and blue eyes, swollen lips and broken teeth.
Even Congress can’t move beyond their bipartisan bickering to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act and extend coverage to include undocumented immigrants, Native Americans, and gay/lesbian couples.
A purple ribbon is the symbol of domestic violence awareness. But there weren’t any slick ads and only a few dubious product endorsements could be found to promote awareness of a health issue that the Centers for Disease Control estimates affects almost 1.3 million women annually.
I am a survivor of domestic violence. I was in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship. I was threatened with guns, strangled and isolated from family and friends. My sense of self was destroyed with his reckless and vicious choice of words.
I also have had several breast cancer scares that resulted in multiple mammograms, ultrasounds and biopsies. I volunteer my time to organizations that support both causes and donate money to promote awareness of each issue. But each year, I am perplexed, frustrated and even saddened by the disparity in attention given to breast cancer awareness vs. domestic violence awareness.
Our state capital and county courthouse turned their fountains pink in recognition of breast cancer awareness. Surely one of these public symbols could’ve recognized the other killer — the one that in 2011 claimed the lives of 118 Pennsylvania victims.
There were 257,813 reported domestic violence incidents in America in 2011 versus 225,000 new cases of breast cancer. The statistics are similar, the circumstances just as frightening, but the awareness is sadly at opposite ends of the spectrum.
So while there is nothing wrong with slogans such as “Save Your Ta-Ta’s,” “Feel Your Boobies” and “Real Men Wear Pink,” likewise we need to promote “No More,” “Break the Silence, Stop the Violence” and “There is No Face to Domestic Violence.”
We need to continue to celebrate breast cancer survivors, but we also need to stop shaming survivors of domestic violence by ignoring the issue.
October can champion breast cancer awareness and domestic violence awareness. It is going to take much more than ribbons, billboards and product endorsements to end the epidemic of domestic violence.
But I must confess, as a confident, unashamed survivor, I would like to see just one fountain in Harrisburg’s capital turned purple. I’d like to watch one local media segment interview survivors who want to share their story to help remove the stigma that society has placed on us.
I’d like to see one magazine cover feature the bruised and cut face of a victim with a headline that calls for an end to this scourge. I’d like our local communities and celebrities to go the extra mile for organizations that provide services and outreach to victims. And I’d like our senators and representatives to reach across the aisle and move Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.
CHERYL LEAMAN of Harrisburg is a domestic violence survivor and former board member of Domestic Violence Services of Cumberland and Perry Counties