By JENNIFER STEUER
The past six months have tested every family. The divorce rate has risen 34 percent over the same time last year, and a New York Post article from Sept. 1 states that 31 percent of couples feel that being together in this very trying time has “caused irreparable damage to their relationships.” In my house, we have fought more since March 13 … however, we talk a lot too. Our big family is in a small space, and sometimes the adults disagree. We can get upset when someone is unable to understand what we are trying to say. Olivia, Benjamin and Rebecca see us argue, and they see us talk things out. Harlan and I have been married for fifteen years and don’t always agree, but we try to show our kids that people can love one another and not always agree.
Domestic violence in all forms has been on the rise since the pandemic caused many jobs to evaporate and incomes slashed. Many families were left unable to pay bills and under immense pressure with schools being closed (or classes held virtually) and a loss of recreational activities. All relationships are vulnerable to domestic violence. Men and women have been reaching out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline or local agencies seeking help. There has been a 9 percent increase in domestic violence since March 16, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. The external stressors keep mounting, and the isolation helps to hide evidence of violence and intimidation.
I am a domestic violence survivor. It has been 18 years, but this is part of who I am and how I identify myself. Getting out of an abusive relationship – whether you are teen, young adult, man, woman, straight, gay, trans or non-binary – is hard and can feel insurmountable. There is help, and no one is alone in this fight.
I have watched my children grow and develop their own unique personalities. Talking about violence in relationships is not easy, but it is necessary. Young love is not immune to violence. My job is to prepare Olivia, Benjamin, and Rebecca to protect themselves and to have the skills to help someone who may be in a relationship that is unhealthy. There are places that concentrate on teens facing a violent relationship. One website (dosomething.org), gives very alarming statistics: One in three young people will be in an abusive or unhealthy relationship. The violent behavior usually begins somewhere between sixth and 12th grade. The statistics are frightening: “50 percent of young people who experience rape or physical or sexual abuse will attempt to commit suicide,” according to the website. Also, the teens that do experience dating violence are subject to consequences far beyond the relationship. The long-term effects can include alcoholism, eating disorders, promiscuity and violent behavior.
I realize that Olivia, Benjamin and Rebecca are not in relationships now, and hopefully will never be the victims or perpetrators of dating or domestic violence. The conversations we have aren’t geared just toward Ben as the possible abuser and Olivia and Rebecca as the potential victims. Dating and domestic violence is not that clean cut. Any of my kids could be an abuser or victim. Hopefully by having conversations and letting my son and daughters hear that violence is unacceptable, they would come to us or reach out to somebody for help. They will be able to help a friend. They can be part of the solution.
My experience as a survivor helps me talk to my kids. More than once I have shown them where I lived and how far I was allowed to go if I was to leave the house. I lived across the street from a bus stop. I was walking distance to grocery stores and playgrounds. I was not allowed to cross that street. I was not allowed to walk to the store. Olivia, Benjamin and Rebecca gave me stunned looks when I told them how far I was allowed to go. They had questions about my situation and wanted to know why I didn’t just walk where I wanted to, and the answer seemed to stun them: I wasn’t allowed and there would be consequences. I took back my life with help. I am a safe person to talk to about domestic violence or dating violence.
If you are a victim, please reach out for help. You are not alone.
- National Domestic Violence Hotline (800) 799-7233
- If you cannot speak safely: thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 22522 or (866) 331-9474
- For teens and young adults: Dosomething.org
- LGBT National Hotline: (866) 843-4564
- LGBT National Youth Talkline: (800) 246-7743
- LGBT National Senior Hotline: (800) 234-7243
- Equinox: (518) 432-7865
- Albany County Crime Victim and Sexual Violence Center: (518) 447-7716
- Rensselaer County Unity House: (518) 272-2370 (collect calls accepted) or text (518) 720-6161 or webchat online at rc.chat/uhdvs
Jennifer Steuer is an Albany mom whose busy household includes her husband, Harlan, and 12-year-old triplets Olivia, Benjamin and Rebecca. Follow her on Instagram: jennifersteuer.