“Intimate Partner Violence Across Baltimore: Lessons From The City,” a panel discussion held on Monday in Charles Commons, spotlighted the prevalence of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) as part of a forthcoming on-campus awareness campaign.
Seniors Swati Goel and Kavya Vaghul, the campaign organizers, invited four women who work to prevent and assist victims of IPV to share their experiences.
“The thoughtful and powerful messages delivered by the speakers will indeed be memorable, as will the message that intimate partner violence is an issue that concerns everybody in our society,” Goel said.
Senior Raychel Santo, who attended the panel, agreed.
“The speakers were really dynamic and did a good job at raising the complex issues,” Santo said. “It was really shocking to hear some of the [speakers’] stories.”
Lieutenant Rhonda McCoy, commander of the family crimes unit for the Baltimore Police Department, shared details of some of the IPV cases she has seen over the years. Stories included a Hopkins medical student who was stalked, harassed and beaten by her boyfriend, a woman whose partner poured a pot of boiling water and bleach on her back and a high school student whose boyfriend pointed a loaded gun at her face because he thought she had scratched his car.
“Domestic violence knows no bounds, it has no friends and it breaks all loyalties,” McCoy said. “It’s real, it’s everywhere, it’s at every time [of the day] and it seems sometimes that it [involves] everyone.”
All of the speakers stressed the scope of IPV in society and the challenges of helping victims escape from difficult and dangerous situations.
“The moment [an IPV victim] takes that step to leave, it really puts them at the risk of either being killed or suffering some type of physical harm,” Janine Scott, Esq., the supervising attorney of the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau’s domestic law unit in the Baltimore city office, said.
The coordinator of Domestic Violence Programs at Greater Baltimore Medical Center (GBMC), Colleen Moore, affirmed this problem.
“A challenge we face is not always being able to provide real safety for people, [because a] protective order is a piece of paper,” she said.
Ann Myers, a full-time employee at TurnAround, a service provider for IPV and human trafficking victims, emphasized that most victims feel unable to leave their abusers because of factors such as children, finances and safety concerns.
“It’s not as simple to just walk out the door or just divorce him, [or] just leave everything and come [get help],” Myers said.
Moore agreed, citing a case where a woman was murdered on the steps of the district court offices after filing for a protective order against her husband.
“You have to have all your ducks in a row to leave a situation safely,” she said. “You can’t leave a situation if you don’t have a safe, affordable place to go.”
The panelists also touched on the importance of helping loved ones out of verbally and emotionally abusive relationships before they escalate into physically violent situations.
“The biggest challenge is getting others to understand that they can be a part of this and they should be a part of this,” Myers said. “We need to intervene when we see that someone is verbally abusing someone or pushing someone.”
Moore also discussed the healthcare system’s role in preventing IPV and helping victims.
“[It’s important] to try to engage healthcare providers to recognize their role, which is treatment and screening [for] signs of domestic violence and sexual assault,” Moore said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than one in three women and more than one in four men in the United States have been raped, beaten or stalked by an intimate partner, and more than half of IPV victims in the U.S. were first victimized before age 25.
“That means in every area of the hospital, there are people that are experiencing [IPV],” Moore said.
The panelists shared their personal motivations for working to prevent and help victims of IPV.
“This is practical feminism,” Moore said. “The work just really grabbed me. I can’t look away.”
“As a young child, I witnessed domestic violence between my parents, so I actually know firsthand what it’s like to be sleeping and then to be woken up in the middle of the night to fighting and screaming and hitting,” Scott said. “There’s no words to be able to describe the fulfillment when I’m able to get that protective order [for a client.]”
McCoy also asserted her drive to end domestic violence.
“I will protect and defend the citizens of Baltimore with my last breath, and I will protect and defend these women,” McCoy said. “The oath I swore [when joining the police department] is very important to me.”
While IPV also affects men, the panel speakers and the vast majority of the audience were women; only two men were present at the discussion.
“It’s important to engage men to know how to talk to other men [about IPV], because if a guy is showing signs that he’s going to be an abuser, it’s going to be a lot worse later,” Raj Bhattacharjea, the boyfriend of event moderator Amber Robinson, said.
Goel further emphasized this need to engage men.
“Unless men become partners in ending the silence, we will never be able to put a stop to IPV,” Goel said. “We need to create a culture and a safe space where men will be able to step out of their comfort zones to discuss this issue.”
Spreading awareness of IPV among both men and women on the Homewood campus is the primary goal of Goel and Vaghul’s greater campaign.
“This issue is largely stigmatized and in a private sphere that we just don’t have access to many times,” Vaghul said. “To create that conversation and really get people engaged in how they can be part of a conversation is the ultimate goal for me in this campaign.”
Goel and Vaghul were inspired to promote IPV awareness after taking a course taught by Robinson, a Ph.D. candidate of the Hopkins School of Public Health.
“After taking this class, I realized that so many different and meaningful innovations in the field of advocacy rely on so much of the support of the [healthcare] system,” Vaghul said.
Although October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Goel and Vaghul plan to continue their awareness campaign and hope to establish an official student organization for IPV next semester.
“Our goal is not so much to add another group to the long list of Hopkins groups, but instead create a task-force of individuals who can facilitate collaboration among different groups that are already existing on campus, which might not be directly working in partner violence but would be powerful allies,” Goel said.
The campaign’s next project is the installation of a community mural in the Gilman tunnel.
“This artwork will remind our campus about the need to continue conversations around intimate partner violence,” Goel said.
The campaign has also organized a Survivor Family Gift Drive for TurnAround, which is collecting non-perishable food items and basic household necessities for families recovering from IPV. Donations are being collected in CharMar until the end of October.