Two hands shake as they operate a copy machine. Its laser runs the length of the paper and emits a subtle hum. A student from the College of Southern Nevada explains to the librarian standing next to her, Tavish Bell, that she dreads going to class because of a looming discomfort with her instructor. “What did he do?” Bell asked.
Desperate for an advocate, the student said her instructor made sexual comments and that an adviser said her story sounded too inappropriate to be true. The student said she’d started second guessing herself, feeling it was her fault.
“I believe you,” Bell said.
Fear and validation swirled in the student’s eyes as Bell offered to go with her to the campus Title IX officer and give a statement.
“I myself am a survivor of domestic violence,” said Bell, who visited Clark on Nov. 7 and spoke about domestic violence awareness.
Though she went to graduate school to become a librarian, she found enjoyment in the community aspect of the job more. Bell moved to Vancouver from Las Vegas, pursued an opening at the YWCA and became a domestic violence outreach and LGBTQ advocate in September.
Domestic violence is a systemic issue with a largely misunderstood definition and ability to leave lasting effects. The topic craves confrontation, as people experiencing it range from nationally known figures to Clark students.
According to Clark County’s YWCA SafeChoice domestic violence program, “Domestic violence is abusive behavior used to gain power and control over an intimate partner. Abuse takes many forms; it can be physical, emotional, sexual, or financial.”
Washington law also defines domestic violence as “any crime committed against a family member, someone living in the same household, or against someone with whom you have or have had a dating relationship … It can apply to parent-child relationships, sibling relationships and various other established associations …”
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence states that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in the U.S. have experienced a form of physical violence by an intimate partner.
In 2016, the Clark County YWCA SafeChoice program provided 8,193 hours of service to 964 people.
Clark’s Activity Planning Board’s Awareness Events Coordinator, Meizhi Teoh, said she didn’t know organizations like the YWCA were available in Clark County and invited Bell to spread that news to Clark students.
Dian Ulner, a women’s studies professor, said she also invites the YWCA to speak in her class since she often teaches students who are dealing with domestic violence.
She said she hopes bringing Bell and the YWCA to her class directs students to resources. “By the time somebody comes to me, they feel like they’re the only person in the world who’s going through this,” Ulner said.
She said it’s important students recognize “there’s nothing you could do that would make somebody hit you and have reason to do it.”
With recent domestic violence allegations among public figures and the #metoo movement, Ulner said she’s optimistic awareness will increase, but isn’t getting her hopes up.
“It’s gonna be around 15 more minutes and then we’re going to move on to the next thing,” Ulner said, “I’m really hoping I’m wrong, I would love to be wrong.”
Caroline Bartlett, director of the YWCA SafeChoice domestic violence program, said while she’s excited women are speaking out about domestic violence, she feels similarly to Ulner.
She said a responsibility of SafeChoice is to amplify the voice of those who feel unheard, like survivors of color or survivors who might identify as LGBTQ.
Bartlett said many people who speak against domestic violence are undervalued. “Black women started this movement 10 years ago and didn’t get movement. No one listened to them,” Bartlett said. “I think it’s really important that we talk about women of color and women who have significantly less power in our society.”
She said combined communities can make an influence.
“I believe that we can prevent domestic violence and we can continue to make cultural shifts,” Bartlett said.
She said SafeChoice alone cannot do that, but she believes it still helps Clark County.
She said she’s amazed by the extent strangers trust her and she is honored to walk in their lives, but doing so brings vicarious trauma, the emotional residue after hearing a victim’s story.
“Other people [were] talking about crisis and not even in great detail, and my heart would pound in my chest,” Bartlett said. “And that’s when I realized that I’d experienced vicarious trauma.”
After working as an advocate at the Domestic Violence Prosecution Center, Bartlett said she slowly experienced burnout. “You start to lose your empathy. It can show up as signs of depression, you start to not care about as many things,” Bartlett said.
Having recognized this, she quit, went to grad school and took a break from social work. During school she heard stories from fellow classmates who experienced crises.
Bartlett said her passion for the work brought her back. As director of SafeChoice she implements self-care so others don’t experience the same side effects.
Clark counselor and instructor Summer Brown said her approach to helping others also involves self-care, like “going home and taking a hot shower and cuddling up in my bed with my dogs and my cat and my kids,” Brown said.
She encourages others to not shy away, but to keep searching for signs of domestic violence.
“We’re socialized to believe that no doesn’t always mean no; we’re socialized to believe that somebody chasing you around the playground means that they like you,” Brown said, “those things are violations of personal space and boundaries and they prevent the person from having an autonomy over themselves.”
It’s important, she said, to remember, “this feels unmanageable for you because it is.”
Like domestic violence, Brown said society avoids what’s uncomfortable and in doing so lacks the communication skills to address it.
“When you’re a kid and you’re worried about monsters being in your room in the dark. Our inclination is to close our eyes and pretend like the monsters aren’t there,” Brown said. Domestic violence and related issues, she said, “are not just gonna go away because we ignore them.”
Bartlett said once society habitually considers things that seem small, progress is made.
Bartlett said it’s on our community to ask both victims and abusers what they need to move on. She said advocacy needs to travel to everyone affected by domestic violence before change can truly happen.
Thank you for this reporting, Ainslie, and for the education provided by Summer Brown, Dian Ulner, and Tavish Bell.