Anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse, says Lauren Shaivitz, executive director of CHANA, a local Jewish agency that supports people who have experienced abuse or trauma.
“Years ago, people looked at domestic abuse as a private matter, something that went on in the home and not a community issue,” she says. “That’s changed over the years. We believe it’s important for the whole community to understand what [domestic violence] is and looks like. We want people to recognize the signs so [victims] can seek help as soon as possible.”
On Oct. 30, CHANA will present its fundraiser “Voices: An Evening of Hope, Vision and Inspiration” at Pikesville’s Suburban Country Club. Scheduled in conjunction with “Domestic Violence Awareness Month,” the event will feature a keynote address by Cheryl R. Kravitz, a marketing and communications consultant, Jewish communal leader and domestic abuse survivor.
The evening will also include an art gallery and silent auction, elegant fare and beverages, and the presentation of the inaugural Nancy F. Aiken Visionary Award, named in honor of Shaivitz’s predecessor.
Kravitz, who lives in Silver Spring and has worked with CHANA in the past, will speak about recognizing the signs of domestic abuse. She said she owes her life to the fact that “someone noticed what was going on with me.”
Kravitz said one indication that abuse may be taking place is when “a person doesn’t invite friends to the house and keeps making excuses about it.” She said such behavior may indicate that an abusive partner is trying to isolate the victim.
“In my case, I was moved across the country so I was no longer in proximity to friends and family who would have noticed [the abuse],” she said.
Kravitz said another sign may be the clothes worn by a possible victim, including garments that hide bruises and scars. “When I was being abused, I was always wearing long sleeves and turtlenecks, even in the summer,” she said.
Also, Kravitz said victims are often short on money. “They’re invited to lunch or to the movies but never have any money, even though they are working,” she said. “Financial control, may be going on.”
Kravitz advised friends and family members to be observant when a possible victim is particularly “close-mouthed” about their personal life. Secrecy can be an indication that an individual is being abused, she said.
When victims feel safe enough to share their stories of abuse, Shaivitz said, it is critical that family and friends “listen – really hear and believe what they’re telling us, and formulate a response. We can all help victims in ways we might not realize.
“Victims are often ashamed, but there’s no reason for shame. Domestic abuse can affect anyone,” she said. “We each have access to resources that really can impact the life of a victim.”
Telling another person that abuse is taking place is “the scariest step” for a victim, said Kravitz, not only because of shame or despair but also due to concerns of retaliation.
“In my case, I had been out of the relationship for three decades but still didn’t think I could speak publicly about the abuse, because I was afraid he’d come back,” she said.
That changed eight or nine years ago when Kravitz learned that her abuser died. At that point, she said she began telling her story in public and trying to help other victims. “If you’re in an abusive relationship, there’s help,” she said. “We’re not judgmental. Make that first call.”
In addition to her consulting work, Kravitz teaches yoga to trauma victims. “When you’re abused, you lose any feeling in your body,” she said. “It’s like an out-of-body experience. Yoga brings a person back to their body.”
Kravitz urged friends and family members to be patient with victims about getting out of their abusive situations. “Statistics show it can take abused people seven tries to leave an abuser. That person is so beaten down in every sense,” says Kravitz. “If you want to help, don’t give up.”
For information, visit chanabaltimore.org or call 410-234-0030.
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