GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, one in four women will experience domestic violence or abuse by an intimate partner in her lifetime. That’s about 1.3 million every year. Most are never reported to the authorities.
In Arizona, it will lead to about 100 deaths every year.
In rural communities, the isolation experienced by victims of domestic violence is all the more stark — they may not have access to services, safe homes or shelters. And in places like Grand Canyon, where a large number of residents may not have access to transportation, it becomes more important to provide support and educate community members.
Bethany Larsen, a victim advocate who spent more than a decade
as a medical responder and family liaison for the Grand Canyon National Park's Emergency Services Branch, said education about the effects of domestic violence and the services available to victims is important because there are no specific profiles of an abuser.
“Abuse is considered a learned behavior; it is not caused by anger, mental problems, drugs or alcohol, or other common excuses like stress, inadequate communication skills, etc.,” Larsen said. “Removing these factors will not stop the violence, it will only make for more polite abusers.”
Larsen said stopping violence will, in part, require recognition, education, and shifting responsibility away from victim blaming and helping abusers take accountability for their beliefs related to and about power and control, which lie at the heart of domestic violence.
That’s why Coconino County Victim Witness Services opened a satellite office at Grand Canyon last year, and why the agency is sponsoring an event to raise awareness.
In Her Shoes, which takes place from noon to 2 p.m. April 23 at the Grand Canyon Community Building, places participants in the role of characters experiencing different forms of abuse. The exercise will encourage them to make choices about their character’s life as they navigate community systems and personal relationships.
Participants will also learn about and practice interrupting abusive behavior they may witness or even be a part of.
Larsen describes domestic violence as a community tragedy, not a private problem, and it touches all races, genders and economic classes — Coconino County and Grand Canyon are no different. She said community members encounter battered individuals on a daily basis, although when victims finally come forward, they may fall short because people don’t recognize the symptoms or the risks, understand what can be done, or know how to help.
“Fear, isolation, and creating a dependency on the abuser are all tools abusers use to obtain power and control,” Larsen explained. “Rural communities can be inviting to abusers due to the perceived lack of resources for victims and because living in a small community can be a function of local employment and therefore foster dependency.”
Eventually, Larsen said, the victim is left totally alone and without the internal and external resources to change his or her situation.
“Since we all encounter battered individuals daily, we should feel empowered to have a role in the movement to end domestic violence,” Larsen said. “We hope to empower the community to think creatively about ways to work to end domestic violence and help victims hear that they are not alone.”