In the Alliance office, we are frequently thinking about ways to become healthier, physically and mentally. We try to eat healthy; our Friday potlucks generally consist of lentils, vegetables, gluten free pasta, mostly sugar free food, you know- healthy stuff. Also on our Potluck Fridays, we have a staff meeting where we begin by talking about what we are grateful for – a way to keep our outlook positive, then end with a bit of self care so none of get overwhelmed from the difficult work we do to end Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.  We are aware of our physical and emotional health and we try to take care of ourselves.

I recently attended a Community Health Fair with one of our community partner organizations, “Healthy U” in which the focus is “how do we get our community to embrace good health”. When the topic of how to get more people interested in getting healthy and accessing services,  it dawned on me that people are mostly trying to meet their basic needs and don’t have time to even think about getting healthy.  I then began to wonder about how a woman living in a violent situation thinks about her health, or if she thinks about it. When a woman is living in an abusive situation, and is afraid for her personal security, her first and most important need is that of her own safety and the safety of her children.

For those of us who took psychology classes, we know that in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety is the most important aspect of the human condition after physical needs; breathing, food and water. A woman living with a violent partner may have her basic needs for survival met; she is able to breathe, has food (unless it is withheld as punishment) and has access to water. The next level of the needs hierarchy is basic safety and security.  When a person’s basic need for safety and security is not met, it is not possible to move into fulfilling the next steps; social needs, esteem needs and personal growth (self actualization needs). When we spend our time struggling and worrying about how to stay safe, we don’t have the time or the energy to think about much of anything else. Our physical health and our emotional/mental health are often the last things on our minds.

The U.S Department of Justice reported that 37% of all women who sought care in hospital emergency rooms for violence-related injuries were injured by a current of former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend. Thirty seven percent! That number always astounds me. Studies of the Surgeon General’s office reveal that domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44, more common than automobile accidents, muggings, and cancer deaths combined. Other research has found that half of all women will experience some form of violence from their partners during marriage, and that more than one third are battered repeatedly every year. The Center for Disease Control studies conclude that the costs of intimate partner violence against women exceed an estimated billion in direct costs of medical and mental health care and nearly 1.8 billion in the indirect costs of lost productivity.

All of these statistics show that if we want our community to be healthy, part of the process is to ensure the safety of those residing here. If we can find a way to keep everyone safe, men, women, and children, then we can begin to find a way to good health.