Local nonprofit provides domestic violence victims with resources

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The issue of domestic violence was brought to the forefront locally during the coronavirus pandemic by a Princeton area non-profit’s virtual summit of panelists and survivors.

The organization Lead My Way conducted the virtual summit on Oct. 24, which was designed to provide resources for survivors and victims, along with tips for others to notice the signs of domestic violence.

Lead My Way’s goal is to provide solutions to empower domestic violence survivors with interpersonal and professional growth as their physical and emotional healing progresses, according to the organization.

“As I was married and my circumstances changed, somehow and somewhere a freed voice would take some strength at times, I was not willing to continue taking injustice. But there were not many choices I had,” said Ritu Chopra, executive director Lead My Way, who is also a domestic violence survivor. “I chose courage and I chose freedom. I realized I never allowed myself to heal. This project is my healing project which gave birth to Lead My Way.”

Topics for the Courage, Community, Communication during COVID-19 summit ranged from empowerment and personal stories of perseverance during crisis, the long lasting impact of domestic violence, challenges to families facing abuse during the coronavirus pandemic, and bystander intervention and positive roles. The event included speakers from the United States, South Africa and Australia.

“Domestic violence is not limited to women, men also suffer, children also suffer, elderly people, and people with any sort of disabilities. Very often we are trying to blame the victims that is how society looks at it. It happens so often that victims start to blame themselves,” Chopra said. “Looking at domestic violence as a stigma or taboo or something we have to hide is something we have to change our perspective on.”

According to The New England Journal of Medicine, domestic violence hotlines in some regions of the country have seen the number of calls they receive drop by more than 50%. The article states, however, that experts in the field knew rates of intimate partner violence had not decreased, but that victims were unable to safely connect with services.

The violence can come in many forms: physical, psychological, emotional and sexual. The journal highlights that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men experience domestic violence.

One of the summit’s featured topics delved not only into challenges to families facing abuse during the coronavirus pandemic, but the aspect of depression and loneliness faced by those in more isolated scenarios due to impact of the virus on normal life.

“The virus is affecting people, but it is not affecting everyone. Depending on how strong a person is, some people have become stronger,” said Dr. Pratap Singhal, an emergency and family medicine doctor out of Bellville, who spoke to issue of depression and loneliness. “Yes, I see more depression and more loneliness, but I also see people becoming stronger from this.”

To cope with the emotional effects of the virus impact on society, he suggests that individuals can help themselves mentally by utilizing meditation, prayer or connecting with an individual’s hero on a daily basis, whether it is reading their stories, letters or book.

“You need to be aware that you need the help and do something about it and yes you can do something about it,” Singhal said. “The solution is to be strong mentally, physically and spiritually.”

Michelle Gamble from Sankofa Healing and Enrichment Inc. discussed the issue of children’s mental health in the current pandemic.

“I am very concerned that we are not looking at how they are not prepared to handle what has been happening in our world. They are not prepared in a variety of ways. Number one, we live in a society where we no longer teach our children how to be emotionally resilient,” she said. “We live in a world where we are always pushing medications. For some of our children they have genetic issues that predispose them to anxiety and depression, for some of our children they are dealing with food intolerances, and for some of our children they are dealing with toxic metal issues.”

Gamble added that COVID is bringing to light these imbalances that were there from the beginning.

“Our children need to be in safe environments and be able to be taught emotional resilience. Our children also need for us to address them as individuals as unique,” Gamble said. “We need to do a deep dive to understand why our children may be having certain difficulties with anxiety and depression that goes beyond the craziness of lockdown or trauma of puberty. We have to also encourage our adult population to allow our children be children.”

The event also touched on panelists personal stories of domestic violence, on teen dating violence, rationalizing domestic violence, timing and intuition of intervening in a domestic violence situation, and the difficulty for a victim to leave an ongoing domestic violence situation.

For information on domestic violence resources from the event, visit www.leadmyway-usa.org.