24 people a minute: Teaching about intimate partner violence

I read a memoir recently called Goodbye, Sweet Girl: A Story of Domestic Violence and Survival by Kelly Sundberg. I hope to use it in the spring 2024 semester when teaching an interdisciplinary learning course on Trauma Studies, but if I hadn’t already missed the deadline for book orders for fall 2023, I would probably add it to my HBSE list in addition to the traditional textbook.

As the title indicates, this memoir is about the author’s experience of intimate partner violence (IPV) in her marriage. For anyone who has ever said “I just don’t understand why someone just won’t leave a violent relationship!”, this book can help you understand. For anyone who has ever minimized, or heard someone else minimize, the impact of non-physical IPV, this book will help you see how damaging it can be. For anyone who needs specific examples of the way the cycle of violence can be manifest in a relationship, you can see it here.

From a social work/educator point of view, this memoir is really valuable for all the reasons above and more. The only thing that gave me a bit of pause was at the end of the book, when the author offered some possible reasons why her husband had been violent. There were a couple that (from my reading) sounded like she was implicating her behaviors as a reason violence had occurred and that is contrary to what I believe and how I have been taught from early on in my professional career. Someone else could have a different read on that, and it could still lead to good class discussions.

I always talk about IPV during the young adult lifespan stage in my HBSE course. Most years I have taught HBSE at least twice an academic year and so have taught it at least 40 times. Never have I taught the class where someone did not speak up in class or approach me afterword about their own personal or family experience with IPV. When you think about the frequency with which this happens, this isn’t a surprise.

Obviously, you need to be sensitive when introducing this topic. The week beforehand, I always remind students that we will be discussing IPV and that they should remember to care for themselves if reading the material or preparing for class is triggering in some way.

Most people are familiar with the Cycle of Violence and the original Power and Control Wheel. There are also extensions and other editions (for lack of a better word) of the power and control wheel available here.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is a great resource to point students to, not only for them to be able to share with others but also to get an understanding of how safety plans can be constructed. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence has a wealth of information, including fact sheets and state level resources that are useful for classroom activities and helping people understand more about this issue. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has a number of resources that are easily accessible for students, including discussions of risk factors, teen dating violence, stalking, and more.

I always think this topic is important to discuss not only from the perspective of being a future social worker or other helping professional, but also just from the perspective of being human. One of the main things I was thinking as I read the memoir was “I wish you had had a village of supportive people around you”.

We are a part of each other’s villages.

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