Wake up Call: Somewhere in America a woman is battered every 9 seconds. During the ten minutes it takes to read this article, more than 66 women will have been abused by an intimate partner.
Domestic abuse may be one of the oldest family secrets plaguing homes across the United States. It can be traced far back into history. For centuries, social systems condoned- some even encouraged and still do- men’s violence against women. Maybe you have overheard sounds of physical violence from your neighbor’s. Did you ever have a co-worker or friend with an unexplained black eye? How do you think you would react to those types of situations… or would want someone to react to help you if you were the one being abused? Some people might intervene, or call 911 or look away or even walk away… All humans deserve the right to live a life free from violence, and yet the National Coalition against Domestic Violence says that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. Domestic abuse or domestic violence is defined as a pattern of abusive and coercive behaviors used to maintain power and control over a former or current intimate partner (Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness). The forms of abuse may include physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, stalking, intimidation and neglect. The U.S. Department of Justice says that most domestic violence cases are never even reported.
Meet Diane, a survivor of domestic abuse. She was in a relationship for 20 years with an abusive man who was well respected in their community. During their relationship, he slapped, punched, chased, kicked, choked her and threw chairs and even a hammer at her. At one point, he came after her with a pitchfork in front of a group of bystanders. Abusers often feel entitled to continue their abuse because no one challenges their behavior. For the entire time she and Mike were together he made her feel bad about herself. He routinely called her names, criticized her; he would call her a “terrible mother” one minute, and call her “beautiful and wonderful” the next. Mike’s abuse started out subtly as verbal abuse and gradually got more physical over the years. “He would call me horrible names to put me in my place. Eventually, he got so abusive that he would come after me in front of people. I felt brainwashed.” She once went to work with a black eye and told her co-workers she had run into a wall. “I was the textbook domestic violence victim.” Because abuse was accepted, many people knew about the abuse and chose to do nothing. Mike exposed her children to his violence against her. He threatened to shoot himself several times after she called 911 for help, claiming she had embarrassed and ruined his reputation by calling the police. Diane slept many nights in her car or at work out of fear for her life. With resources and a safety plan in place, she was able to leave. She has been divorced for over ten years and has helped other domestic violence victims by volunteering for the local domestic violence hotline. “I tried to leave so many times but he always scared me into staying by threatening suicide. Even after I left with my two kids and only $1000 to my name, he stalked me for years.” Due to the increase of violence at separation, it is very important, as a friend, to connect a survivor with resources rather than judge her for not being able to leave safely. The advice Diane has for others in similar situations is to know what help there is out there such as www.ndvh.org.
Domestic violence occurs in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships with the highest percentage of victims being women. Men’s violence against women is the leading cause of injury to women. It happens within relationships of all ages, races, genders and income levels. Domestic violence occurs because the abuser wants to completely gain and keep control over his victim. Relationship abuse is a learned behavior and is not caused from alcohol, drugs or a genetic predisposition to be violent or aggressive. Abuse is always a choice. It is also the perpetrator’s choice to expose the children to violence and should be held accountable for that choice. Boys who witness domestic violence during their childhood are more likely to show patterns of similar behavior by becoming abusers themselves. Children witnessing can be considered forgotten victims and may be affected in the short term and long term with issues such as depression, poor anger management skills, relationship problems, and substance abuse. Some studies suggest that as many as 10 million children witness domestic abuse annually. Sometimes it is the child who has to call 911. It is imperative that children know they are not to blame for the violence occurring in their home.
Lenore Walker developed the “Cycle of Violence Theory” that describes the phases in domestic violence. The first phase is commonly known as the “tension building phase” which is often experienced as “walking on eggshells”. The second phase is the “explosion phase” and it is most likely the moment serious physical injury will occur. The final phase is now often called the “manipulation phase” and may include apologies, cards and manipulative rhetoric of making up and promises of change (Walker). Abusers make the victim feel confused because they display love mingled within the deep pockets of anger and violence.
Abuse in teenage relationships is also very common. “38% of women ages 14-17 are victims of date rape.” Over 70% of pregnant teens are beaten by their partner. (Violence against Women Network). What can you do if you think your teen is in an abusive relationship? Know what help is out there. The website “loveisrespect.org” is a national helpline designed to help teens in abusive relationships. They offer a list of the signs of abuse, resources and peer support. Teen dating violence can negatively affect your child’s self esteem. It can cause her to do poorly in school and to be at greater risk for unplanned pregnancy due to rape. Teach your sons early on that violence and abuse are not okay and to respect women.
The International Violence against Women Act is world-wide effort pioneered by the United States to stop violence against women. It is a pervasive epidemic that affects us all in some way whether we know it or not. Every October is National Domestic Violence Month and the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is November 25th. Educate yourself as to the resources and options that are out there. Be aware of the signs of domestic abuse. If you know someone experiencing domestic abuse, do not blame the victim and do not judge; rather, hold the perpetrator accountable to stop the violence. If you are experiencing domestic abuse now, make a safety plan to escape. You are not alone.
Domestic Violence Resources (most of these pages have an escape link near the top):
National DV hotline: www.ndvh.org or 800-799-7233 / 800-799-SAFE
RAINN: Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network: (800) 656-HOPE (4673)
Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness: http://stoprelationshipabuse.org/
National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline: www.loveisrespect.org
Domestic Violence Awareness Project: http://dvam.vawnet.org
National Resource Center on Domestic Violence: www.nrcdv.org
Autumn Johnson is a retired police officer, freelance writer and mom of two young children.