We Need to Talk about Domestic Violence in Our Communities

broken window in houseOctober is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The more we talk about domestic violence, the more likely it becomes that we build awareness, identify abusive behaviors, and take action to prevent harm to people in our communities who may be family, friends, neighbors, or coworkers.

So let’s talk about it.

What Is Domestic Violence?

Let’s start by talking about what domestic violence is and is not. We can define domestic violence as a pattern of behaviors used by one person in a relationship to exert power and control over the other person in that relationship.

Domestic violence is not a “relationship problem” or a “rough patch” in a relationship. It is ongoing. It is a pattern of behavior that tends to begin with something seemingly minor, which then escalates over time and becomes increasingly dangerous in nature.

The cycle of abuse typically begins when tension builds and the abusive person becomes angry. Some form of abusive behavior follows—it could be name calling, it could be throwing a dinner plate, or it could be any number of other actions. After the abusive incident, there may be a “honeymoon” or make-up phase in which the abusive person apologizes, promises to change, and/or swears the abuse will never happen again. The honeymoon phase is typically followed up by a time of calm in which the abusive person and possibly even the victim behave as if the abuse never happened.

Types of Abuse

Domestic violence exists in various forms, but the common thread among them is the aim to maintain power and control. Abuse may take the form of physical, sexual, emotional, financial, spiritual, or stalking.

Technological abuse is becoming increasingly common as well. Technological abuse may include the abusive person posting pictures online of the victim or sending threats via text message or email. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a woman is assaulted or beaten every nine seconds in the United States. The Coalition also reports that one in three women and one in four men is physically abused by an intimate partner, with the most common occurrence of domestic violence victimization found in women between the ages of 18 and 24.

Effects of Abuse

Abuse can have a variety of effects on the victim, children in the home, and on the community. Long-term effects of abuse on the victim differ from one person to another and may include flashbacks, panic attacks, anxiety, trouble sleeping, broken bones, head trauma, low self-esteem, eating disorders, depression, suicide ideation, and chronic pain.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a woman is assaulted or beaten every nine seconds in the United States.

Children who are exposed to domestic violence also respond in different ways and may show symptoms that vary by age. Infants may be easily irritated, difficult to soothe, and exhibit continuous fussiness or crying. Toddlers may use profanity, have frequent nightmares, show meanness toward others, or seem to not know how to play. Some children may bully other children, earn low grades, be unable to complete homework or other tasks, show an inability to follow directions, or even show regressive behaviors such as thumb sucking or bed-wetting.

Teens who witness or experience violence in the home may show aggressive or violent behavior toward others, develop depression or anxiety, isolate, or engage in self-destructive behavior. They may also engage in obsessive-compulsive behaviors or appear to be overachieving and perfectionistic.

Domestic violence also impacts the community as a public health problem. It reduces productivity in the workplace. Many victims miss work because of abuse-related injuries or because of fear that the person abusing them will know where to find them. Victimization is also associated with costs for hospital care, emergency room visits, physician care, dental care, ambulance transport, physical therapy, and mental health care. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total health care cost associated with domestic violence each year is nearly $4.1 billion.

Why Victims Stay

A recent online campaign known as #WhyIStayed became popular among domestic violence survivors following a widely publicized incident involving then-NFL player Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancée (now wife) unconscious in an elevator. Instead of focusing on why someone would hit a partner, many in the media and on the Internet asked, “Why would she stay with someone who abuses her?” Survivors took to social media to share their stories about what kept them in abusive relationships.

People may have many reasons for staying with an abusive partner, including:

  • Fear of retaliation from the abusive person or the abusive person’s friends and family
  • Having nowhere else to go
  • Lack of adequate finances, or reliance on the abusive person financially
  • Fear of losing custody of the children
  • Fear that their immigration status will be reported
  • Religious or cultural beliefs
  • Hope that the abusive person will change
  • Threats that pets will be harmed if the victim leaves

The moment a survivor decides to leave an abusive partner is often the most dangerous point. By deciding to leave, survivors are essentially making an effort to remove themselves from the control of their partners. When the abusive person recognizes that his or her partner is trying to leave, he or she may behave in dangerous ways to maintain their control, such as threatening suicide or by displaying or using weapons.

Safety Planning and Seeking Help

Whether a person decides to leave or stay with an abusive person, precautions can be taken to minimize risk and maximize safety. Packing an emergency bag with important items can help if someone needs to get away from an abusive situation quickly. The bag should be kept with a trusted person, such as a close friend or relative, and should include copies of important documents such as protection orders, bank account information, cash, extra keys, medication, and copies of birth certificates. If you’re not in an abusive situation but suspect someone you know is, you may offer to keep an emergency bag ready for when the timing is safe and without the abusive person present.

Domestic violence often involves isolating victims from friends and family, so seeking support can be difficult. When the timing is right, seek out, or help someone seek out, assistance from local domestic violence agencies or access other help, such as counseling or legal aid. Agency workers and providers can offer options, help you explore choices, create a safety plan, and help survivors feel a sense of connection by providing support.

References:

  1. Liptak, J. J., & Leutenberg, E. A. (2009). The domestic violence survival workbook: Self-assessments, exercises & educational handouts. Duluth, MN. Whole Person Associates.
  2. National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. (2015). Domestic violence national statistics. Retrieved from http://www.ncadv.org

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Marjie L. Roddick, MA, LMHC, CTTS, therapist in Vancouver, Washington

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 19 comments
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  • Susan

    Susan

    October 15th, 2015 at 8:07 AM

    This is definitely something that has to be talked about, and I think that a wonderful target audience would be elementary age school kids. You know it is at this age that they start really forming their ideas of what a relationship is all about and I think that as many of them have witnessed domestic violence in the home they may begin to think that this is what a normal relationship looks like. We need to teach them at an early age that this is not normal and that they should never feel like they have to stay in it.

  • Marjie L. Roddick, MA, LMHC

    Marjie L. Roddick, MA, LMHC

    October 15th, 2015 at 8:05 PM

    Thanks for the comment Susan. I agree that starting early with conversations about respectful relationships is a great idea! The relationships parents are in role model healthy or unhealthy interactions and can play a part in the types of relationships children will enter later.

  • derek

    derek

    October 16th, 2015 at 11:03 AM

    One other thing that has to be stressed is that there are multiple different types of abuse. I think that the majority of people think that if they do not see the injuries or the bruises then there must not be any abuse going on. The thing is that they do not see the hurt and the pain that someone could be feeling on the inside and that they are too afraid to share with anyone else.

  • Morgan

    Morgan

    October 16th, 2015 at 12:48 PM

    tHe need is so great when it comes to helping someone believe that it is safe for them to talk about the abuse that they have endured and the struggles that they have faced.
    It is also important though for them to understand that they have thousands of people who are supporting their cause, who know what they have faced and who are determined to help them make it through this.

  • rivers a

    rivers a

    October 17th, 2015 at 7:41 AM

    If the people that this is directly affecting are not more willing to come forward and tell their stories then there will never be the level of understanding that there needs to be about how harmful this can be not to just an individual but to their family members as well. We all need to create a form of sanctuary so that they know that it is safe to talk, it is safe to share, and to let them know that we are there and want to help.

  • Marjie L. Roddick, MA, LMHC

    Marjie L. Roddick, MA, LMHC

    October 17th, 2015 at 10:43 AM

    Thanks for joining in the conversation Derek and Morgan! Derek, I think you’re right that many people think of domestic violence as only being physical abuse. The other kinds of abuse aren’t as visible and can be harder to identify. Sometimes, the abused people themselves don’t recognize what’s going on as “abuse” because their partner has never hurt them in a physical way. Yes, Morgan, I agree that being an ally as someone who is safe to talk about abuse with is very important! It’s unfortunate that many people who are courageous enough to disclose abuse are met with disbelief. People sometimes respond to survivors by saying “she would never do that!” or “he would never hurt anybody!” So, yes, it’s very important for people who support their cause, as you mentioned, to not only support survivors themselves but also to help others understand how they can be supportive if they discover someone they know is being abused. People sometimes want to help but don’t know how. So, the more we talk about domestic violence the more knowledge we gain about how to identify it and how to help when it happens.

  • Marjie L. Roddick, MA, LMHC

    Marjie L. Roddick, MA, LMHC

    October 18th, 2015 at 1:50 PM

    Hi rivers a, thanks for your comment! I really like your idea of creating a sanctuary for survivors. Too often survivors believe that other people cannot be trusted or victims become isolated from their support networks. The more often people offer some form of support to survivors the closer we move to creating a sanctuary where survivors can build a sense of trust, connection, and safety.

  • rivers a

    rivers a

    October 19th, 2015 at 8:26 AM

    Thanks for that Marjie. This happened to my sister so I know that there can be some difficulty with a willingness to come forward and share. But I think that if there is a sense of security there then more people would be willing to talk about it.

  • sylvie

    sylvie

    October 20th, 2015 at 7:16 AM

    I stayed in a situation much longer than I ever should have. It was so hard for me to leave for multiple reasons… I was not financially secure, I was afraid to leave and what he would do to us if he caught us, and then I felt this obligation to be a good wife and stay. Many broken bones and bruises later I finally found the courage to get out, but there is still a part of me at times that wonders that if I could have ever made it work out and stayed.

  • Marjie L. Roddick, MA, LMHC

    Marjie L. Roddick, MA, LMHC

    October 20th, 2015 at 1:26 PM

    Thanks for sharing some of your story sylvie and the reasons why you stayed, it can help people understand that leaving is not an easy decision and that it does take immense courage to step away from a controlling relationship. Sometimes when people leave an abusive relationship they do wonder whether they could have made it work out and may feel guilt or other negative feelings for something that is not their fault. Negative feelings can be related to people returning to hurtful relationships and re-entering the abuse cycle. It is up to the abusive person to change, not the survivor. Survivors often try to figure out how to constantly change to meet the approval of the abuser, when it’s the abuser’s behaviors that need to change.

  • Virginia

    Virginia

    October 20th, 2015 at 4:29 PM

    YES we do!
    We have to make sure that we get our voices heard!

  • Al

    Al

    October 23rd, 2015 at 10:45 AM

    Do you ever feel like there is a whole lot of talk and not that much action?

  • Marjie L. Roddick, MA, LMHC

    Marjie L. Roddick, MA, LMHC

    October 23rd, 2015 at 3:40 PM

    Thanks for your enthusiastic comment Virginia! By talking about DV with each other and finding ways to support victims we can help those voices be heard. Thanks for your question too, Al. Sometimes it can seem like there’s a lot of talk with little action but I find it helpful to look at the work everyone is doing in the community to intervene with and prevent domestic violence. There are a lot of shelters, organizations, volunteers, workshops, and conferences focused on DV in my area, which feels reassuring that people are trying to make a difference even when it seems like we’re swimming against the current. I attended a DV conference last month with more than 400 other people working to end DV around our state. It gave me a sense that there’s A LOT being done! Maybe you’re in an area with less community support, in which case it’s a great opportunity for you to take action and begin a conversation about ways to increase support! Connecting with other like-minded people in your area through volunteer work, visiting local DV organizations, or some other activity can help build a sense of being pro-active and lead to action once the conversations are started.

  • Cheryl

    Cheryl

    January 7th, 2016 at 10:36 PM

    Abuse isn’t always women men get abused too I think men don’t speak up cos they are afraid they will get made fun of.some men were raised not to hit women so they take it in silence lets stop this stigma for we are all equal.help is there don’t suffer in silence

  • Elizabeth

    Elizabeth

    May 14th, 2016 at 9:47 PM

    Best statement I have read about dv is feom realwarriors.net “Domestic violence can happen to anyone, anywhere, at anytime regardless of their military service, race, ethnicity, education level, religion, gender or age.” The conversation MUST include men and not just highlight women. The issue is domestic violence and that means everyone.

  • Marjie L Roddick, MA, LMHC, CTTS

    Marjie L Roddick, MA, LMHC, CTTS

    May 17th, 2016 at 12:31 PM

    Thanks for commenting Cheryl and Elizabeth. I agree, it is very important to include men in these conversations as well! As I mention in the article, 1 in 4 men are affected by domestic violence so it is important we hear their voices and experiences as survivors as well to help reduce stigma and encourage more open conversation about it.

  • Kee

    Kee

    August 2nd, 2016 at 4:15 PM

    My partner has scared me has threatened me and last was first time any actual physical assalt took place, he kicked my shin hard in the pub in front of a load of people he wasn’t bothered that anyone saw him I was shocked and so we’re a number of others
    Is this normal behaviour for an abuser ?? He is always angry I thought it was stress of looking after his mom but she is in hospital and his rage is worse I can’t do anything right

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    August 3rd, 2016 at 7:46 AM

    Hi Kee,
    Thank you for your comment. We want to provide you with some resources to help in your situation. If you are experiencing emotional, physical, sexual, or other kinds of abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (TTY: 1-800-787-3224). They provide free confidential support at any time, day or night.

      Call for resources about safety within an abusive relationship or while trying to leave one.
      Call for resources about safety and recovery after an abusive relationship has ended.
      Call if you are afraid you may be abusing someone and want help changing your behavior.

    In addition, you can search for a therapist in your area by using the GoodTherapy.org directory, here: https://www.goodtherapy.org/find-therapist.html.

    Please know we are thinking of you, and wishing the very best for you and your well-being. ♥

    Kind regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Jamey P

    Jamey P

    September 4th, 2017 at 3:20 PM

    very nice submit, i actually love this website, keep on it

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