Every 9 seconds, a woman in the U.S. is beaten or assaulted by a current or ex-significant other.
About 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men have experienced sexual violence, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime and over 43 million women and about 38 million men experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men, and on a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide. Sadly, adults are not the only ones who are affected either, with 1 in 15 children exposed to intimate partner violence each year, and 90% of these children are eyewitnesses to this violence.
What is domestic violence?
Domestic violence is intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a pattern of power and control committed by one intimate partner against another. It includes physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, and emotional abuse. An intimate partner can be a current or former spouse or a dating partner. Domestic violence can result in physical injury, psychological trauma, and even death. The physical, emotional, and psychological consequences of domestic violence are devastating and can last a lifetime. It is also important to know that domestic violence does not always manifest as physical abuse. Emotional and psychological abuse can be just as extreme and as dangerous as physical violence.
There are many actions that constitute domestic violence and those actions do not need to be a daily occurrence. All the below actions are domestic violence, whether they have happened once, or more than once.
- Your partner is possessive. They check up on you constantly and control where you go, who you see, and they get mad at you if you don’t do what they say.
- Your partner accuses you of being unfaithful without cause, or they isolate you from family or friends.
- Your partner puts you down. They attack your intelligence, looks, mental health, or capabilities. They put the blame on you for their actions and tell you nobody else will want you if you leave them.
- Your partner threatens you or your family. They tell you that you are a bad parent and threaten to hurt or take your children from you.
- Your partner physically or sexually abuses you. If they EVER push or hit you, or make you have sex with them when you don’t want to, they are abusing you (even if it doesn’t happen all the time.)
- They tell you that you can never do anything right, or they embarrass or shame you with put-downs.
- They control all of the finances and access to money.
- They prevent you from making your own decisions in almost everything, including how you dress, wear your hair, etc.
- They intimidate you with guns, knives, or other weapons.
Why don’t people who are in abusive relationships leave?
It is true that when it is a feasible option, it is always best for victims to do whatever they can to escape their abusers. However, this is not the case in all situations. Abusers go to extremes to prevent the victim from leaving and in fact, leaving an abuser is the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence. One study found in interviews with men who have killed their wives, that either the threat of separation by their partner or actual separations were most often the precipitating events that lead to the murder. A victim’s reasons for staying with their abusers are extremely complex and, in most cases, are based on the reality that their abuser will follow through with the threats they have used to keep them trapped, such as the abuser will hurt or kill them, they will hurt or kill the kids, they will win custody of the children, they will harm or kill pets or others, they will ruin their victim financially — the list goes on. Victims in violent relationships know their abuser best and they know the extent to which their abuser will go to make sure they have and can maintain control over them.
Many times, although victims do want to escape, they may be faced with little resources and little help. They may have unsupportive friends or family and have nowhere they can go to stay, therefore fearing homelessness. They may fear the difficulties of single parenting or fear losing custody of their children if they leave or get a divorce. The victim may already not have a job, or access to money because that was not permitted by their abuser. Also, if the abuser has threatened loved ones or anyone that helps the victim, the victim may avoid leaving in order to protect others. A recent study of intimate partner homicides found 20% of homicide victims were actually not the domestic violence victims themselves, but family members, friends, neighbors, persons who intervened to try and help, law enforcement responders, or bystanders.
Other factors that play a role in victims not leaving their abuser are:
- The victim feels that the relationship is a mix of good times, love, and hope along with manipulation, intimidation, and fear.
- Fear that homelessness may be their only option if they leave.
- Religious or cultural beliefs and practices that do not support divorce.
- The belief that two-parent households are better for children, despite the abuse.
- It can be dangerous to leave.
- Self-esteem has been destroyed.
- They share a life together, like finances, children, a home.
- Lack of support by police officers and law enforcement who may treat violence as a “domestic dispute,” instead of a crime where one person is physically attacking another person. (Often, victims of abuse are arrested and charged by law enforcement even if they are only defending themselves against the batterer.)
- Inconsistency of abuse; during non-violent times, the abuser may fulfill the victim’s dream of romantic love. The victim may also rationalize the abuser is basically good until something bad happens and they have to “let off steam.”
Unfair blame is frequently put upon the victim of abuse because of assumptions that victims choose to stay in abusive relationships. The truth is, bringing an end to abuse is not a matter of the victim choosing to leave; it is a matter of the victim being able to safely escape their abuser, the abuser choosing to stop the abuse, or law enforcement and courts punishing and holding the abuser accountable for the crime of abuse they inflict.
Although you can’t control an abuser and what they will do, you can plan how you will respond to future abusive incidents, prepare for the possibility of an incident happening, and plan how to get to safety. When you are in a crisis, it is very difficult to look for assistance, make decisions and take care of yourself and others. It is your decision if and when you tell others that you are being abused and that you are at risk, but please know that friends, family, and coworkers can help with your safety plan if they are aware of the situation and want to help.
tips for a sAFETY PLAN & resources
- Create a safety plan and make up a “code word” for family or friends so they know when to call for help for you.
- Attend a victim’s/survivor’s support group with the Domestic Violence program
- Make a list with phone numbers of people or organizations you can contact when you need help, such as a church, the police department, a friend, or a counselor.
- Think about what you need the most help with and when talking to someone that can help, give clear and specific information about what you need (e.g. “I need a pro-bono family law attorney for a child custody case, and I am a victim of domestic violence”)
- Become familiar with the Violence Against Women Act, which is a Federal Law that helps women keep their housing in situations of domestic violence. Under this law, you have the right to be protected from eviction and seek a change in your lease. An example is if you share a lease with the abuser, PHAs, landlords, and property owners/managers can evict the abuser WITHOUT affecting your housing.
If you need help, please reach out to someone. Med First cares, so if you need to confide in a medical provider, come see one of our healthcare providers at any location. They can help you find resources and refer you to programs and counseling services.
The below links contain additional resources and information