Domestic Violence: Not Always What You Think

October marks Domestic Violence Awareness month, a time to shed light on the issues surrounding intimate partner abuse. On a typical day, domestic violence hotlines receive approximately 21,000 calls. Nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States, and abuse can happen to anyone, by anyone: 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men are victims of some form of violence by an intimate partner. There is no “typical victim.” It is not limited to certain income levels, ethnicities, religions, or lifestyles. It can happen in relationships of all age levels.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, physical abuse is not the only form of abuse. Domestic violence may involve verbal, emotional, sexual, economic and academic abuse to the victim. Some abusers prevent their victims from seeking medical or mental health treatment so as to not give themselves away.

Verbal abuse may include yelling, cursing, name-calling and threatening language. Emotional abuse entails bullying, constant criticism, manipulation and shaming. A man may prohibit his partner from wearing makeup in public because “guys will flirt.”

Sexual abuse involves unwanted sexual advances such as inappropriate sexual contact, sexual assault and rape. (And sex without consent is rape, no matter what.) Refusing to wear a condom, withholding a woman's access to contraceptives, and using a weapon during sex are just a few forms of sexual abuse.

Economic abuse consists of controlling the victim’s finances, not allowing her to work or stealing her paycheck when she is allowed to work. Consequently, the victim's financial limitations present challenges when she is trying to escape the abusive situation.

Academic abuse is a form of violence that has only recently received attention. Monitoring behavior in the classroom, preventing someone from studying and forcing that person to choose the abuser over academic responsibilities are forms of academic abuse. And just like other forms, it stems from the abuser’s insecurities, perceived lack of power, and poor emotional management skills.

No matter what kind of abuse it is, it’s very difficult to see a loved one suffer. If you’re concerned that someone you know is in an abusive relationship, it is wise to understand how it can start, and what symptoms to look for.

The cycle of domestic violence usually begins with tension building. That tension often leads to an acute explosive episode and ends in what is called the “honeymoon phase.” First, disputes surrounding money, jobs, children or other important topics begin to surface as the victim attempts to satisfy or avoid the abuser. When the victim is unable to soothe or placate her partner and emotions escalate on one or both sides, physical abuse may follow. Although the abuser blames her for the violence, the victim is never at fault. After the violent incident, the abuser begins to feel remorseful. To build trust in the victim again, he may give gifts, apologize profusely, vow never to let it happen again... until it does, usually inevitably. Of course, every abusive relationship has its own cycle and may not follow this exact pattern.

How do you know when it’s happening to someone you care about? Physical abuse symptoms are the most blatant, such as unexplained bruises, burns and fractures. If your friend or loved one is isolated from friends and family, has a tracking device on her phone, or is required to check-in with her partner everywhere she goes, or relinquishing control of her life to her partner in other ways, she may be experiencing abuse. If you notice your friend or family member avoiding certain topics in an effort to prevent arguments, take note.

Abuse can cause serious behavioral and other issues for the victim. Never underestimate the power of fear—fear of losing her children if she leaves, or fear of losing financial stability. She may suffer from depression, hopelessness, anxiety, substance abuse, as well as frequent physical illness.  Overwhelmed by fear and shame, she often believes that she is at fault, and that she is the one who needs to change. She may love her partner deeply and hope that someday he will stop. It’s important to remember that the abuser is not abusive all the time; friends, families and colleagues often see a very different, caring partner.

If you suspect a friend or loved one is experiencing abuse, do not judge her. Try to talk to her about it in a non-judgmental way. You might say, “I am concerned about you because...” Be patient; it may take several attempts before she will confide in you. Acknowledge her strengths and remind her of her support system. Help her to develop outside contacts and ways to develop her self-esteem. Talk to her about how she can keep herself (and her children) safe. Find out more about local services—domestic violence shelters, mental health services, or even national hotlines—that can help her. Offer to keep her important documents safe in case she needs them in an emergency.  Agree on a code word that is known only to you both so she can signal when she’s in danger. But always, always, consider your safety as well as hers before acting.

If a friend or loved one in an abusive relationship tells you their partner has threatened to kill her or threatened suicide in any form, tell her to seek safety immediately.  That is one of the largest risk factors for homicide and suicide. Professionals who work with victims’ families often hear them say that they wish they would have sought safety for their deceased loved one sooner.

Every abuse situation differs, but domestic violence is a crime and is unacceptable. Take the time to learn more about it.

Cathy Kellogg, BSW
Care Manager |Community Based Team
North Range Behavioral Health

In Greeley, get help and confidential support at a Women’s Place at 970-356-4226 or 866-356-4226. You can also contact North Range for behavioral health services at 970-347-2120.

A Women’s Place (Greeley, CO)

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