What is domestic violence?
Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive, controlling behavior that can include physical abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, sexual abuse or financial abuse and any other behavior to establish power and control. Domestic violence is pervasive and affects millions of individuals across the United States regardless of age, economic status, race, religion, education gender, sexual orientation or any other identity. People who abuse make it very difficult for victims to escape relationships through several tactics including threats of increased violence, using children, or financial control. These barriers mean that on average it takes a survivor six to eight attempts to leave a relationship before they are able to. It’s important for survivors to know that the abuse is not their fault, and they are not alone.
Why do victims sometimes return to or stay with abusers?
There are many reasons why survivors struggle to leave abusive relationships, however the better question to ask is “Why do abuser commit acts of violence?” Asking survivors why they are staying in an abusive relationship or why they are going back, implies that the violence is the survivor or victims fault. Instead you should ask the person “How can I support you in your safety and happiness.”
For more information watch this “TEDTalk” by Leslie Morgan Steiner titled “Why domestic violence victims don’t leave.”
Does domestic violence only affect women?
People of all genders can be survivors and perpetrators of domestic violence. One in four women, one in seven men, and one in two non-binary people will be a victim of domestic violence at some point in their lifetime. Domestic violence affects people of all genders and has an effect on the community as a whole. Everyone must be part of the solution to end family violence.
Warning signs of an unhealthy relationship
There is no way to spot that someone has unhealthy or abusive ideas of a relationship until you have interacted with them. Some warning signs include:
- They insist on moving quickly in a relationship. For example, “I know it has only been a few months but I love you so much let’s move in together!”
- They want to limit the time you spend with family or friends and do not want you to be alone with others. “I know you love your mom, but every time you come home from visiting her we fight. I don’t think it’s good for our relationship for you to see her as much as you do, and when you do see her I need to be with you so I know what she is telling you.”
- They are extremely jealous or controlling. “Are you sure you were at the gym? You went by yourself and I texted you three times and I never heard back from you?”
- They do not take responsibility for their actions and blame others for everything that goes wrong. “I got in trouble today for raising my voice to a coworker, but if they just did their job correctly I would not have had to yell at them.”
- They criticize their partner’s appearance and make frequent putdowns. “How many times do I have to tell you; why do you have to be so stupid?”
- They monitor and control how you spend your money. For example, “I think you spend too much money on clothes, we should deposit your paycheck in my account and I will transfer you money as you need it.”
- They don’t want you to work or leave the home. For example, “I love you so much that I do not want you to work, you can stay home I make enough money for both of us.”
Any one of these behaviors may not indicate abusive actions, but it’s important to know the red flags and take time to explore each of them.
What are the effects of Domestic Violence?
Some effects of domestic violence can be easily seen when a bruise or mark is caused to a survivor from their partner or family member. However the effects of domestic violence are not just physical, verbal abuse has a large affect a survivor’s mental health. When a person who causes harm consistently uses hurtful words to put down their partner or family member it can be very traumatizing and cause a survivor to become depressed, anxious and lowers their self-esteem. When someone has experienced economic and psychological abuse it also creates a negative effect on them because they have issues with creating new boundaries that they once were not allowed to have as lingering struggles with trust and fear. Some of these effects can also be seen in children whether or not they have also been victims.
Is it possible for abusers to change?
Yes, but they must make the choice to change and take responsibility for their choices. It’s not easy for an abuser to stop abusive behavior, and it requires a serious decision to change. Once an abuser has had all of the power in a relationship, it’s difficult to change to a healthy relationship with equal power and compromises. Sometimes an abuser stops the physical violence, but continues to employ other forms of abuse – emotional, sexual, or financial. Some abusers are able to exert complete control over a victim’s every action without using violence or only using subtle threats of violence. All types of abuse are devastating to victims.
Does the economy affect domestic violence?
A weak economy does not cause domestic violence but it can make it more difficult for a survivor to leave, and make the abuse and violence intensify. Job loss, housing foreclosures, debt, and other factors contribute to higher stress levels at home, which can lead to increase violence. As the violence gets worse, a weak economy limits options for survivors to seek safety or escape. Survivors may have a more difficult time finding employment and new housing in a weak economy.
What can I do to help?
- Discuss with children in your life important components of healthy relationships, and through your own actions model creating and respecting healthy boundaries and non-violent solutions to conflicts.
- Call your public officials and voice your support of funding for life-saving domestic violence services.
- Help hold people who abuse accountable by interrupting violence and abuse when it is safe to do so amongst family and friends.
- Interrupt all forms of oppression (racism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, sexism etc.) as any form of oppression can be used by a person causing harm so they can have power and control of their partner.
- Stay informed of the issues most relevant to survivors of domestic violence in order to communicate it to others when necessary.
- Listen and support survivors and BELIEVE them when they tell their story. Letting your friend know you care and are willing to listen may be the best help you can offer.
- Support them with healthy and safe boundaries in whatever decision they choose, even if you disagree otherwise you are contributing to their isolation. Never assume that you know what is best for the survivor, this is just another exhibit of power and control. Remind them that everyone deserves to be in a healthy and safe relationship and you’re concerned about their well-being.
- Do not bad mouth the person causing harm to the survivor. They may want the abusive behavior to stop so they can stay in the relationship. They may want the relationship to end but remembering the history the survivor has with their partner and it never feels good to hear negative comments about the ones you love, even if they are true.
- Never blame them for what’s happening and remind them that whatever consequences the person who is causing harm receives, they are a result of their own actions NOT of the survivor seeking help.
- Remember to be discreet when sharing important resources as your friend may be in serious danger if the person causing harm sees these resources.
- Before you do anything, talk to a local domestic violence program for advice on how to support the person being abused and get more information. Share with the survivor that they can call our (toll free 1-866- 469-8600 or local 503-469- 8620). Advocates there can help your friend plan for their safety and help identify their options.