Domestic abuse is such a major issue, and the fact that it is not widely discussed is more than disconcerting, to say the least. Do we not talk about it because it doesn't affect us? Do we not talk about it because we think it only affects a certain type of person? Do we not talk about it because we think it's uncommon? Do we not talk about it because we view it as excusable or as warranted? Do we not talk about it because we think we are alone? Do we not talk about it because of the connotations? Do we not talk about it because we are scared?
The reasons ultimately don't matter, I suppose. The fact is that we don't talk about domestic abuse.
Well, friends, I am going to talk about it.
Why am I going to talk about it? Because one in three women are abused in her lifetime. I guarantee that you know -- whether you know it or not -- someone who has been affected by domestic abuse. That is a terrifying statistic, and that is why we need to talk about it.
Often when we think of domestic abuse, we think of violence: black eyes, bruises, broken bones. That is one type of domestic abuse, and it is certainly a major issue: domestic abuse is the leading cause of injuries to women, more than mugging, car accidents, and rapes combined.
But domestic abuse is so much more than that. Domestic abuse is "the pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner." Yes, this includes physical abuse, but it also covers emotional, psychological, sexual, and economic abuse. Abusers use tactics and behaviors to intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound their partner.
Victims of domestic abuse come from all walks of life: rich and poor, white and black, educated and uneducated, heterosexual and homosexual, religious and secular, young and old, female and male.
Perpetrators of domestic abuse also come from a variety of backgrounds, which is especially problematic. Ninety percent of abusers have no criminal record, and they are frequently kind and generous to everyone outside of their intimate relationship. Not only do they not look like monsters, but they may (and often do) begin a relationship as an absolute Prince Charming.
That is one of the reasons why women find it so difficult to leave. They are in the relationship, after all, because they love him -- and because they believe that he truly loves her. He is kind and compassionate and loving and does wonderfully amazing things for her. He understands her and consoles her and compliments her and brags about her.
And when he "messes up," he apologizes profusely and says that he will make things better.
And she believes him.
After all, she loves him.
This, my friends, is the cycle of abuse.
Another reason women may find it difficult to leave is because they do not have the resources to do so. Often, if a woman wants to leave, she has difficulty finding housing, as family members may fear for their own safety or landlords may not be willing to lease property to a victim of abuse. Fleeing from domestic abuse is one of the leading causes of homelessness for women and children.
In addition, women may fear the repercussions of trying to leave. The closer the victim gets to leaving the abuser, the more the abuse intensifies; not only does the level of abuse rise (and the safety of the victim become more compromised), but the frequency of the abuse increases as well.
Manipulation and control are never okay. Never.
Feeling unsafe in one's home is never okay. Never.
So what do we do?
First, if you are in an abusive relationship, know this: what is happening to you is not your fault, and you do not ever deserve to feel worthless or unsafe. Please also know that you are strong and that there are support systems available; the National Domestic Violence Hotline, for instance, is available 24/7 (1-800-799-SAFE).
Second, if you know someone who is an abusive relationship, there are a number of steps you can take as well. First and foremost, be there as a non-judgmental, supportive listener. Second, encourage your friend or family member to seek outside supports and to develop a safety plan. Third, allow your loved one to make her own decisions; after being in a manipulative, controlling relationship, having another person telling her what to do could be detrimental. Above all else, simply let her know how much you love and care for her.
Here are a number of other resources:
- The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: http://www.ncadv.org
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline: http://www.thehotline.org
- Safe Horizon: http://www.safehorizon.org
- WomenSafe: http://www.womensafe.org
- National Resource Center on Domestic Violence: http://www.nrcdv.org
- National Network to End Domestic Violence: http://nnedv.org