Does domestic and dating abuse really constitute a major problem?
Although it’s hard to imagine, in the United States someone is more at risk of being assaulted, injured, raped, or killed by a partner than a stranger on the street. Domestic and dating violence affect a huge number of people of all walks of life-women, men and children. While it can happen to anyone, women and children are overwhelmingly at risk. About 95% of reported cases of domestic assault involve a male partner battering a female partner. The FBI estimates that 1 in 4 women will be a victim of DV in her lifetime, and 1 in 4 teens will be involved in an abusive relationship between the ages of 12 and 21. Children in homes where there is domestic abuse are more likely to be abused and/or neglected. Most children in these homes know about the violence. Even if a child has not been physically harmed, they may have emotional and behavior problems. Children in violent homes are more likely to end up as abusive teens and adults later in life.
Does domestic abuse affect mostly low-income people or people of a specific ethnic/ racial group?
Domestic abuse does not discriminate. This problem is of epidemic proportions, affecting people of all walks of life regardless of age, race, religion, ethnic background, educational level, employment or marital status and sexual orientation. It can happen to the poor, the rich and everyone in between. Nevertheless, someone who has fewer resources may need to go to welfare, or stay in a shelter. They may also be living in closer proximity to one another-i.e. in apartment buildings versus living in a “gated” community-and thus, neighbors may be calling the police. Thus, poor people may be “showing up” in the system. Middle class and upper class people may have more options available to them, such as staying with a friend that can afford to have them stay, staying in a hotel for a few nights, etc. so they are less likely to seek assistance from public agencies or emergency shelters. Many of these victims may be afraid of coming forward and “damaging” a successful husband’s career, who may or may not be someone in the public eye, and may also feel pressure from family, friends and others to “keep up appearances, at all costs-especially for the children.”
Don’t women abuse men as often as men abuse women?
Again the majority (95%) of reported domestic assaults involve a male partner battering a female partner. The important word in that statistic is “reported.” We know it is happening to men who may not be reporting it for a variety of reasons-primarily because our society doesn’t really allow men to be victims. Our culture says that men should be big and strong and “in control,” and thus a battered man may feel humiliated and like “less of a man” if his female partner is abusing him and controlling the relationship.
At A Safe Place, most of the victims we work with are women. It’s important to mention that one may see women using violence in a relationship, as well as her partner. An abuser may challenge their partner to strike back and then call the police as a result to get their partner in trouble. Also, an abuser sometimes challenge their partner to strike back, and then will call the police and try to have her arrested for the assault. Not always, but often men are using violence to control their partner, whereas women are using violence in self-defense. A Safe Place supports victims of partner abuse, no matter what their gender.
Does substance abuse or mental illness cause domestic abuse?
While substance abuse is usually associated with domestic abuse situations, it does not cause someone to abuse his/her partner. Interestingly, I heard a former batterer who said, “I used to think I beat my wife because I drank…now I know that I drank so I could beat my wife.” That statement is about learning to take responsibility for one’s choice of behaviors. Batterers don’t hurt their partners because of alcohol, mental illness, anger management problems or violent family histories. There are people who grew up in horribly violent homes and people who are drug addicts and alcoholics that choose not to hurt their families. We all have choices about our behavior and abusers hurt, rape and kill their partners and their children because they choose to exert power and control over them.
Is abuse in same-sex relationships rare?
Again, domestic abuse does not discriminate-it can affect a huge range of people. Same-sex partnerships are not exempt from relationship violence. Statistics estimate that there are about 1 million lesbian and gay male victims of partner abuse each year. For gay women and men, they may not be coming forward for a variety of reasons-maybe they are not “out” in their community and don’t feel comfortable asking for help. Perhaps they fear discrimination from those who are there to help victims of relationship violence.
If the abuse is so bad, why does someone stay?
Before addressing this side of the question, it is really crucial to address the flip-side–namely, why does the abuser do what s/he does? As a society, we need to stop making the victim responsible for their abuser’s behavior.
There are often many complicating factors involved in why someone doesn’t leave the situation. It takes awhile for the relationship to get abusive, and both people are pretty well emotionally invested in it by the time it begins escalating…they’re already “in love.” There are many other reasons including fears of being able to financially support themselves and their kids, fear that it’s their fault, lack of awareness of domestic abuse crisis centers, and so on.
Also, clearly victims do try to leave–they often leave again and again–on average about 7x before staying away. Perhaps she left and felt she had no safe place to go, or maybe her partner tracked her down and dragged her home. Maybe she left and was unable to make it financially without her partner. In order for her to feed and clothe her kids, she goes back to him. Leaving is really more of a process than an event.
Usually, the largest obstacle for someone wanting to leave is fear. They are often threatened with violence or death if they try to flee. The most dangerous time for a woman is when she leaves–in one study 75% of the women killed by their partners were murdered after the relationship ended or as it ends. They fear for the safety of themselves, their children, their relatives and friends, their pets. That’s why advocates at A Safe Place create safety plans with anyone who feels they are in danger–whether they are ready to leave or not.
How serious is the abuse perpetrated in violent relationships?
The violence and control in abusive relationships can include many different kinds of abuse–physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, and financial abuse. Often these behaviors overlap, and may affect someone on many levels. No matter whether someone is being constantly verbally berated and emotionally put down, or whether they are being beaten up, all kinds of abuse are devastating.
At the same time, we do know that partner abuse can escalate to a level that is fatal for the victim and the abuser. Tragically, about 1/3 of female homicide victims are killed by husbands, boyfriends or ex-partners. These abusers may kill their partner, the children and then kill themselves in a final expression of absolute power and control.
What is the cycle of violence?
This is a concept that was formulated by Lenore Walker, who did a lot of research with battered women (The Battered Woman Syndrome, Lenore Walker, 1984). This was a pattern that she saw consistently in the women that she worked with. The phenomenon consists of 3 phases. Basically she observed a pattern of behavior that cycled in a predictable manner. The first phase is called the tension-building phase, and victims will often feel like they are “walking on eggshells.” They’re watching everything they say and do, for fear of “setting off” their partner’s anger and violence. This tension can build for days or weeks or months, until something snaps and finally the abusive partner explodes at them. This is the second phase, when the “storm strikes.” At this point, the abuser will perpetrate the violent physical or verbal assault upon their partner. The tension which has been building up between the two, now subsides. This is the time that someone may decide to call the police, or call a crisis center.
Then comes the third stage, known as the honeymoon period, or the “eye of the storm.” The latter description seems to best capture the experience, because outwardly things seem calm but it is only temporary until the tension starts building up again. In this stage, the abuser may send gifts, flowers, make promises to change or be a better parent, apologize for the abuse, or tell their partner that they can’t live without them (and the list goes on). The charming side of the abuser that the victim fell in love with becomes evident at this time. This phase gives the victim hope that the abuser will change, and that the violence will end. The cycle typically gets worse over time–increasing in frequency and intensity of abusive episodes. It usually doesn’t end unless the relationship ends.
SPECIFIC TO SURVIVORS OF INTIMATE PARTNER ABUSE
When can I call A Safe Place?
You can call us to speak to an advocate 24-hours a day, every day of the year (even on holidays.) You can call any of our 3 office hotlines or you can call our toll-free (in NH only) helpline 24-hours a day at 1-800-852-3388. This is our after-hours answering service where an operator will ask you for some information and then either have someone call you back or they will connect you by phone to an advocate. You can call us if you are in need of information and support for yourself or for someone you love. You can call just to talk, to cry, or just to feel not so alone. That’s why we are here!
Is it still considered abuse if there isn’t any physical abuse?
Absolutely–abuse can and does take many forms, both obvious and subtle. We sometimes hear people say that emotional abuse hurts as much as physical abuse, because it wears downs your sense of worth. How can you ever hope for more if you feel like you are unworthy of being loved, respected and treated with dignity? If your partner is obsessed with exerting power and control over you and your children, then it is abusive behavior. No one deserves to be hurt, and the abuse is not your fault.
Do I have to leave my partner to call A Safe Place?
We don’t require that someone leave their partner in order to receive support and information. Our view is that it’s important for someone who has been victimized and controlled to be able to make decisions for themselves, because they’ve had this power taken away by their abuser. We also know that victims know their partners better than anyone, and they may know that leaving is not an option right now. Or maybe they just don’t feel ready yet. We support someone in whatever decisions they make, while encouraging them to plan ways to gain support and be safe.
Will my children be taken away if I disclose that there is violence in my home?
This is a really common concern for survivors of abuse who have children. We know that it can sometimes be nearly impossible to keep your kids safe, if you can’t keep yourself safe. And we know that usually once their kids are hurt or put at risk, a victim of abuse will reach out for help.
At A Safe Place, if you disclose there has been abuse of a child or an elderly person (age 65+) we are obligated by law to report the abuse to the Division of Children, Youth and Family Services. They may then investigate the situation. Depending on the circumstances, they will want to ensure that you do not stay in the violent home, or that you do not return home to an abusive partner with the kids. In each of our 3 offices, we have a Domestic abuse Program Specialist who is a liaison between A Safe Place and DCYF. They help support the non-offending parent through this process, helping them to understand what’s happening and how to get the resources they need to keep their family safe.
What if I want to leave my home due to a violent partner, but I fear that my partner will hurt or kill my pets if I leave them behind?
Many people face this reality as a major barrier to leaving. 88% of pets in abusive households are abused or killed. At A Safe Place we work closely with local animal shelters for people who need to leave their home but cannot take their pets. Often times, they will board the animals temporarily for free. They may require proof of rabies vaccine and other immunizations, but this is flexible. They will feed, house, walk, and care for the animal while they are there. You can rest assured that your animals are safe while you find a safe place to live.
What if there are several things that I would need to put in place, in order to get away from an abuser, such as finding low-cost legal services, housing, employment and financial assistance?
At A Safe Place, we spend a lot of our time helping people link up with various agencies and individuals who can help out with these issues. We know that often it is the practical things, like food, money and shelter, which can keep someone from leaving their abuser. We are often able to help someone find whatever it is that they need in order to make a new life for themselves. We can help prepare you for what to expect and walk you through the process of working with social service agencies.
Is it common for abuse to start once a woman becomes pregnant?
Sadly, yes. About forty percent of assaults on women by their male partners begin during pregnancy. Between 15-25% of pregnant women are battered, while as many as 70% of pregnant teens are battered by partners. As a result, these women are 4x more likely to bear infants of low birth-weight, and have an increased risk of miscarriage or injury to the child. The reason that pregnant women are more at risk to be abused by their partners could be a combination of things. Not only is she more physically vulnerable to abuse, her focusing on her pregnancy and on herself translates to an abuser as a loss of control. This child represents competition to a partner obsessed with total control, and the abuser chooses to vent their frustration on the woman. To an abuser obsessed with control, this child is competing for attention and they vent their jealousy on the woman.