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Understanding Domestic Violence

Womens Health > Understanding Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence is characterized by a pattern in which one partner forcefully or oppressively exerts power and control over another. While we typically imagine bruises and broken bones when we think of domestic violence, it can assume many forms. In addition to physical abuse these include emotional, sexual, and financial abuse.

As many as one in three women will be harmed at some point in her life by domestic violence. That translates into an incident of domestic violence (or intimate partner violence) every 9 seconds.

Domestic violence is particularly frightening because the harm comes from within the home. It is harm not at the hands of a stranger but a loved one. More women are hurt by domestic violence each year than by car

Observers often wonder why women endure domestic violence rather than leave. The reasons are many and vary with each circumstance. Sometimes women stay for the sake of the children and keeping the family together. Other times the financial wherewithal to establish a separate household is simply not available. Religious beliefs and commitment to marriage vows “loving the doer and hating the deed.”

Even if a woman does leave she may return. On average, survivors leave five to seven times before the final departure. With each leaving, survivors build toward the time that finds them leaving for good. In the end it must be remembered that extricating oneself from a violent relationship is a process, it is not an event. The process can be prolonged by sincere apologies that are forgotten in the next episode of violence.

If you are surviving domestic violence, following is list of things to know:

First, it is not your fault. It has nothing to do with any of the reasons you are given. Domestic violence is about a choice to abuse power and exert control. It is not about gained weight or ruined suppers.

Talk to a trusted friend or family member about what is going on in your home. If that feels too difficult or shameful, consider a domestic violence hotline. Contact numbers are usually listed in the telephone directory and on the Internet. Staff and volunteers can offer you support, help develop safety plans or generate ideas for leaving.

Go to a support group. You are not alone, support groups offer safe space to discuss your feelings and hear how other survivors are managing their experiences with domestic violence.

Domestic violence affects millions of women each year. It cuts across all racial, economic and class lines. It does not end with apologies. It can end with concerted effort toward change on the part of the perpetrator. Many states now offer batterer intervention programs. There are also counselors and therapists that are trained to offer assistance.

Supporting Domestic Violence Survivors

It can be very difficult to stand by as someone you care for is being hurt by domestic violence. Although you may disagree with the way she is handling the situation, you must always remember that you are not walking in her shoes.

The most important thing you can offer is support with absolutely no judgment. Survivors of domestic violence are often very hard on themselves. They experience a range of emotions including shame, guilt, fear, anger, sadness, hopelessness and feelings of inadequacy.

Although you are understandably concerned, it is not useful to focus on your disappointment each day that she does not leave. Survivors of domestic violence have already said to themselves everything that you are saying and/or thinking. Offer support by reminding her of her strengths, helping her identify options for staying safe and giving her credit for moving forward at her own pace.

You can also offer support by gathering information. Call your local domestic violence program to learn of options and ideas that you can pass along. You can find the contact numbers in the blue pages of your telephone directory or on the Internet.

Sometimes, it is just being there that matters most. Isolation is a very prominent feature of domestic violence. Survivors are often cut off from friends and family thus allowing the batterer to deepen efforts at exerting power and control.

The isolation can spring from multiple directions:

  • From the perpetrator who may become hostile each time friends/family are present.
  • From the survivor who may isolate herself in shame.
  • From friends/family who may be frightened for their safety or frustrated that the survivor does not respond as they believe she should.

It is important that you continue to be involved in her life in whatever ways that you can. It is more difficult to leave a violent relationship when you have few or no resources or support.

Regardless of what it looks like, she is doing the very best she can in this moment. Surviving domestic violence is such a departure from the happily ever after we imagine. It takes time to part with your dreams and reconcile with reality. Be a friend by being patient throughout this process.

Womens Health > Understanding Domestic Violence