Domestic violence is a serious problem in many countries. In the United States the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that on average, nearly 20 Americans are physically abused every minute by an intimate partner. This translates to over 10 million men and women every year. To put into perspective, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience severe physical, sexual and emotional violence from their intimate partner leading to injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, fearfulness, contraction of sexually transmitted diseases and use of victim services.
Domestic violence goes beyond physical abuse. It can take the form of economic abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and psychological abuse towards adults, children and elders. Unfortunately, domestic violence begets interrelated forms of violence and in most cases, the cycle of abuse may spill over from exposed children and adults and affect their immediate families, the elderly under their care, coworkers and the community.
If you or your loved ones feel at risk of abuse, there is help and support available to you. This article will provide in-depth information about domestic violence, including:
· What is domestic violence and how to identify it,
· What to do when at risk,
· The benefits and risks of staying or escaping in case of domestic violence,
· Immediate and long term or permanent risks to mental health conditions with staying or escaping to themself and children,
· Risk and benefits of talking to your friends and formal network to debrief experiences,
· A checklist plan for escaping domestic violence for good,
· The risks to children for what they see and hear, feel, at home, in school and for life.
First, let’s look at what is domestic violence and how you can identify it.
Domestic Violence Explained
Domestic violence is an abusive behaviour where an individual who has an intimate or romantic relationship gains power over their partner. bvnIt can also be referred to as intimate partner violence battering, or spousal abuse. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention defines domestic violence as sexual violence, physical violence, financial abuse, psychological aggression and stalking by a former or current intimate partner.
· Physical violence: This is when an intimate partner hurts or tries to hurt a partner by kicking, hitting, or using other forms of physical force.
· Stalking: This is a continuous and repeated pattern of contact and unwanted attention from a partner that may cause fear for your safety or that of someone close to you.
· Sexual violence: This is the act of a partner forcing or attempting to force themselves in a sexual act, sexual touching or sexting without the consent of the victim.
· Psychological aggression: This is the use of verbal and non-verbal communication intended to exert control over another person or harm them emotionally or mentally.
· Financial abuse: This is the act of or intent to withhold money, stop a partner from getting or keeping a job, or ruin their credit.
Domestic violence has no boundaries and can be meted on both men and women. It can occur in any intimate relationship regardless of the culture, education, religion, race or socioeconomic status.
Statistics show that women and children are more likely to experience domestic violence. The World Health Organization reports that there are various family, community and wider social factors that may increase the prevalence of domestic violence. These factors include:
· Lower levers of education may lead to higher domestic violence incidences,
· A history of exposure to child mistreatment may spill over through teenage and into adulthood,
· Excessive use of alcohol and drugs may increase the likelihood for perpetration and experience of domestic violence,
· Widespread attitudes that condone violence may promote domestic violence,
· Low employment levels for women may expose them to increased domestic violence,
· Witnessing family violence may lead to perpetration and experience of family violence,
· An antisocial personality disorder may promote domestic violence,
· Marital discord and dissatisfaction,
· Male dominance behaviour,
· Difficulties in communication between partners.
Recognizing The Warning Signs: How To Identify Domestic
The signs of domestic violence are not always as obvious as you might think. It is, therefore, no surprise that
many people or their loved ones go through domestic violence every day without knowing. Typically, besides causing physical harm, an abuser will try to control the victim’s mind and emotions. As a result, it may be hard for you to see your partner’s actions for what they really are.
The nascent stages of abuse involve a putdown here and there, alienation from friends and family and then the nasty abuse starts creeping up slowly. At that point, the victim may feel trapped and out of options. How do you then identify that you are in an abusive relationship? The first red flag is fear. If you are afraid of your partner or can’t say no to sex or are generally scared about bringing up some topics, then you might be in an abusive relationship. In a healthy relationship, fear should never have room.
Here are some red flags that you might be experiencing intimate partner violence:
- Your partner shows signs of over control, threatening or bullying behaviour. These include:
· Criticizes you constantl,
· Accuses you of an affair
· Yells at you and makes you feel small
· Throws things or punches walls when angry
· Tells you how you should look and what (and what not) to wear
· Threatens to kill or harm you, your pets or someone close to you
· Blames you for abuse
- Your partner abuses you physically. Some of the behaviour of physical abuse include:
· Attacks with weapons
· Abandons you in unknown places
· Punches, kicks, pushes, bites or pulls your hair
· Locks you in or out of your house or room
· Keeps you from sleeping, eating or getting proper medical care
- Your partner starts wanting to control your finances. These may show in form of:
· Keeping you from working whatever job you want
· Keeping cash and credit cards from you
· Keeping you on an allowance and wanting you to account for every dollar you spend
· Won’t let you have money for basic things like clothes and food
· Steals money from you
- Your partner cuts off your friends and family. Some telltale signs include:
· Making you ask permission to see your friends and family
· Keeping close tabs on where you go and wanting to know who you are with
· Putting you down in public or embarrassing you in front of your friends and family to the extent of making
you want to avoid people
- Your partner sexually abuses you. Some telltale signs of sexual abuse include:
· Making you dress in a sexual way against your consent· Forcing you to have sex
· Tries to give you a sexually transmitted disease
· Makes you feel indebted to them sexually
· Refusal to use condoms and other birth control
Signs That A Friend or Loved One Is Being Abused
If you are worried that your friend or loved one is going through some form of domestic violence and abuse, there are some signs that you can look out for to confirm your worries. Some of these include:
· Never having money on hand
· Personality changes such as a confident person start having low esteem issues
· Constantly checking in with their partners when they are out of sight
· Overly concerned about pleasing their partners
· Have excuses for injuries
· Skipping out on work, school or social gatherings with flimsy excuses
· Talking about or attempting suicide
· Exhibits excessive privacy concerning their personal lif
· Extremely apologetic or meek
· Start showing symptoms of depression
· Changes in sleeping patterns
· Anxiety, agitation or constant apprehension
· Having signs of physical abuse such as bruises on the arms, busted lips, black eyes, sprained wrists and red/purple marks on the neck
· You may also notice that a friend or loved one is wearing season inappropriate clothes such as long sleeves and scarves in summer to cover up signs of physical abuse.
If you are experiencing any of the above behaviour and fear that you are experiencing domestic abuse and violence, it is important to know that it is not your fault. And that you are not alone!Breaking The Cycle In most cases, domestic violence takes some premeditated steps. First, your abuse may threaten violence, then at some point, your partner might strike or hit you. Then almost immediately, your abuser will show remorse and apologize, promising to change. They may even offer gifts or treat you to a dinner or vacation. Then, just when you thought that the dust has settled, the cycle repeats itself.
In fact, you may start wondering if you’re just imagining abuse, yet the physical or emotional pain you feel is real. You may not be ready to seek help because, deep down, you might start believing that you are at least partially to blame for the abuse.
If you are having trouble identifying what’s happening, you need to take a step back and look at the larger patterns of events in your relationship. If you’ve repeatedly experienced any signs of domestic violence, you must review your cause of action. The truth is, domestic violence rarely stops, but only gets worse over time.
If you stay longer in an abusive relationship, you are highly likely to experience more physical and
emotional pain that may leave you anxious, depressed and helpless, thinking that you can’t take care of
So, what to do?
The truth is, the only way to break this vicious cycle is to take action. The first step is seeking help from a friend, a loved one or a close contact and let them know your situation. This might feel hard at first, but understand that you are not alone and there are many people who are ready and willing to help. The important thing to know is:
· Nothing warrants domestic abuse
· It is not your fault
· You deserve a safe and happy life
· Your children deserve a safe and happy life
· You deserve to be treated with respect
· You are not alone. There are support systems swaiting to help youIf you still feel in danger and fear that your abuser might strike again, you need to consider staying or escaping the relationship. Understandably, this is a difficult decision that requires proper consideration, a well thought out plan and meticulous timing and execution. Why? Because leaving an abuser can be dangerous.
Why Do People Stay In Abusive Relationships?
Abusive relationships are extremely complex situations and it takes a lot of courage to leave. When many people hear that one is in an abusive relationship, their first question is “Why don’t they leave?”. Many people never understand that leaving is not only complicated but also dangerous.
The thing is, if you have been in an abusive relationship or have experienced domestic violence, you very well know that this is easy said than done. You just can’t wake up one day, throw the deuces up and move on with your life. In most cases, the abuser will have established power and control over the victim, making it hard for the victim to just take their independence back. The victim has to find the right time to escape the abuser. This can often be a mirage.
In fact, one study found out that men who have killed their partners often follow through with their threats after the partners leave. With this in mind, some victims may stay in relationships despite the domestic violence to protect themselves, their kids and pets and their families.
Aside from this, there are other reasons why people especially women may stay in abusive relationships. These include:
A person will likely be afraid of the consequences if they leave their partners. After years of threats and control, a victim may be afraid of their life and that of their loved ones. The threat of emotional and bodily harm is always rife. Leaving is dangerous and victims often have to contend with these realities and can only leave when this is the only viable available options.
In other cases, victims are also apprehensive of their ability to be independent. They have to worry about how they will keep themselves and their kids afloat with limited financial resources. If a victim doesn’t have money to pay for accommodation, food and transport, many of their options disappear
(ii) Damaged self-worth
Another reality is, after years of control and emotional and psychological manipulations, victims often have low self-esteem and damaged self-worth. They may feel beaten down and of no value as a result of continuous degrading treatment. After periods of prolonged criticism and being made to feel worthless, victims may even develop anxiety and depression, leaving them powerless.
(iii) Distorted thoughts
Being controlled and talked down can be traumatizing and can lead to doubts, confusion and even selfblame. This can cause guilt and despair, making them feel like what they are going through is a result of their actions. As a result, they may start believing that they deserve the treatment meted on them and start finding ways to cope with it instead of staying.
(iv) Wanting to be a saviour
Having stayed with their partners for a long time, some victims may develop the saviour mentality and start believing that they can change their partners by showing them more love and care. Some may believe that by being more loyal, they can teach their partners to be more loving and caring.
(v) Normalized abuse
People who have grown up experiencing violence may start seeing it as a way of life. Why? Because, in the end, they don’t know what healthy relationships look like. They may not even recognize the abusive and unhealthy behaviour of their partners and call them out for what they are.
The society as it is today often looks down on the victim and blame them for their woes instead of giving them much needed support. With these realities, a victim may keep silent and choose not to expose their situation to avoid shame and bashing.
(vi) The Cycle of Abuse
Abusers have mastered their actions and will often follow an abusive incidence with a well-crafted make p honeymoon phase. This twists the victim’s emotions, making them believe that the abuse will come to an end someday. After all, the victim has apologized and promised never to do it again.
People may stay in an abusive relationship if they truly love their partners. A survivor will keep hope that their partners will change. If the abuser tells you that they will change, you’ll want to believe them.
(iix) Cultural or religious believes
Some cultures and religions make leaving look bad and are often viewed as a disgrace to the family. Traditional gender roles where a woman is looked down upon may also play a role in influencing people to stay. The clergy and secular counselors may reinforce a victim’s stay by emphasizing saving the relationship at all cost, instead of focusing on how to stop the violence.
(ix) Language barrier and immigration status
A person without proper documentation may fear reporting abuse or even leave for fear of being outed as an illegal immigrant. Language barriers may also make it hard to explain their situation to other people.
If a person has been dependent on an abusive partner, they may feel the need to stay because of the dependency.
A domestic violence survivor may be cowed into staying in an abusive relationship through physical or verbal threats. The abuser may even threaten to spread private and confidential information such as releasing revenge p*** or outing them on their LGBTQ+ status.
Women with children may feel the pressure to keep the family unit intact and therefore choose to stay. The abuser may also use the children as a guilt tactic to make the victim stay.
No matter the reason, staying or leaving an abusive relationship is a difficult choice that can feel impossible without proper support.
The Benefits and Risks of Staying in Case of Domestic Violence
Choosing to stay in an abusive relationship is very difficult. You might feel isolated from friends and family who don’t understand your situation. At some point, you have to decide whether to save your relationship or leave. While many people may offer help, this is a decision that you must make yourself, because you are the only person who understands what you are going through and what you really want and need.
For starters, it is important to make a list of all reasons that you might want to stay in the relationship. Then list all reasons that make you not want to stay.
Some of the positive reasons for staying include:
· Your abuser has agreed to join an Alternative to Violence program or go into counselling
· Your abusive partner has acknowledged that they are abusive· Your abusive partner has acknowledged that their abusive behaviors are repetitive
· They have acknowledged having an addiction that is affecting the relationship and is willing to seek help. If you are convinced that they can change and choose to stay, it is important to seek help from a counsellor and also identify measures to keep you and your loved ones safe from your abuser.
Benefits of Domestic Violence Counselling
· Domestic violence counselling can help you identify the subtle signs of violence from your intimate partner. This domestic violence awareness can help you recognize the red flags and help you realize what is happening before it gets out of hand.
· Counselling helps you review and process the situation and help you gain clarity of what is happening
· Counselling can help you adopt coping skills and strategies allowing for continuance of work, school and the relationship
· Counselling can enable you to create a robust support network to decrease the negative physical, psychological and emotional effects of an abuse
· Counselling can help you create a well thought out safety plan and identify options for the future
· Counselling can help you regain power and control by building assertiveness, confidence and protective instinctive skills to keep you and your loved ones safe.
· These sessions can help you identify and understand your emotions after an abuse
· Counselling can help you identify that the cause of the abuse lies with the abuser instead of blaming yourself. This way, you can regain power and confidence.
· Counselling can help improve your self-esteem and explore a way to remind you how important and valuable you are. This way, you can become stronger and more self-confident
· Counselling can help you identify gaslighting and help you know when you are being manipulated
· It can help you recognize where your responsibility starts and ends, allowing you to decide what you can and cannot stomach
· Counselling can help you develop an elaborate plan for leaving, allowing you to be ready to remove yourself from a situation you are no longer comfortable in
· Counselling can help you understand why you stayed and help you feel better about who you are and the choices you made.
· People who’ve been in an abusive environment can tap into counselling to learn healthy relationship skills, so they can draw a line on what is acceptable and what is not.
· Counselling can help you become cognizant of the fact that you have to leave which is the first step to peace, freedom and emotional stability
· Counselling can help you gain important problem-solving skills that can help get you out of a violent situation
Abusive Situations You Cannot Control
While counselling can help you gain 360 degrees view of your situation, you must realize that there are situations you can not control. For instance, your risk of abuse and domestic violence increases if your partner:
· Uses drugs or alcohol
· Has a history of extreme impulsiveness such as strong interest in guns, drinking and driving or even exposure to high-risk sexual behaviour
· Had a change in the level of income or had a job loss
· Has a history of violent behaviour
· Has a history of suicide attempts
· Was abused as a child
· Has an underlying mental condition such as personality disorder or depression
· Has recently been in jail.
All these situations put you at higher risks and therefore you must be aware of the very substantial risks of staying in the abusive relationship.
If your partner has abused you before, there are signs that you can look out for that shows that your abuser is not going to change. These include:· If he constantly blames others for his behaviors
· If he minimizes his abuse or denies how serious it was
· If he tells you that you owe him another chance
· If he insists that he can’t change unless you stay and support him
· If he pressures you to go to a couple’s counselling
· If he continues blaming you for being abusive
These situations are serious red flags that your partner is not likely to change. You must therefore make a decision based on the man he is now and not the man you hope he will become later.
It is common to feel afraid to leave. But by staying, you might be placing yourself and your loved ones in an unhealthy and dangerous situation.
Risks of Staying in an Abusive Relationship
Staying in an abusive relationship can have severe physical, emotional, financial and spiritual damages. Even if you don’t experience physical abuse, other forms of domestic abuse can compound over time and cause trauma that can be life-threatening.
Here are some risks of staying in an abusive relationship where there is some form of domestic violence. Emotional Impacts of Staying in An Abusive relationship
· Depression: Trauma caused by domestic violence can lead to feelings of loss, hopelessness and despair. You might start feeling withdrawn from friends and family and start having troubles focusing. This can lead to suicidal thoughts and attempts.· Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Many victims of domestic violence can easily slip into PTSD even after one traumatic event. This can manifest in the forms of nightmares, obsessing about events, anxiety and panic disorders.
· Destroyed trust and interpersonal relationships: Victims of domestic violence tend to lose trust and start to become poor judges of character. Placing yourself in these situations can make you withdraw from friends and family because of shame and fear of criticism and judgement.
· Dissociation: Staying in an abusive relationship can make you disconnect from your environment. Continuous exposure to domestic violence-related trauma can severe your connection to both physical environment and internal emotional responses.
· Stockholm syndrome: In some case, continuous exposure to domestic violence can manifest as a powerful and loving connection to your abuser. This makes it hard for you to understand your situation clearly and might find it hard to leave.Physical Impacts of staying in an abusive relationship
· Physical injuries such as bruises, busted lips and black eyes.
· Changes in appetite and sleeping patterns that could lead to insomnia, weight loss/gain, obesity and eating disorders
· Unexplained physical symptoms: You might start experiencing aches, pains and weakness that is not linked to assault injuries.
· The onset of medical conditions: Due to poor appetite, lack of sleep and increased stress, you might develop life-threatening conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and increased risks of stroke and heart disease.
· Dependency of drugs and alcohol to cope: Victims are likely to slip into drug and alcohol dependency to mask their pain and stress. This can further compound the risk for depressive illnesses.Financial Impacts of staying in an abusive relationship
· Denial to access to finances
· Loss of access to your car and house
· Destroyed credit due to failure to meet your financial obligations
· HomelessnessSpiritual Impacts· Shame as many congregations don’t have mechanisms to deal with domestic violence
· Isolation: Some congregations may discourage members from engaging with a victim of domestic violence
· Damaged spirituality: Victims of domestic violence may start doubting their beliefs and become withdrawn and inactive members of a congregation
· Fatal outcomes like suicide or homicide
· Unintended pregnancies, abortions and sexually transmitted diseases
· Likelihood of stillbirth, miscarriage, preterm delivery and low birth weight
Risk To Children For Staying In An Abusive Relationship
The risk of continued domestic violence may also extend to your kids. These may be through:
· Physical injuries: kids can be hurt as a result of their parent’s violent interactions
· Behavioral problems: Kids who experience continued domestic violence may become withdrawn,
depressed and start exhibiting aggressiveness.
· Guilt: Children may start feeling part and parcel of their parents behaviour
· Perpetuation of violence: Kids who grow up in an abusive relationship can grow into believing that
domestic violence is normal, hence becoming abusers themselves
How Can You Keep Yourself Safe When You Stay?
If you choose to stay, it is important to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. There are several steps and measures you can take to promote your safety and that of your children and pets.
· Try to avoid abusive situations by getting some space away· Identify your partner’s abuse extent and level of force so you can assess the level of danger you may be exposed to
· In case of a heated argument or physical abuse, don’t run to where the kids are
· Identify safe areas in your house with exit routes and where there are no weapons and try to move to those areas in case of an argument
· If your partner starts showing signs of violence, move to a corner and curl yourself, covering your head with you hands
· Have an accessible phone at all times and a safe number to call when you need help
· Tell a trusted neighbor or friend about your situation and develop a coded sign to use when you need help
· Teach your children action plans to get help. It also important to inform them never to get involved in your confrontations
· Teach your children that violence is never a solution
· Have a backup plan to always get out safe
· Keep weapons such as guns and knives locked away in a hard-to-get place
· Make a habit of backing your car in the driveway and keep it fueled
· Call an emergency service or the police when in danger.
· Take pictures of cuts, bruises or scrapes
· Get medical attention in case of injuries
· Make a police report when possible
The Benefits of Escaping in Case of Domestic Violence
If you are in an unsafe or violent relationship where leaving is now an option, you must be feeling worried and anxious. You are not sure how things will go, leave alone if you will manage to escape your situation successfully.
The truth is breaking free of abuse is not simply a matter of walking out of the door. It is a process.Escaping domestic violence has a bunch of benefits. These include:
· Freedom from the battler
· A new chance to start a new life all over again
· Better environment for you and your children
· Reduced risks for depression and other mental health illnesses
· Improved quality of life
· Better relationships with friends and family
· A new chance to find better, more loving partners.
The Risks of escaping in Case of Domestic Violence
Escaping domestic violence come with considerable risks. First, you have to worry about your safety and that of your children. But that’s not all. Some of the other risks include:
· Rejection by friends and family
· Financial difficulties before you get a grip of things
· Loss of property
The greatest risk is death. Studies show that up to 30% of domestic violence victims may end up dead. It is therefore important to have a clear-cut plan before making your escape. The following are suggestions of things to consider when planning to leave.
Checklist Plan for Escaping Domestic Violence for GoodHaving a safety plan can help protect you and your loved ones in case of high-stress situations. These include when experiencing an abuse when preparing to leave an abusive relationship and after leaving.
While some of these may seem obvious, it can be hard to keep everything under control or even think clearly during moments of crisis.
· Plan a few places where you can escape when you leave. This can be a friends or relatives place, store, restaurant, motel, police station or fire station
· Research local domestic violence shelters
· Plan an escape route from your home
· Keep a secret bag full of essential. This should include a few clothes, important identification documents and money
· Have your documents ready in case you have to leave in a rush
· Create a network of people you can call for help.
· Memorize the numbers you can call in case of a crisis.
· Develop a code word or safe phrase you can use when in danger
· Keep credit cards and spare money that you can use in case of an emergency escape.
· Talk to the children about the safety plan and ensure they don’t tell your abuser
· Tell your employer and a few trusted coworkers about your situation
· Review your safety plan as often as possible to keep yourself abreast with all details
· Leave during a safe time when your partner is not there
· Consider getting a restraining order
· Take it easy on yourself and let others to help you during the crisis
· Seek professional help from a counsellor
What to Pack If You Are Planning to Leave
· Identification documents
· Your birth certificate and those of your kids
· Driving license· Prescribed medication
· Copies of car titles
· Income tax returns for the past 3 years
· Bank and credit union account numbers and 401(k) details
· Titles to an individual or joint properties
· Abuser’s SSN, driver’s license number and work address
· Individual and joint credit cards
· Pay stubs for at least 2 months
· Any documentation of past abuse including photos, police reports and medical records
· Family photographs and small items with sentimental value
· Your children’s favourite toys