7 Things You Should Know About Domestic Violence

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month…and it’s certainly an issue worth raising awareness about.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s an issue that’s been in the media a lot lately, particularly in light of the Ray Rice scandal.  One of its greatest impacts has been to encourage more survivors to come forward, and to generate a wider discussion about domestic violence.  It also inspired Corey Booker to introduce a plan to strip the NFL’s nonprofit status and use the money to fund domestic abuse programs, which are generally overloaded and underfunded, receiving over 170,000 requests for shelter each year, and unable to fulfill them all.

If we are going to talk about domestic violence, there are several misconceptions about the issue I think are worth making sure are dispelled, so here are seven things you should know about domestic violence.

1. Domestic violence is far from unusual…even for men.

I think the media stories, and the 170,000 requests for shelter per year, should be a good indication of how common domestic violence is, but in truth, that’s still not a full picture of how often domestic violence occurs.  In fact, 1 in 4 women, and 1 in 7 men, will experience some form of domestic violence over the course of their lives…and that’s just domestic violence (the numbers are even higher when expanded to include all forms of Intimate Partner Violence, or IPV).  And those numbers have actually gone down as compared to two decades ago.  It’s also difficult to get accurate numbers because survivors, especially men, are less likely to report their abuse for fear of social consequences including stigma and retaliation.

2. Domestic violence is not only physical.

Domestic violence (indeed, all iterations of IPV) can take on different forms, and physical violence is only one of them.  Domestic abuse often includes emotional abuses, especially gaslighting, which enables the abuser to convince their victim that they are at fault for what is happening. Abusers may also use tactics like sexual coercion,  verbal abuse including insults, personal attacks, or attempts at humiliation, withholding money or preventing access to financial resources, and surveillance in order to control their partners.  Physical abuse is often the form of abuse that gets the most attention, likely in part because it’s the easiest to notice from the outside, but it’s rarely the entire story.

3. Domestic violence happens across demographics, but individuals who live in low-income situations are more vulnerable.

Whether you are rich, poor, middle-class, educated, illiterate, Black, white, Latina, etc., domestic abuse does not discriminate.  That said, socioeconomic status does have an impact, and individuals who come from impoverished households are more likely to be victimized.  Low-income women are among the most likely to be financially dependent on their partners, who are more likely to abuse them.  This isn’t saying that all poor people are abusers or victims; that simply isn’t true.  But poor women are also among the least likely to have finished their education, and among the least likely to have the resources needed to leave their abusive partnerships.

4. Domestic violence is a major public health threat in the United States.

Domestic violence creates numerous health threats, the most obvious and direct of which is the prevalence of injuries.  Though it’s been difficult to find more recent numbers, in 2001, intimate partner violence accounted for 20% of all non-fatal violent crime against women in the United States, and 3% of non-fatal violent crime against men, and a 2003 CDC report indicates that intimate partner violence accounts for approximately 2 million injuries per year.  In addition to physical injury, domestic violence contributes to more than 18.5 million mental healthcare visits per year.  But it doesn’t end there: according to the CDC and other public health experts, women in relationships with violence are four times more likely to contract an STI, including HIV, than women in relationships without violence, and are more likely to engage in additional risk behaviors; HIV-positive women are also more likely to experience abuse, and more likely to experience more severe abuse.

5. Domestic violence can be fatal.

An estimated one third of female homicide victims are killed by their intimate partner.  Access to firearms in the household results in a 500% increase in likelihood that domestic violence will result in death when considering other factors of abuse, according to the American Bar Association-~-in fact, of women murdered with a firearm, two thirds were killed by their intimate partner.  Murder, particularly intimate partner homicide, is one the leading causes of death for pregnant women, accounting for approximately 20% of deaths during pregnancy in the United States.

6. Leaving isn’t always an option, and even when it is, it can be a difficult choice.

One of the major problems surrounding the discussion of domestic violence, and issues related to victim-blaming.  People ask, “why did she stay?  Why not just leave him?”  But the reality is that things are not that simple.  First, a person has to be ready to leave, which means they need to come to terms with what is happening; this is made more difficult because the abuser is likely blaming the victim for what is going on, until they internalize the idea that they are at fault.  On top of that, the abuser may be actively preventing the victim from leaving, or they may lack the basic resources needed to get away, as outlined poignantly in Mic.com’s “Why I Stayed” article, wherein survivors describe being physically blocked from leaving, shamed by their communities or religious figures for wanting to go, and not having the means to leave or a place to escape to.  (Read it, it’s worth it.)   Even when a survivor is ready to leave, doing so may have consequences: many victims do not have the financial resources to leave, may not have been able to develop credit while in the abusive relationship due to actions by their abuser, may not be able to afford an attorney to help them navigate divorce laws, or may fear losing their children (a valid fear given that 70% of the time, a woman will lose custody of her children once she leaves the relationship).

7. There are resources available, both for survivors and for those who want to help them.

If you are in trouble, or you need advice to support someone you think may be, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline, or SafeHorizon, which has a hotline in English and in Spanish.  There are additional resources available through the Women of Color Network, and Mending the Sacred Hoop, which serves Native American/First People communities.  For a list of organizations that help survivors of domestic abuse, see here.  To locate an emergency shelter, see here.  If you are in need of mental health services, many of these organizations may provide them, as do many religious organizations.  SafeHorizon can also provide free legal services, or referrals to organizations which can provide those services to individuals in need.  If you would like more information on red flags and the questions you should be asking, please see my previous post on Intimate Partner Violence, or visit the Red Flag Campaign’s website for more information.

 

 

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~ by Randi Saunders on October 6, 2014.

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