Breaking the cycle of domestic violence can be difficult, and often the hardest step is the very first one – when you actually remove yourself from the dangerous situation. When you leave a violent (or potentially violent) relationship, it can feel like starting down an empty and lonely road – you may not even know where it is heading, but the farther you go down that road, the more help you will find. Growing up with abuse in my home and seeing many of my friends struggle with various types of violence and abuse, really put it on my heart to address this issue. I was shocked at some of the things I found when doing research for this article, and I want to stress it here now – if you are in an abusive relationship of any kind, please get out and seek help now!
Domestic violence is one of the most under-reported crimes in our country and it affects all people. Women, men, teens and children across all lines of race, ethnicity, geography, spirituality, economic status, and sexual/relationship orientation are affected by domestic violence. It knows no boundaries. Domestic violence happens because one person in a relationship is trying to control his/her partner. This control can take many forms. It is often physical, but it can also be sexual, emotional, spiritual, economic and verbal. One person (the abuser) can use one or a mix of several different forms of violence to control his/her partner. Usually, the abuser is trying to establish control of his/her partner during the first incident of domestic violence. Over time, the violence usually escalates so that the abuser can maintain the established power and control of his/her victim. Abuse is not just being hit physically – being abused verbally is still abuse, but the bruises are on the inside, where they can’t be seen.
Striking up a conversation with a variety of women, I was surprised at how many had gotten out of an abusive relationship. They all said the same thing – that you need to get help through counseling and support groups to move on with your life. It will take a long time, but you can get there. The abuser has a problem that they will not address and will only continue to blame the person they are abusing. A bully will do this, but a real man (or woman) will step up and admit that they have a problem and get help. And there is a lot of help out there. There is no shame in asking for help – the real shame is continuing to blame and abuse.
Like I already said before, if you are the victim of any type of abuse, get out now and seek help. If you are in a situation and being abused, there are places for you to go, no matter where you are in the country, to find safety and support. A great place to start your journey out is the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) – their website (www.ncadv.org) can help you first and foremost to find a shelter that is close to you. You all know what a dog lover I am, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that there are a lot of shelters out there that are now pet-friendly. Apparently, not wanting to leave beloved pets behind was one reason why some victims would not leave, so many shelters began allowing pets to remedy this problem.
Battering is a pattern of behavior used to establish power and control over another person with whom an intimate relationship is or has been shared. Battering happens when one person believes that they are entitled to control another. No one is entitled to control another – we are supposed to be in a relationship with the person we love, not a dictatorship. In all cultures, batterers are most commonly male, but not always. Rural and urban women of all religious, ethnic, socio-economic and educational
backgrounds of varying ages, physical abilities and lifestyles can all be affected by domestic violence. There is not a “typical” woman who will be battered – the risk factor is being born female. In talking to women for this article, the ones who know about a woman’s abuse are most likely to be her close girlfriends. Speaking to those “girlfriends” now, if you have a friend that is a victim of domestic violence, please intervene (carefully) and help her to find a way out – her life may depend on it!
Statics show that 85% of victims are women, but men who are being abused by a female are just as much a victim as the women being abused. No one deserves to be abused by another person – especially by someone that you love (or once loved before the abuser ruined it). Statistics show that one in every four women will experience some form of domestic violence in her lifetime. An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year. Historically, females have been most often victimized by someone they knew. Females who are 20-24 years of age are at the greatest risk of nonfatal intimate partner violence. These are staggering statistics that just cannot be ignored.
Children witnessing domestic violence and living in an environment where violence occurs may experience some of the same trauma as abused children, but not all children are affected by domestic violence in the same way. Some children may become fearful, inhibited, aggressive, anti-social, withdrawn, anxious, depressed, angry or confused. They might suffer from disturbed sleep, problems with eating, difficulties at school and challenges with making friends. Children often feel caught in the middle between their parents and find it difficult to talk to either of them. Adolescents may act out or exhibit risk-taking behaviors such as drug and alcohol use, running away, sexual promiscuity and criminal behavior. Young men may try to protect their mothers, or they may become abusive to their mothers themselves. Children may be injured if they try to intervene in the violence in their homes. In these situations, children become the innocent victims.
From personal experience, I have to say that if your children witness abuse in your home, they are not going to forget. In our home it was not only our dad abusing our mom, but our mom abused our dad, as well – and I never forgot that. If you are a mother out there in this situation, get you and your kids out. This should not be part of their childhood. You don’t deserve to be abused and neither do they. I’m sure no mother wants her child to think that this kind of behavior is okay, or for her young son to think this is the way he should treat women when he grows up. Be the strong parent and get yourself and your children into a safe and nourishing environment.
If you are afraid of your abuser finding out that you are trying to get information about how to get out of the relationship, the NCADV website (www.ncadv.org) has some helpful tips under their “Protect Yourself” tab. If you are browsing on your home computer, always be sure to delete your browsing history when you are finished. If possible, go to a trusted friend’s house or the library to get information about places you can go in your local area to help you get to a safe place. Their “Safety Plan” also suggests that you try to avoid rooms with no exits during an argument or rooms that might have readily-available “weapons” (like the kitchen). It is also a good idea to memorize important numbers, in case you find yourself in trouble and without your cellular phone. Establish a “code word” or a “sign” for family members and friends so they know when you need someone to call for help. Sometimes people are aware of the abuse, but a person has to decide for themselves that they can’t stay in the relationship any longer.
I learned a lot while on the NCADV website, so let’s focus on them for a bit. Many of the women I spoke to talked highly about this organization. The mission of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence is to organize for collective power by advancing transformative work, thinking and leadership of communities and individuals working to end the violence. The NCADV also works to protect and empower battered women and kids through vigilance and sponsorship of national public policy initiatives and federal legislation, such as the Violence Against Women Act.
NCADV strives to unite safe houses, shelters, battered women’s and children’s programs and local domestic violence services under NCADV’s umbrella so that their unified voice is a powerful one, and to ensure that those underrepresented groups are heard. NCADV would like to see the purple ribbon, and the on-going domestic violence tragedy that the ribbon stands for, become an important and recognizable symbol in American life. They envision a time in the near future when domestic violence issues are addressed on television, radio and in magazines with the same level of importance and attention as the national struggles against Cancer and HIV/AIDS have seen in recent decades.
The NCADV participates in many special programs and activities. Their “Financial Education Project” addresses one of the main roadblocks battered women face when leaving a violent relationship – establishing financial independence. Through trainings provided across the country, the project teaches advocates and others in the domestic violence field how to start, maintain, and structure financial education programs within their own communities to provide battered women with better financial information to help them remain free from their abuser.
Another important NCADV effort is their “Cosmetic and Reconstructive Support” program (CRS). In partnership with three medical associations, this NCADV program brings services directly to survivors who have been physically scarred by an intimate partner or spouse. The program offers women who have been injured by a spouse or an intimate partner the opportunity to remove the physical scars of abuse – often an important step as they move forward with their lives. The CRS program also includes a “Face-To-Face” program from the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery which provides facial plastic surgery for victims with injuries to the head, face and neck. There is also a “Give Back A Smile” program from the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry which provides cosmetic dentistry for victims with injuries to their front teeth.
The “Remember My Name” Project is an ongoing project dedicated to compiling the names of women and family members killed as a result of domestic violence. They also produce posters annually to display the names of victims, and are building a comprehensive database on cases involving lethal domestic violence. These are just a few of the many projects and programs this amazing organization operates or supports. Please visit their website (www.ncadv.org) and click on “About NCADV” to learn more about all of the incredible things this organization does.
Domestic violence is an important issue that deserves as much attention as the fight against Breast Cancer or Heart Disease (or any other serious illness) – because it is that important. Again, I urge you, if you are in an abusive relationship, please get out and seek help. There are a lot of resources out there, and you will be amazed at the help and support you will find. You will not be traveling down that long road alone – I promise! If you don’t break the cycle of violence, it will almost certainly continue with the next generation – your children (if you have them) or in your next relationship – and I can’t think of a worse thing. So please, be strong, be smart and be safe – and just get away right now! Brighter days are ahead, and you deserve to see them and live them.