In the beginning, I was so young and he wasattentive. He said I was smart, funny,pretty and he made me feel special. It was only after we were married that theangry words, shaming and verbal tearing apart started. Next, hebecame easily angered and physically abusive. He would say I deserved it, that it was my fault… I would lie awake atnight crying silently. Finally, onenight as he was choking me, I broke free and ran out of the apartment, got intomy car and left. I decided to neveragain live with that kind of violence and never again to be silent.
Two words, one bigconcept – domestic violence. Domestic violence is any kind of behavior thata person uses to control an intimate partner through fear andintimidation. It includes physical,sexual, psychological, verbal and economic abuse. Domesticviolence is an epidemic affecting individuals in every community, regardless ofage, economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, ornationality. Younger, unmarriedwomen are at greatest risk of domestic violence. According to a U.S.
government survey, 53percent of victims were abused by a current or former boyfriend orgirlfriend. One- third of all victimswere abused by a spouse, while 14 percent said that the offender was anex-spouse. Women ages 16 to 24 arenearly three times as vulnerable to attacks by intimate partners as those inother age groups; abuse victims between the ages of 35 and 49 run the highestrisk of being killed. Domestic violence inthe military is a well-kept secret.
Manymilitary families live on one income; the only source of financial security forthe family is the active duty service member. Due to concerns about promotionand advancement, spouses are reluctant to confide in someone as it might ruinthe career of the military member causing more drama and abuse at home. Domestic violencecan manifest in many ways. Physical andsexual assaults, or threats to commit them, are the most apparent forms of domesticviolence.
But regular uses of other abusive behaviors by the abuser, whenreinforced by one or more acts of physical violence, make up a larger scope ofabuse. Although physical assaults may occur only occasionally, they instillfear of future violent attacks and allow the abuser to control the victims’life and circumstances. A lack of physical violence doesn’t mean the abuser isany less dangerous to the victim, nor does it mean the victim is any lesstrapped.
Emotional and psychological abuse can often be just as extreme asphysical violence. Violenceagainst women in the home has serious repercussions for children. Over 50 percent of men who abuse their wivesalso beat their children. Children whogrow up in violent homes are more likely to develop alcohol and drug addictionsand to become abusers themselves. Thestage is set for a cycle of violence that may continue from generation togeneration.
Some who suffer from domestic violence are alsovictims of stalking, which includes following a person, making harassing phonecalls and vandalizing property. Eightpercent of women in the United States have been stalked at some time in theirlives, and more than one million are stalked annually. Stalking is a unique crime because stalkersare obsessed with controlling their victims’ actions and feelings. A victim can experience extreme stress, rage,depression and an inability to trust anyone.
Domestic violence is shrouded in silence. People outside the family hesitate tointerfere even when they suspect abuse is occurring. Many times, out of loyalty to the abuser andto protect the image of the family, even extended family members deny thatabuse exists. Yet abuse and assault areno less serious when they occur within a family, you only have to pick up alocal newspaper to read about the loss of lives due to domestic violence. Evenwhen domestic violence is reported, sometimes there are tragic failures toprotect victims adequately or to punish perpetrators. Domestic violence is learned behavior. Men who are abusive believe they have a rightto use violence; they have a right to use power and control in their intimaterelationships.
Abusive men come from allsocioeconomic classes, races, religions and occupations. The abuser may be a “good provider” and arespected member at his work, in his church and community. While there is no one type, men who abuseshare some common characteristics.
Theytend to be extremely possessive and easily angered. A man may fly into a rage because his spousecalls her family or friends too often. Or because she didn’t iron his shirt the way he wants it to bedone. Many try to isolate their partnersby limiting their contact with family and friends. Abusive men often blame their abusive behavior onsomeone or something other than themselves. They deny the abuse is happening or minimize it. Often abusive men view women asinferior. Their conversation andlanguage reveal their attitude toward a woman’s place in society.
Alcohol and drugs may be associated withdomestic violence, but they don’t cause it. They are two separate problems that must be treated. So why do women stay with their abuser…fear. Somefear they will lose their children or that they will not be able to provide forthemselves, let alone care for their children. When the violence first starts, many women believe their abuser when he apologizesand promises it will never happen again. But then it does. The women aretold they are at fault and if they acted differently the abuse would stop.
They are ashamed to admit that the abuse isoccurring. Some women may not view the criminal justice system as a source ofhelp. Immigrant women often lackfamiliarity with the language and legal systems of this country and may be threatenedwith deportation by their abuser. Womenliving in rural communities or in areas where public transportation may beinaccessible may have few resources available to them. Isolation imposed bylack of transportation and lack of financial resources often make it difficultfor women to access information about domestic violence and assistance. Ultimately, abused women must make their own decision about staying orleaving. Some abused women run the riskof being killed when they leave their abuser or seek help from the legalsystem. If a woman decides to leave, sheneeds a safety plan, including the names and phone numbers of shelters andprograms.
The National Domestic Violence24 Hour Hotline is a free and confidential resource for those in an abusive relationship or family or friendswho love and care about their health and safety. Hotline services include: crisis intervention,safety planning, information about domestic violence and referrals to localservice providers, direct connection to domestic violence resources availablein the caller’s area provided by a hotline advocate, including local militaryFamily Advocacy Programs and domestic abuse advocates and assistance in morethan 140 different languages. Thetoll-free hotline is available 24 hours a day and can be reached from anywherein the 50 U.
S. states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Call800-799-7233 or 800-787-3224 TTY for the Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing,or visit www.
thehotline.org. If you or someone else is in immediatedanger, call 911.I know it can be difficult to know when or how to reach out for helpregarding a partner’s controlling or abusive behavior. Remember, speaking to someone about problemsin your relationship doesn’t require you to make any immediate or significantdecisions. It is a small step toward abetter tomorrow, where you have the opportunity to feel safe and fulfilled,either in your relationship or outside of it.