“I was ashamed.” These are the three words most commonly whispered by victims of domestic violence when asked why they didn’t tell anyone about their abuse. For this reason, domestic violence is often called the silent killer. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 1 in 3 women in the United States will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, the vast majority of victims suffer in silence. Sadly, this crime claims more than one victim. The violent relationship between intimate partners can have long-lasting effects on children, extended family members, friends, co-workers, and our entire society.
What is Domestic Violence?
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, domestic violence is cycle of abusive behaviors used by one person (the abuser) to establish and maintain power and control over their partner (the victim) or former partner. This power and control takes many forms, but often includes intimidation, isolation, coercion, and blame. While the frequency and severity of domestic violence varies dramatically, abuse typically includes a pattern of one or more of the following; physical, emotional, mental, economic, or sexual abuse. Stalking, defined as the unwanted or obsessive attention from a partner or former partner, also falls within the parameters of domestic violence. Unauthorized monitoring is one form of stalking in which the abuser attempts to seize control over a victim.
Tragically, children who grow up witnessing abusive behaviors between adults in their homes are often not able to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy relationships when they become adults. This allows domestic violence to perpetuate itself into the next generation.
The Abuse Cycle
The initial phase of the domestic violence abuse cycle is the tension building phase. This is the time tension within the home builds, and verbal abuse may increase. Typically, the victim will try to appease or please the abuser, or the victim may try to avoid the abuser by staying in a separate room. The second phase occurs at the peak of the tension, and may be caused by an event, such as the loss of a job or the abuser’s addiction to drugs and/or alcohol. However, it often begins for no apparent reason. This is the most dangerous time for the victim, as the abuser becomes aggressive. The abuse often results in physical injury to the victim, which may include broken bones, in addition to mental and emotional anguish. The honeymoon phase follows, during which time the abuser will express remorse or shame, but they will also attempt to convince the victim of their love, in order to prevent the victim from leaving the relationship.
Every day, domestic violence hotlines receive more than 20,000 calls from people who are in danger of harm from domestic violence. Domestic abuse is prevalent in every state and community, and it affects people of every age, race, socio-economic status, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. Overall, domestic violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime in the United States. In many communities, domestic violence makes up more than 50% of overall law enforcement visits. Worldwide, domestic violence is the leading cause of death and disability for women aged 15-44.
Although 95% of American victims of domestic violence are women, approximately 1 in 4 men have reported that they have been victims of abuse by a partner. However, statistics show that only slightly more than half of the cases of abuse are ever reported to law enforcement. In addition, many cases of reported abuse are dropped if the victim is too afraid to pursue their claim, or if the victim returns to the abuser. Domestic violence recidivism is high, with 75% of victims returning to their abuser after their first attempt at breaking ties.
The National Domestic Violence Abuse Hotline reports that up to 60% of people who commit violent acts against their intimate partner will also abuse children in the household. The U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect suggests that domestic abuse may be the single most influential factor to child abuse and neglect facilities in the United States.
Domestic violence is not just a domestic problem, it is also pervasive in the workplace. Each year, victims of domestic violence are absent a total of 8 million work days, which heavily impacts the productivity of businesses across the country – although the employer may not be aware of the real reason for the absenteeism.
According to Futures Without Violence, a policy-making advocacy organization, many cases of workplace violence are actually domestic violence brought to the workplace. The organization recommends that businesses develop policies and procedures on how to identify and address the needs of employees suffering from domestic violence in order to protect the workplace and to foster positive change. For instance, many companies post the phone number for a local domestic violence shelter or the national domestic violence hotline in restroom stalls or in the break room. It is best to consult with an attorney for issues such as employees who disclose restraining orders. However, it is important to contact local law enforcement if you are aware of a possible threat.
Schools are also heavily impacted by domestic violence. Children who live in homes with unhealthy relationships often have a difficult time in school. They may be late for class, unable to complete work, or afraid to make friends. Children may also suffer from low self-esteem or depression, while others may act out violently or in defiance to authority. Despite the fact that violence may occur late at night when a child is thought to be sleeping, children often hear the abuse and may feel guilty that they are unable to help. Many also feel that the abuse is their fault.
In addition to business and schools, the American health care system is heavily burdened by the impact of domestic violence. This includes hospitals, mental health workers, and insurance carriers.
Overall, the CDC estimates that domestic violence costs society more than $8 billion annually in absenteeism, low productivity, and in health care costs.
Teens to Seniors
Teens are often vulnerable to becoming involved in abusive relationships, especially if they have lived in homes where domestic violence was present. Although technology and the use of social media has enabled teens to connect with others, it has also introduced new ways for abusers to intimidate and monitor their victims. Digital dating abuse and cyber-stalking are two methods that abusers use to control the social relationships of their intimate partners. This includes tracking of cell phones and the use of global positioning systems (GPS) on vehicles. ThatsNotCool.com has developed a teen violence prevention program to encourage teens between the ages of 13 and 18 to take action against digital dating abuse and how to find help.
Seniors are also vulnerable to domestic violence. Often times, an abusive intimate partner is the caregiver for their victim. Signs of domestic violence abuse in seniors may include the abuser taking control of monetary benefits, such as disability or Social Security payments. Abusers might also control medication, or keep their victim from using a mobility device. The National Center on Elder Abuse suggests that some experts view domestic violence in the elderly as a sub-set of an overall elder abuse issue. Elder abuse is defined as including the same types of abuses seen in domestic violence, but also including aspects of neglect. Senior domestic violence may also include abuse from not only an intimate partner, but also from a child or other relative acting as a care-giver.
What’s New in Domestic Violence Advocacy
Historically, victims have often suffered from discriminatory ramifications of domestic violence. However, over the past decade, positive changes –across many industries— have resulted from the increased awareness of domestic violence.
For instance, victims may be eligible for unemployment if they are forced to leave a job due to their assault. State laws have been rewritten to protect victims against discrimination resulting from domestic crimes. Insurance laws have also been changed to allow for victims to obtain coverage under their own property insurance if their personal belongings are damaged by an intimate partner/policyholder, and auto carriers have updated their underwriting criteria pertaining to domestic violence victims whose abusers prevented them from becoming licensed drivers.
Victim to Victor
Today, the issue of domestic violence is being brought out into the open, and the shame of the abuse is being placed squarely where it belongs; at the feet of the abuser. If you are a victim of domestic violence, you can find help at a local domestic violence shelter, where counselors can help you file a restraining order or offer legal advice on how to obtain child support. They can also assist with housing and medical referrals, translation services, or mental health counseling needs. You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. The Association of Mature American Citizens (AMAC) urges you to call 911 if you or your children are in immediate danger.
Read the National Domestic Violence Hotline Brochure for more information about domestic violence, the Hotline, and its services: http://www.thehotline.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2016/08/Hotline-general-brochure.pdf