Domestic Violence Awareness | How You Can Help
Imagine this: you just found the man or woman of your dreams. He or she is charming, funny, attractive, and, most importantly, they are absolutely and completely in love with you. So much so that they want to spend every moment they have with you. It's cute and romantic at first, but things quickly and drastically take a turn for the worse.
What you thought was the desire to simply spend time with the one who loves you has turned into him or her controlling what you do, how you look, and who you spend your time with. Before you know it, you are cut off from your friends and family, and under the control of your partner. In some cases, your partner becomes violent.
This is a scenario we've seen played out in books and on the movie screen, but for millions of Americans and even more worldwide, this scenario is all too real.
Domestic violence affects more than 10 million Americans each year, and that doesn't include the children and family members of the victims who are also affected by such a heinous crime. Not only that, but with the city lockdowns due to the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic, many victims have found themselves confined to their homes with their abusers.
Now more than ever, we need to come together and do our part to help end domestic violence and provide support for both victims and survivors. October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Join us as we take this opportunity to become aware, take action, and help provide the resources and tools victims and survivors need to escape their abusers and find safety.
1. Become Aware
The first step to fighting against domestic violence is to learn more about what it is and how you can recognize it in both your own relationship and those of your friends, family, colleagues, and loved ones. Here, we will address some of the most commonly asked questions about domestic violence to help increase education and awareness, and to put some myths to rest.
What is domestic violence?
Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior where the abuser willfully intimidates, coerces, or controls their victim through physical abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, sexual abuse, and/or financial abuse. When most of us think about domestic violence, we think of physical abuse; however, that is not always the case. Emotional and psychological abuse can often be just as extreme. A situation lacking in physical abuse does not mean that the abuser is any less dangerous, nor that the victim feels any less trapped. Domestic violence is all about the abuser maintaining control and power over their victim, and that can take many forms. Domestic violence often occurs in intimate relationships, but it can appear in any relationship, including those between parents and children.
Who does domestic violence affect?
Domestic violence is not impartial to any group of people. It affects both men and women, regardless of age, race, gender, religion, culture, sexual orientation, social or economic status, education level, nationality, or ability. Domestic violence affects adults, youth, and children. It affects the victims and their families, and communities. In short, domestic violence affects everyone, and millions of Americans live in silent fear each day.
How common is domestic violence?
It is possible that you are not aware of anyone within your circle of family, friends, and acquaintances that is in a relationship where there is domestic violence. However, it is also entirely possible that you do know someone who is hiding the fact that they are being abused. 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience violence from their partner at some point in their lifetime. With how shocking that statistic is, it doesn't include those whose abusers are not violent but still abusive in other ways.
Can you tell if someone is/will become an abuser?
In many cases, it's not easy to clearly and quickly identify an abuser, especially in the early stages of a new relationship. Generally, abuse intensifies over time. An abuser may seem kind, wonderful, even perfect in the beginning, but he or she will become more aggressive and/or controlling as the relationship progresses.
What are the warning signs of someone being an abuser?
While it may be difficult to pick out an abuser, there are some tell-tale signs that can be a warning flag:
- Exerting strict control over your finances, appearance, social life, etc.
- Needing to be in constant contact with you, resulting in an excessive amount of texts and calls.
- Insulting you or putting you down, both privately and in front of others.
- Being extremely jealous of time you spend with other people.
- Insisting that you move quickly in the relationship.
- Insisting that you limit or completely eliminate the time you spend with family and friends, or doing your own hobbies.
- Refusing to take responsibility for their actions and blaming others for the bad things that happen in their lives.
It is important to note that while these behaviors are often telling of an abuser, they may not be abusive on their own. Domestic violence and abuse happens when these actions become a consistent pattern of behavior.
What does domestic violence include?
As mentioned above, domestic violence includes a range of abuse, including physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, and financial. Some actions of abuse may be more telling than others, but when they are part of a pattern of behavior that puts someone to have control over you, it is important to recognize them as abuse. Abusive actions can include:
- Violence and/or control that intensifies over time.
- Telling their victim that they can never do anything right.
- Showing jealousy of time the victim spends away from the abuser.
- Accusations of cheating.
- Preventing the victim from seeing or talking with family and friends.
- Shaming or embarrassing the victim through name calling and put-downs.
- Controlling every penny that is spent in the house, or taking the victim's money and refusing to give them money for necessities.
- Looking at or acting in ways that scare their victim.
- Controlling what their victim does, sees, or goes.
- Controlling how their victim dresses, does their hair, etc.
- Threatening to hurt, kill, or take away the victim's children.
- Threatening to hurt or kill the victim, their children, pets, family, friends, etc.
- Stalking the victim by monitoring their moves in person and/or online.
- Intimidating their victim with weapons.
- Pressuring the victim to have sex when they don't want to, or to do things sexually that the victim is uncomfortable with.
- Pressuring or forcing the victim to use alcohol or drugs.
- Destroying the victim's property.
This is not a comprehensive list. If you or someone you know experiences any of these or other actions that demonstrate control and power over their significant other, take the necessary steps to seek help.
Can abusers stop abusing their victims?
In short, yes. An abuser chooses to abuse their victim, and they can choose to stop; however, it is often very difficult for an abuser to do so. Stopping abuse means giving up power and control once the abuser has gained it all. In many cases, an abuser will stop one form of abuse and replace it with another. It is important to remember that domestic violence includes many different types of abuse and actions that are part of their overall behavior. If abuse continues in another form, abuse is still happening.
Can't the victim just leave an abusive relationship?
For many who hear of domestic violence cases, they think that perhaps the victim brought the abuse upon themselves, or wonder why the victim doesn't just leave. First and foremost, anyone who experiences abuse or domestic violence in any way is not at fault. The abuser chooses to abuse.
With that said, ending the abuse is often not as simple as the victim simply choosing to leave the relationship. Instead, it is a matter of the abuser choosing to stop the abuse, the victim having a safe place to escape to, or others (such as law enforcement) holding the abuser accountable. In addition, victims are often at a higher risk of danger or death immediately following their escape than when they were in the relationship. This is because abusers work hard to maintain control and keep their victims trapped; when that control is gone, it can push an abuser over the edge and cause them to inflict serious harm on their victim.
There are many other reasons why a victim may not be able to leave an abusive relationship. Some of these include:
- Gaslighting: a form of mental and psychological manipulation where the abuser causes the victim to feel like the abuse is their fault. It shifts the blame, and it can often cause the victim to doubt their judgment, perception of what is happening, or even their sanity. This can cause victims to feel like they are responsible for the abuse and are therefore able to stop it.
- The victim may still love their abuser, who is often an intimate partner. The victim may want the abuser to stop, but not the relationship.
- The victim may have health issues due to severe emotional or physical abuse, which may make it more difficult to leave.
2. Take Action
Once you know more about domestic violence and what it entails, you are more equipped to recognize it and take action. There are many different ways that you can get involved, both on a personal level with those you know are experiencing domestic violence, and on a community or national level. There are also actions you can take if you are the one in an abusive relationship. These are just some of the ways you can help.
How to Help Individuals in Abusive Relationships
- Listen without judgment when a victim tells you what is happening. Trust the victim's perspective, and let them know that you believe them.
- Ask victims what you can do to help, and support their decisions regarding the relationship.
- Don't worry about being an expert; just be a friend.
- Hold abusers accountable. If it is safe to do so, call them out on their behavior. You can also impose social consequences, such as not allowing them into your home as long as they continue their abusive behavior.
- Don't stand by and let the abuse happen. Domestic violence is not a private family matter. If you hear or see anything abusive happening among your family, friends, or neighbors, intervene if it is safe, or notify authorities.
How to Help Locally or Nationally
- Get involved in local programs, such as shelters.
- Donate to programs that support and help victims as they escape their abusers, and survivors as they work towards a fresh start.
- Donate to programs that are dedicated to educating, training, and supporting others to be advocates for someone affected by domestic violence.
- Get involved in the 2020 Week of Action: Sunday, October 18 - Saturday, October 24, 2020.
What To Do If You Are Being Abused
If you are the victim of domestic violence in any way, know that you are not alone and that there is something you can do. Please be aware that we are not experts; before taking any action to escape your abuser, you should contact a trained advocate who can evaluate your situation and help you know what is the best thing for you and what will keep you safe. You can connect with an advocate by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline, or a local hotline and shelter.
Some actions you can take if you are the victim of domestic abuse include:
- Connect with an advocate for support, guidance on next steps, and access to resources that are available to help you.
- Utilize local programs for emergency shelter, legal advocacy, childcare, counseling, and more.
- Make a plan to keep yourself safe, as well as any children you may have. This can include a plan of how you will get out of the house quickly should your abuser turn violent, having a suitcase packed for grab-and-go escape, and more. Whatever you do, keep in mind that you know your abuser best, and do things that will keep you safe while you are still with them.
- Tell neighbors about the abuse and ask them to take action if they hear noise coming from your home. This can include your neighbors calling your house, stopping by, or calling the police if it is safe to do so.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, please know that you are not alone. There are resources, tools, and people ready to help you.
If you are in danger, call 9-1-1.
If you are looking for 24/7 confidential and anonymous help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY at 1-800-787-3224. Here, experts can talk with you about additional resources, what you can do to safely escape your abuser, or be there to just listen and talk with you. Hotline advocates can also help abusers who have recognized their destructive behavior and are looking to change. You can also find more information about what you can do to get safe by visiting their website, https://www.thehotline.org/.
If you are a victim of domestic violence, whatever your circumstances, know that there is nothing you have done or are doing to cause the abuse. It is not your fault. It may seem impossible to escape or change your circumstance, but there is help and hope available. Everyone deserves to be in a healthy relationship, and to live a life free of threats and fear, especially in their own home.
All of us must come together to recognize the reality of domestic violence, and to provide the support, care, and assistance victims and survivors deserve. Let us come together, become aware, and take action. Together, we can help provide a safe and loving home for everyone. Together, we can help end domestic violence.