October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. And even though this is the last week of the month, it's still an important and timely topic. In addition, as a therapist specializing in trauma treatment and addiction, I frequently work with issues related to Domestic Violence in therapy sessions. So I never let an October go by without writing about this topic.
Importantly, if you are in an abusive relationship, there is help available. You don't have to continue suffering. I've listed local and national resources at the bottom of this blog. Or you can always call me if you want to talk or to get more information.
Domestic violence is when one person in an intimate relationship uses physical or emotional abuse to control another person in the relationship. Such abuse can include:
- Physical violence, such as hitting, shoving, etc.
- Threats of physical harm
- Yelling and other aggressive behaviors
- Sexual assault
- Name calling or put-downs
- Isolating a partner from friends and/or family
- Withholding money
Domestic violence cuts across all social and economic groups. It affects married and unmarried couples, gay or lesbian couples, heterosexual couples, and where a couple is either living together or separately. Although it is most often talked about as violence against women, domestic violence against men is also pervasive.
One in four women and one in seven men have been victimized by domestic abuse, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV). By the time you finish reading this article, about 75 people will have experienced domestic violence in the United States.
And adults are not the only victims:
- About 10 million women and men are abused by an intimate partner each year, according to the NCADV.
- In Indiana, on average, domestic violence agencies in Indiana serve about 1,800 victims/survivors daily.
- 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of intimate partner violence in their lifetime, according to NCADV.
- More than 3 million children are exposed to domestic violence in the U.S. each year.
- One in five children report witnessing an incident of family violence in their lifetime.
- Seventy-five percent of DV victims have children under age 18 at home, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
- Presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500 percent, according to NCADV.
- Domestic violence accounts for 15 percent of violent crime nationwide.
Most often domestic violence refers to physical abuse. But emotional abuse is just as pervasive, and in some ways more insidious. Many people tend to minimize or dismiss emotional abuse. But the consequences of emotional abuse are also severe and the scars run deep. In fact, emotional abuse can be more damaging than physical abuse.
When someone is physically abused, they can often point to a physical scar or wound of some sort. People who are being emotionally abused often don't recognize that they are in an abusive relationship. They just feel bad and can't always explain why. Emotionally abusive relationships can destroy your self-worth, lead to anxiety, depression, and suicidality, leading victims to feel helpless, alone and worthless.
There has also been more discussion of late about financial abuse to control to dis-empower a partner. Abusers may drastically limit their victims' access to cash so they have no money of their own if they want to flee. They may sabotage their victims' ability to work, or pile up debt under their victims' names. For many victims, financial abuse is one of the main reasons they are unable to escape an abusive relationship.
Domestic abuse often starts with verbal abuse and threats, and escalates to physical violence. Many people don't initially recognize that they are in an abusive relationship. There are many signs that a relationship has turned abusive. If you're afraid of your partner, or feel that you have to walk on egg-shells to avoid some sort of blow-up, if you find you are constantly checking yourself to make sure your partner doesn't get agitated, you may be in an abusive relationship.
Here are some questions you may ask to determine if you are in an abusive relationship:
- feel afraid of your partner,
- avoid certain topics for fear of angering your partner,
- feel like you can't do anything right for your partner,
- believe you deserve to be mistreated,
- wonder if you're the one who is crazy,
- feel emotionally numb or hopeless.
Emotional Abuse and Controlling Behavior:
Does your partner:
- humiliate and yell at you,
- criticize and demean you,
- treat you so badly that you're embarrassed to let your friends and family see it,
- blame you for their own abusive behavior,
- act excessively controlling or possessive,
- control where you go and what you do,
- keep you from seeing friends and family,
- limit your access to money, the phone or car,
- constantly check up on you.
Does your partner:
- have a bad or unpredictable temper,
- hurt you, or threaten to hurt you, including hitting, shoving, etc.,
- threaten your children,
- threaten to take your children away from you,
- force you to have sex.
If you feel you are in an abusive relationship, here’s a link to a Safety Plan.
For immediate help:
In Indiana and Kentucky: