Anyone can be the victim of domestic abuse. The abuse can be physical, emotional, sexual, or psychological. The victims are most often women but they are sometimes men and they come from every economic strata, every ethnicity, every age, every religion, every walk of life.
If you know someone or you, yourself are a victim of domestic violence, there is help available.
- confide in someone
- acknowledge emotional and psychological abuse
- reach out for professional help
- understand that domestic violence is a crime
- document everything
- forget a safety plan
- blame yourself
- be deterred by the police or court system
- ignore warning signs
Sometimes the most difficult thing to do is understand whether or not you are a victim of domestic abuse. The definition is vague, and there is no hard and fast rule for what constitutes intimate partner abuse. It is a difficult topic to discuss with family and friends especially if you are unsure about staying or leaving.
If you have a close friend you can trust, discuss your thoughts and let them know there is a problem. If you need more privacy, call a domestic violence hotline for advice. The national number is 1- 800-799-SAFE. There are numerous hotlines in every state and there are domestic violence advocacy groups in every community in the country. Sometimes just talking about it brings a great deal of clarity.
You or your loved one, friend, or colleague at work do not deserve to be abused. Emotional abuse takes many forms but includes constant yelling and screaming, threats, belittling (especially in public), grabbing just a little too forcefully, aggressively controlling finances, not allowing any freedom of movement, constant phone calls asking for your location and plans, and intimidation.
Be proud of yourself for acknowledging that this is happening in your relationship. Too many people cannot even get to that point. This is a very courageous first step. It is important to remember that past behavior is predictive of future behavior and that means you will need to do something to stop this cycle of abuse.
Once you have acknowledged the problem you will want to think about next steps. Only you know exactly what is happening in your home, but it is important to understand all of your options.
Do not be afraid that merely reaching out for advice will immediately remove all decision making from you and destroy your autonomy. It will not. Everyone involved in this issue knows that the most important thing to do is listen closely to the victim.
There are numerous civil and criminal options available to you, and it is important to know about all of them. The solution can be thoughtful and participatory. Convey your wishes clearly—you can tell a police officer or district attorney that you need their help but do not want jail for your partner; you can tell a family law attorney that you need advice but do not want a divorce; you can tell an advocate that you need assistance but your goal is to reunite with your partner once he has gotten some help; you can tell a counselor that you need to talk but may ultimately decide not to leave.
Don’t be afraid to reach out and get professional help because you think no one will listen to you. They will listen.
When there is physical violence involved, you must do something to protect yourself. Physical violence can include pushing and shoving into doors and walls, hitting, punching, choking, threats with weapons, use of weapons and more. Some physical abuse results in little injury, but it is dangerous just the same. Now is the time to call in law enforcement and
stop the escalation before something terrible happens.
Most police departments and prosecutors' offices have dedicated domestic violence professionals. They will be able to discuss the arrest process, your involvement, your options and any other issues that concern you. These issues can include immigration problems, child support, restraining orders, temporary support, housing etc. They have access to many social services that you will need and may not realize are at your disposal.
Much of the time these services will be free of charge. Law enforcement and attorneys can assist you with the process of obtaining a restraining order or order of protection. They will serve the order on your behalf, accompany you to court and walk you through the process. An arrest may serve as a deterrent and the prosecution of a case can serve many purposes. For the truly violent, jail time may be the only safe result. But there are also times that drug treatment, psychiatric help, alcohol treatment, or efforts at seeking employment can be mandated.
If you are the victim of either emotional or physical abuse you should try to document incidents and be aware of evidence. Each time you go to the police station they will write up a report of your complaint. Get a copy and keep these in a safe place.
If you have been injured and go to a hospital or private doctor, keep a record of these visits. If you received treatment or medication as a result of the assault, have those records available. Take photographs of injuries, keep all harassing emails, text and Facebook entries. Have the courage to immediately tell a friend so that they can also testify to the existence of an injury and to your reporting of the violence. Keep a journal of all emotional, psychological, sexual, and physical abuse.
If you are planning to leave you should create a safety plan. This means knowing where you will actually stay (especially when there are children involved). You may need to contact a domestic violence shelter and stay there for a time until you are permanently resituated.
Have a bag packed for yourself and your children in case of emergency. If you can put aside some emergency money, do so. If this is not possible (and it often is not) ask a friend if you can borrow a small amount should the need arise. Be sure to have all of your important documents with you at all times including checkbooks, drivers license, orders of protection, credit cards, immigration papers, social service documents etc. Always have an extra set of car keys and know what type of transportation you will use if you need to get away quickly.
You are often told not to make a “mountain out of a molehill”. This is not the case when it comes to spousal abuse.
First and foremost, know if there are weapons in your home or if the abuser has access to them. When you are discussing this with professionals or your friends, be honest about your partner. Do not minimize anger issues or the level of fear you actually feel. Tell the truth about mental health problems, diagnosis, medications, and treatment that the abuser may have undergone. Alert others if there have been threats of suicide by the abuser. Relate all instances of emotional and physical violence even if you failed to report them. Take threats seriously and report those to people you trust so that they can try to protect you.
Perpetrators of domestic abuse succeed most often in being allowed to continue their behavior because they convince the victim that the victim is at fault. This is one of the reasons that support groups are very important. They can help you see that you are not alone in what has happened and that there are so many others in your position.
The abuser tries to convince you that you flirted inappropriately, you have emotional problems, you pressure him financially, your family interferes, you purposely push his buttons, you “burned the toast”, etc. None of this accounts for the abuser’s behavior.
Most professionals have been trained to understand domestic violence and the cycle of abuse. If you have summoned the courage to reach out to the police or the court system but are not happy with the response, do not give up. There are numerous domestic violence advocacy groups in your community and their role is to act as a go-between for victims of abuse.
If you are attempting to get a non-criminal restraining order and the judge refuses to issue one on your behalf, reach out to an attorney or an advocate to better argue your case. These services are almost always free of charge.
If you cannot get the local police to take your concerns seriously, ask to speak to a supervisor or call the prosecutor’s office and ask for a domestic violence lawyer. They can often act on your behalf with local law enforcement.
Do not be afraid to call a local elected official if no one responds to your situation. They have staff whose job description is to respond to constituent problems. They will get through on your behalf.
If you see something, say something! Although we are often wary of interfering in the personal lives of others it is important to do so when you think a relative, friend or co worker is the victim of domestic violence. Don’t ignore the warning signs:
- Constant phone calls at work from the abuser
- Constant phone calls when just out in a social situation with friends
- Unexplained bruising
- Frequently apologizing for partner’s temper or rudeness
- Suddenly pulling away from friends and family because partner does not like them
- Skipping social situations they used to love to attend
- Suddenly depressed, withdrawn, quiet
At first your friend may seem angry that you have inquired, but be patient, listen, and don’t judge. Eventually your assistance will be welcomed. Try to come prepared with some phone numbers or names of professionals that might provide options. This information may not be welcomed at first but will be sometime down the road.
We have come a long way from the time that victims of domestic abuse were told it was a “family problem” to be resolved in the home. There are many people working day in and day out to end family violence, and there are a myriad of social services now available to the victims of abuse.
All of this is only meaningful if those who need the help either come forward on their own or are encouraged to do so by loved ones. With the help of professionals, family, and friends, you can get out of an abusive relationship safely and move on with your life.