October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

While domestic violence and domestic abuse can happen to anyone, women are most often the victims.  And while October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, it’s a good idea to talk about domestic abuse as well–because it is often harder to spot, even for the victim.

Domestic abuse, also known as spousal abuse, occurs when one person in an intimate relationship or marriage tries to dominate and control the other person. Domestic abuse that includes physical violence is called domestic violence. [Melinda Smith, M.A.; Pat Davies; and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., “Domestic Violence and Abuse.” Helpguide.org. Updated Sept. 2009.]

It can be especially hard for a woman who has previously been the victim of domestic violence to recognize that she is a victim of domestic abuse because the previous physically violent relationship might seem so much worse than the current abusive scenario.

Sometimes it takes many years to recognize the abuse that is and has been taking place–it’s harder to name and describe emotional or psychological abuse than to point a finger at a bruise or scar.

Abusers often “sweep” the victim “off their feet” with grand romantic gestures, then press quickly for a commitment, and they often target women who are in a difficult physical or emotional situation already, so that their gestures seem like a “fairy tale” and the abuser might be seen as somewhat of a “savior” at first to the victim.

Abusers then attempt to control and manipulate their victims–to cut them off from their friends and family and to make them feel inadequate–that they are a bad partner, an incompetent mother, that they should be happier in their situation–making the victim feel guilt and shame.

Often the abuser will be rude to the victim’s friends and coworkers and will not get along with their family, while making it seem like they, the abuser, are being unfairly judged and maligned.

Sometimes the abuser will set up a “my friends are our friends” situation, where the victim is only allowed friends that are “loyal” to her spouse–meaning that if the victim leaves her abuser, she also stands to lose all of her remaining friends and support network.

Abusers often set up a scenario where they are the “underdog,” and that it is “us against the world,” implying that if the partner leaves, that the victim and/or the abuser will be completely alone.  They may try to make the victim feel sorry for them, and may threaten to commit suicide if the abused partner ever leaves.

If there are children in the relationship, the abuser may use them as a means of control and/or guilt–either by attempting to instill in the victim that they are the inferior parent or by using the children as a means of control: the abuser may threaten to take the children or attempt to make a case that the victim is unfit for custody should they leave.

Sadly, in some cases, the abuser is so successful in convincing the victim that they are not a good parent that the victim believes the abuser is better fit for custody, thus setting up a cycle for future abuse, with the children modeling the abuser’s behaviors.

While physical violence may not be present in the relationship, there are often threats of it–sometimes phrased as jokes that are oft-repeated.  The abuser may hit, kick, or punch other things in front of the victim in order to frighten the victim into compliance with their wishes, throw things toward (but not directly at) the victim, or make other physically threatening gestures.

Domestic abuse is about manipulation and control.  It is no less important an issue than domestic violence, especially since it is often the precursor to domestic violence.  Please take the time to educate yourself on the signs of this epidemic, and if you think you know someone who might be a victim, talk to them and offer your support.

Often, victims of domestic violence are in denial about their predicament–they know that something is wrong, but they don’t know how to talk about it or even what to call it.  Often they have been so isolated and shamed that they feel they have few options other than to continue enduring the abuse.

For more information on domestic violence and abuse, read HelpGuide.org‘s site, which includes a good set of links for partners and friends in all kinds of relationships.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Claire on October 6, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    Just for fun, I’ll tell ya my favorite DV story (though I have tons of them from my year of anger management classes that I had to take as a result of the following story)

    So, my ex-husband gets married and two months later, a week before my daughter’s 5th birthday, he goes into court and gets a domestic violence restraining order against me for spanking our kid. I didn’t even get notice of the hearing because he lied to the court and said I’d steal her from preschool (even tho she didn’t go to preschool on his days and thus I could have been easily told a day ahead of time).

    Luckily, the attorney I worked for took pity on me and got the temporary order thrown out, but at the end of the day, I had no attorney for the hearing for a permanent restraining order. I showed up and winged it. The social services worker who I subpoenaed failed to show up. This would be the worker who put in his report that I was not a threat to the child and required none of their services. Since I wasn’t an attorney, I didn’t know to ask for a bench warrant so the judge wouldn’t give a continuance or do anything but made a ruling.

    In the end, I had a restraining order against me, in law enforcement systems, for 2.5 years, a year of anger management classes, and a record that makes me look like I’m domestically violent! I probably still can’t own a gun as well. I’ll never be able to do any of the professions I previously considered (teaching, social work and nursing are all out of the question). The upside is that the judge didn’t buy my ex-husband’s attorney’s song and dance when it came down to it because I still had “weekend dad” visitation and their request for NO CONTACT at all, by mail, phone or in person with the child was denied.

    I did my weekly two hour Anger Management meetings for a year having to explain how my ex-husband checked a box on a form so I was joining these ladies for the year. No, I didn’t go to jail like they all did. No, I didn’t get to sock that SOB in the face like a couple of them did. No, my bruises didn’t show up a few days later like most of theirs did. Out of maybe 30 gals that came and went during my year, only 3 of them had actually perpetrated real abuse against their man. All the rest were either in a mutually combative situation, or threw an object in the guy’s general direction in front of a cop.

    So, if anyone wonders why I scoff at what California turned “domestic violence restraining orders” into, this is why. Most of the people I knew in CA had at one time had a DV order against them because in CA, you just have to walk in and say you’re afraid of the person and the court usually grants it. It’s pretty silly and a waste of the court’s time and resources.

    Domestic violence is a horrible thing. A few girls I knew from high school had relationships like those and when they finally left the guy, they left their kids behind believing that they had nowhere to go, no money and were just breathing pieces of crap anyways, so the kids were better off. Once they got on their feet and tried to get the kids back, none of them ever did.

    There is nothing quite so ugly as the heartbreak of women who lose their children when they haven’t done anything wrong. These experiences are why I’m going to go to law school. I’m not looking to get rich (not even a little), I’m looking to represent the women who can’t afford an attorney in family matters. You might have a right to an attorney in criminal cases, but you do not in family cases. I think most mothers would rather have a felony on their records than lose their children. It’s unconscionable that people are unable to adequately argue their cases in court, oftentimes completely destroying their children’s lives in the process, just because they are unable to pay an attorney to help them. In CA, legal papers are on check the box forms but you still need an attorney once you get in there. I’m thankful that SD still takes their restraining orders seriously and uses them judiciously for cases that actually involve domestic abuse, but there is still a huge justice gap that affects mostly poor women with children.

    Moral of the story: Stay on the safe side and don’t spank your kids 🙂

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