What is Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence is not a disagreement, an anger management issue, or a normal part of an intimate relationship. It is a systematic pattern of abusive behavior with intent to gain and maintain power and control over another person. This includes dating, partner, spousal, and elder abuse, as well as abuse between present or former household members. Domestic violence can happen to anyone, regardless of their race, religion, age, socio-economic background, level of education, or sexual orientation. Domestic violence is a crime.
Types of Abuse:
Abuse is any behavior use to control or intimidate another person and can be verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual in nature.
Emotional/Psychological Abuse: Name-calling, put-downs, threats, stalking, intimidation, degradation, tracking time, isolating victim from family or friends, forbidding victim to work or participate in outside activities, sleep deprivation, interrogation, accusing, using money to control, threatening to "out" a gay or lesbian partner, harming pets, destroying property, throwing objects near victim.
Physical Abuse: Pushing, shoving, slapping, kicking, punching, biting, restraint, hair pulling, strangulation, pinching, burning, grabbing, shaking, scratching, spitting, using weapons, throwing objects at victim.
Sexual Abuse: Any non-consensual sexual act or behavior, including forced sex, unwanted touching, sexual degradation, and violence targeted at the genital area
The Cycle of Violence
"Cycle of Violence" refers to the pattern that domestic violence tends to follow. There are three distinct phases to the cycle: tension-building, acute explosion, and honeymoon.
The tension-building period is usually the longest period of the cycle, and is generally characterized by a high level of stress. For example, the abuser may be moody, sullen, fault-finding, and very critical. He might withdraw affection, belittle his partner, drink or abuse drugs, make threats, or even destroy his partner's personal property. Meanwhile, the victim may attempt to keep her partner calm and placate him, become overly accommodating, agreeable, solicitous, and nurturing. She may also become either silent or overly-talkative, withdraw from and avoid family and friends, try to keep the kids quiet and "out of the way", or constantly feel as if she is "walking on eggshells."
The acute explosion is usually the briefest period of the cycle, as well as most severe. During an explosion, an abuser might beat, rape, isolate, imprison, or attack his partner with a weapon. He may become extremely verbally abusive or humiliate and publicly degrade his partner. The victim will often try to protect herself any way she can, attempt to reason with or calm her abuser, call the police, fight back, or leave or attempt to leave.
The honeymoon period might not exist in every abusive relationship, and is often shorter than the tension-building period. The abuser may apologize, cry, and beg forgiveness, make declarations of love, promise to get help, send extravagant gifts, and promise it will never happen again. The victim often accepts the apologies, believing that it will never happen again, and even cancel legal proceedings or appointments with a counselor because the situation "seems to be better."
Violence in a relationship tends to escalate in frequency and severity over time without proper intervention. It typically beings with verbal and emotional abuse and is often not identified as violence. This can escalate to physical and/or sexual abuse which becomes increasingly more violent and potentially life-threatening. All forms of abuse should be recognized as violent and potentially dangerous.
Why Do Victims Stay?
There are many reasons why a person might stay in a violent relationship. Many victims of domestic violence do not want to end their relationship; they only want the violence to stop. As domestic violence does not typically start as physical violence, most women will not recognize signs such as possessiveness and jealousy as signs of potential danger. In fact, due to media messages and cultural norms, many women find these "warning signs" flattering and might even view them as signs of true romantic love. Many victims are hopeful that their partners will change and that their relationship will be as it was when they first met. Many victims either still love their partner, are afraid to leave, or feel trapped in their circumstances. So why can't a woman often just leave a violent relationship?
Fear. Many victims have a higher risk of violence when they attempt to leave their relationship, because their abuser realizes that their power and control has been threatened. Many abusive partners will stalk, continue to threaten, intimidate, attempt to manipulate, and/or be physically or sexually abusive after their partners have left. These threats may also be made to the victim's children, other family members, friends, or co-workers. The abuser might even threaten to hurt or kill himself.
Finances. Many victims are financially dependent on their batterers. The victim may be unemployed, without job skills, unable to legally work in the United States due to immigration status, not fluent in English, unable to provide basic necessities for herself or her children, or humiliated at the thought of having to go on welfare or make a drastic change to her and her children's current standard of living.
Children. Although many victims do leave if and when they feel their children are directly threatened, others may choose to stay because of issues surrounding children. The victim may want to keep her family intact, not want to deny her children a father figure, or not want to uproot them from their current school, neighborhood, or other support systems. The abusive partner may have threatened to turn the children against her, abduct them, report her to DYFS (Division of Youth and Family Services), physically harm the children, or even kill them if she leaves.
Identifying an Abusive Relationship
Does your partner...
- Put you down, constantly criticize you, or say blatantly cruel, hurtful things?
- Act in a controlling, jealous manner?
- Criticize the way you parent your children?
- Say things to spite you?
- Bring up the past to hurt you?
- Swear at you?
- Yell and scream at you?
- Give you the 'silent treatment'?
- Insist you cater to his whims?
- Treat you like a personal servant?
- Monitor your time?
- Discourage or prevent you from getting medical care?
- Discourage or prevent you from attending school?
- Discourage or prevent you from socializing with friends?
- Discourage or prevent you from working?
- Accuse you of having affairs? Of constantly flirting with other men/women?
- Demand that you stay at home with the children?
- Discourage or prevent you from seeing your family?
- Restrict or monitor your use of the car?
- Restrict or monitor your use of the telephone?
- Prevent you from leaving the house?
- Tell you that your feelings are irrational and/or crazy?
- Blame you for his/her temper or mood?
- Blame you for his/her use of violence?
- Change moods radically?
- Try to convince you that you are crazy?
- Threaten to hurt him/her self if you left?
- Threaten to hurt him/her self if you don't do what s(he) wants?
- Threaten to have an affair?
- Threaten to leave the relationship?
- Threaten to take your children away from you?
- Threaten to hurt your children?
- Threaten to commit you to an institution?
If one or more of these items is true for you, you may be involved in an abusive, dangerous relationship. You are not alone-help is available. To speak to someone confidentially:
Suggestions for Helping
Just talking about the abuse and offering to listen without passing judgment, as well as providing resources of information, can make a difference.
GENTLY ASK direct questions about her situation. Give her time to talk and don't force the issue. She may not be ready to discuss it with you but let her know you will listen if and when she is ready. Check back with her on several occasions and remind her you are still willing to listen if she needs someone to talk to. Be patient and let her know that you care and are concerned for her safety and well-being.
LISTEN without judging her and allow her to express her emotions. Avoid rushing to provide solutions to her problems or (even subtly) blaming her for the abuse. Abused women often believe their abuser's negative messages and may feel responsible and ashamed. Focus on supporting her right to make her own decisions.
PROVIDE supporting/validating messages. Let her know that nobody deserves to live in fear or to be abused. Explain that nothing she has done or could do gives another person the right to abuse her. Advise her that she is the victim of a crime and can seek protection from the criminal justice system.
SUGGEST she prepare for an emergency. A safety plan can be developed with the help of ADV, even if she decides to remain in the relationship.
GUIDE her to community services. Be aware of the resources available in your community. In Bergen County, New Jersey, there are two programs that offer safety, advocacy, support, legal information, and other needed services: ADV and SOS (Shelter Our Sisters). Share this information with her privately. Let her know that she is not alone and there are people that can help her. Assure her that her information will be kept confidential and encourage her to seek help.