Written By: Namratha Meesala
Domestic violence is defined as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is practiced by one partner to gain or maintain control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence is one of the most chronically underreported crimes. Anyone can be susceptible to domestic violence, regardless of age, religion, gender, sexual orientation, educational level, ethnic background and/or socioeconomic status. While women report higher rates of experiencing domestic violence overall, men can also be victims of abuse.
In general, domestic violence is often viewed as physical assault that results in visible injuries to the victim. However, physical violence is only one type of abuse. There are several categories of abusive behavior, each with its own devastating and unique consequences. Other forms of abuse include, but are not limited to: sexual, emotional, economic, psychological, threats, stalking and cyber stalking.
Power and Control
One consistent component of domestic violence is one partner’s persistent efforts to maintain power and control over the other. At first, the abuser may appear charming, charismatic and even easy-going, however, as the relationship continues, aggressive and controlling tendencies begin to manifest and intensify. While at first certain behaviors, such as name calling and possessiveness or distrust may easily be downplayed, over time, controlling behaviors can evolve into more serious incidents such as threatening to hurt or kill the victim if they speak to family and friends. Abusers may also manipulate the victim by apologizing profusely for their actions or attempting to convince the victim that these are displays of love and care. Overall, it is important to keep in mind that domestic violence is not about the loss of control but about total control.
In gender-based violence, men are often found to be controlling, manipulative and may even believe they are victims themselves. Some abusive behaviors may stem from a belief in a pre-ordained right to be in charge of all aspects of the relationship. At times, the abuser may seek to change the other’s identity. When this fails and the abuser cannot tolerate it, the path chosen in abuse. Domestic violence is cyclical and can be difficult to escape. The image below demonstrates the phases an abusive relationship may go through and the behaviors abusers may exhibit to gain control in the relationship.
Advocating for the Victim
Domestic violence victims may be hesitant to seek help for reasons such as threat of physical harm, isolation, economic stress, etc. A victim may also stay with his or her abuser for various reasons such as: culture, religion, love, financial hardships, children, etc. However, even if the victim is able to escape his or her abuser, that does not necessarily mean that he or she is completely “free.” Leaving can provoke greater violence as the abuser may feel a loss of control over the victim. In fact, the victim is often times in greater danger following the escape of the relationship. Studies have shown that 1/5 of homicide victims with restraining orders are murdered within two days of obtaining the order and 1/3 are murdered within the first month.
Ending abuse begins by providing a secure outlet for the victim to escape safely from their abuser. This includes increasing the number of safe havens, domestic violence shelters, counseling services, and other forms of trauma support. However, rather than simply addressing the victim, the perpetrator needs to be offered services as well. Apart from being held accountable for their actions, abusers must be offered the opportunity to break the cycle. Not doing so may lead to either the abuser continuing the same behavior with the previous partner or preying on someone new. Interviews done with abusers have shown that abusers rarely believe they have a problem. Therefore, this highlights a need to provide counseling services to the abusers as well. If the issue is not addressed on both ends, a single abuser can generate several victims and continue the cycle of violence. Providing counseling support will have a potential for victims and abusers to refocus and reinvent themselves.
Lastly, abusive behavior is never acceptable, whether it’s coming from a man, a woman, a teenager, an older adult, etc. Everyone deserves to feel valued, respected and safe.