Domestic Violence: Understanding the Situation
Around the world at least one woman in every three has been beaten, abused or coerced into sex during her lifetime. Most often the abuser is a member of her own family. The prevalence of domestic violence is difficult to determine for several reasons: it often goes unreported, and there is some ambiguity about what should be included in the definition of domestic violence.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that only 31% of victims of domestic violence and 20% of female victims of sexual assault report the incidence to the police. Living in a domestically violent household is not easy. Some believe that leaving a domestically violent household is even more difficult. But we all have a right to feel safe.
In this article, we explore some areas of domestic violence, with a focus on the nature of this problem, its effects on families, and strategies to effectively cope with violence at home.
Types of Domestic Violence
You do not have to be physically hurt to be abused, nor is it ever too late to seek assistance. Domestic violence can be categorised into several forms. Let’s take a look at the different types of domestic violence.
Physical Abuse: Physical abuse includes direct harm against a person, their child, pet or property and includes hitting, slapping, punching, choking, being thrown against a wall, being hit with objects or injured by weapons.
Sexual Abuse: Sexual abuse is any type of forced or unwanted sexual behaviour.
Emotional/Psychological Abuse: Similar to verbal abuse, emotional or psychological abuse can leave a person feeling that the relationship problems are their fault.
Verbal Abuse: Verbal abuse is the use of critical or insulting language or continual put-downs, threats or criticisms.
Financial Abuse: Financial abuse involves the unequal control of money in a relationship, by making a person dependent upon the perpetrator for money, taking a person’s money or threatening a person for money.
Social Abuse: Social abuse is when the victim is denied contact with friends or family who may be able to offer support. Some victims are also made to account for everything they do and everywhere they go.
Myths and Explanations
“Domestic violence is rare”: Although statistics on domestic violence is not exact, it’s clear that millions of women, children and also men are abused physically by family members and other people close to them.
“Domestic violence is only seen in lower socio-economic families”: Police records, domestic violence services and studies have shown that domestic violence occurs in every socio-economic group regardless of age, race, culture, or academic level.
“Alcohol and drug abuse are the causes of domestic violence”: Domestic violence and substance abuse are two different problems that should be treated separately. Alcohol and drugs have been linked to domestic violence because many perpetrators use these substances; however to name them as the cause for domestic violence is almost excusing the batterer for their behaviour.
“Victims like being hit, otherwise they would leave”: Most people respond to domestic violence with statements like “why doesn’t she just leave” without thinking of the economic and social realities facing the victim. Shelters are often full and sometimes family and friends are less than supportive. Making the decision to leave may even increase the chance of physical harm to the victim or the children.
The Cycle of Violence
There has been a great deal of research which indicates there are patterns to violence in abusive relationships and is often referred to as “the cycle of violence”. It has been useful for many women in violent relationships to notice these patterns in order to predict attacks, however it is important to note that there are many situations where violence is not predictable.
The cycle has five phases and begins with what is known as the build-up phase. This phase can run over any length of time and usually is a period of high tension caused by anything from work stressors, family or financial pressures or destructive thought patterns. The build-up phase generally includes stand over tactics such as verbal threats.
These threats raise the level of fear of the partner and enable the partner to gain greater control of the situation. Ultimately the perpetrator explodes in a rage of violence which is called the explosion phase. The remorse phase follows the explosion, where the perpetrator feels ashamed and guilty because of their actions and may fear that the abused partner will leave, so makes a greater effort in the relationship. Some victims choose to believe that the violence will not be repeated.
During this phase the perpetrator may deny or minimise what occurred during the explosion or even look for reasons outside for why it happened. Next is the pursuit phase where the perpetrator attempts to win back the love and affection of the partner. This usually involves gifts and promises of changed behaviour. Lastly is the honeymoon phase which is a time of intense intimacy and denial of the previous abuse.
Women, while confused, are less inclined to exit the relationship at this time. She sees the batterer as sincere and loving and chooses to believe this is what he is really like, and if she supports him things will change. The perpetrator becomes increasingly more confident in the relationship until the cycle is repeated. Calm loving behaviour gives way to smaller incidents until the tension reoccurs and a new cycle of violence and battering begins again.
*Women are the victims of domestic and family violence in the majority of cases, and in fact, 90% of domestic violence is committed by men against women. While it is accepted that women as well as men can commit violence, this article primarily focuses on the male being the perpetrator.
The Impact on Children
Estimates are that more than 3.3 million children are exposed to physical or verbal abuse each year. Children may directly observe domestic violence or they may be aware of it indirectly. They may be in another room when it takes place, be woken during the night and hear the violence, or see bruising or damaged property after the violence occurs.
The impact of domestic violence on children varies from child to child. When compared with other children, children who have witnessed or been victims of domestic violence host a list of behavioural and emotional problems. These problems include both external and internal behaviours which range from aggression and antisocial behaviours, through to depression, anxiety and low self esteem.
Some children react by becoming overly introverted and shy while others act out and become extroverts. Children in families where domestic violence is present generally grow up prematurely, by taking on additional roles such as nurturer, protector or referee between mum and dad. Quite often, children in this situation isolate themselves from other children in order to hide their situation.
Younger children can show excessive irritability and emotional distress and sometimes their toileting and language regresses. Preschool children may develop aches and pains for no apparent reason and eating and sleeping patterns may be disturbed.
Looking at the long term effects on children, depression and low self esteem generally transfer into adulthood. Substance abuse, sexual problems and criminal behaviour are behaviours which are at risk of being taken up in later life, as a result of witnessing domestic violence.
Children of abusive relationships are also at risk of continuing the violence in their own adult relationships because their parents failed to teach conflict resolution skills, and instead modelled violent behaviour and abuse. In other cases, the impact of domestic violence can extend to people not directly involved. For example, the effects can flow onto other children not experiencing domestic violence through bullying or aggression.
Those children who survive the ordeal “unscathed” are those with average or above average intellectual development and high feelings of self esteem.
Coping and Moving Forward
Victims of domestic violence describe the experience as exhausting and emotionally draining. Many victims continue to blame themselves for the abuse long after they have left the relationship. For this reason, constructing a new life can take time and energy. The victim needs to gain confidence and get on top of things.
Answering the following questions is a good exercise to assist abused individuals get on top of things:
Whenever I feel abused or controlled by others, I can tell myself…
Whenever I feel low in confidence and self esteem, I can speak to…
If I feel inclined to return to an abusive situation, I should…
Other things I can do to help me feel stronger are…
There are a number of things that you can do to help you recover a sense of safety, control and self-worth including:
- If you have moved house, make sure you have good locks on the doors.
- If you are in the same house, change the locks on the doors.
- Apply for a DVO (domestic violence order) if you are being stalked or threatened.
- Talk to a Domestic Violence Counsellor.
- Renew friendships with old friends, and make new ones.
- Spoil yourself. Set aside time (and money) if possible to do things you enjoy.
- Accept that your recovery will take time.
- Grieve the loss of the relationship before entering into a new one.
On leaving a domestic violent relationship, many victims find themselves in new relationships which are also abusive. This may be due to not giving themselves enough time to fully recover their self esteem and work through the various stages of grieving. Be cautious about new relationships, but remember not to let the experience of abuse get in the way of forming positive and trusting relationships.
Here are some tips to help you feel comfortable in a new relationship:
- Take the relationship slowly
- let it develop in a way you feel comfortable.
- Be clear with your partner about what behaviour you will and will not accept.
- Talk with your new partner about what you have experienced so they have an understanding of domestic violence and what you have been through.
- Talk to your counsellor about the relationship, especially if you have any concerns.
- Keep your financial affairs separate initially.
Although people are being increasingly more educated about domestic violence, this problem is still widespread in the social milieu. Many families are affected by domestic violence and combating it remains a complex task for social and health workers around the globe.
Hopefully, with a better understanding of the situation and the development of a concise plan of action, individuals can help themselves and/or their family, friends and/or relatives to deal with the hardship resulted from a domestic violence experience.
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