Mention a victim of domestic violence and who do most people immediately imagine? Perhaps a disheveled young woman with bruises on her chin and a black eye, looking sad, frightened and forlorn. This is certainly one of the faces of domestic violence, but far from the only one.
One in every four women will experience at least one form of domestic violence in her lifetime. Over 85 percent of domestic violence victims are women, but men are victims as well. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:
- One in six women and one in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed sexual assault.
- Less than 25 percent of all physical assaults, 20 percent of all sexual assaults and 50 percent of all stalkings by domestic partners are reported to the police.
- Domestic violence is one of the most chronically under-reported crimes despite the fact that “Violence against a partner or a child is a crime in all 50 states,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Defining domestic violence
Although physical violence is the most obvious and well known kind of domestic violence, there are many more that are more subtle, insidious and often hidden. Even within assault and battery, the category includes blows that inflict internal damage or bruising in “places that don’t show.” Other types of violence include dominance, humiliation, isolation, threats, intimidation, denial and blame.
Abuses may be emotional, sexual, verbal, economic and social, as well as physical. The U.S. Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) defines domestic violence as a “pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.” The definition states that domestic violence “can happen to anyone regardless of race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender.”
Cycle of abuse
Victims of domestic violence usually experience the “cycle of abuse,” which creates a confusing situation for the victim and leaves them open to further abuse. After the abuse occurs, the abuser may feel guilty, make excuses and resume “normal” behavior, often called the “honeymoon” phase. The abuser may then start building resentment against the victim, thinking of how to “get even,” after which the abuser may create another opportunity to justify abusing their victim, starting the cycle over again.
Adding mental illness and substance abuse to the mix
Domestic abuse is often accompanied by substance abuse and/or mental illness in the part of the abuser. Sometimes the victim turns to self-medicating to cope with the stress and the pain. Mental health professionals often find patients come for treatment for depression, anxiety or even suicidal ideations only to find that these patients are experiencing mental distress at least in part because of an abusive situation in their life.
It is imperative that clinical professionals, both medical and psychiatric, be aware of the danger signs and symptoms of domestic violence in order to help identify those dealing with it or at risk for it. They have an obligation to provide proper interventions.
However, everyone should be aware of signs of domestic abuse, and if you suspect that someone you know is being abused, speak up. If you’re hesitating—telling yourself that it’s none of your business, you might be wrong or the person might not want to talk about it—keep in mind that expressing your concern will let the person know that you care and may even save his or her life.
Silence hides violence. Speak up.