October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The Ray Rice-NFL fracas has already brought the topic front and center. Let’s go one step further to eradicate this silent horror.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline defines domestic abuse as “the repetitive pattern of behaviors to maintain power and control over an intimate partner.” These acts harm, scare or keep someone from doing what they want. They can be physical or sexual, threats or intimidations, emotional abuse or economic deprivation.
The impact of domestic abuse is staggering. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in every four women experiences some form of domestic violence in her lifetime. An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of a physical assault by an intimate partner every year. Eighty-five percent of abuse victims are women, with females between the ages of 20 and 24 being at the greatest risk. Most incidents of domestic abuse are never reported to the police.
Abusive relationships often take a predicable path with no hint at first of future violence. Leslie Morgan Stein, author of Crazy Love, says in her TED Talk that the first stage of domestic violence is seducing and charming the victim. This is followed by isolation from family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. Next is the threat of violence, then actual violence. Between incidents, the abuser is convincingly remorseful, making promises that the behavior will stop. Yet the pattern continues unchecked.
When asked why victims stay with their abusers, Steiner says fear is a contributing factor. Seventy percent of domestic violence murders happen after the relationship has ended, when the abuser has nothing left to lose.
But rather than asking why women stay, we should ask why abusers harm the people they love the most.
Placing responsibility squarely on their shoulders and holding them accountable for the way they treat their partners is the first step to solving this problem.
WARNING SIGNS THAT A RELATIONSHIP IS ABUSIVE
Saying you can’t do anything right
Jealousy toward your friends and the time you spend away
Keeping you or discouraging you from seeing friends or family members
Embarrassing or shaming you with put-downs
Controlling every penny spent in the household
Taking your money or refusing to give you money for expenses
Looking at you or acting in ways that scare you
Controlling whom you see, what you do or where you go
Preventing you from making your own decisions
Telling you that you’re a bad parent or threatening to take away your children
Preventing you from working or attending school
Destroying your property or threatening to hurt or kill your pets
Intimidating you with guns, knives or other weapons
Pressuring to have sex or to do things sexually you’re not comfortable with
Pressuring you to use drugs or alcohol
— National Domestic Violence Hotline
HOW TO HELP PEOPLE IN AN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP
Reassure them that the abuse is not their fault. Victims don’t cause the abuse. And they won’t be able to stop their partners from harming them.
Let go of judgments. Accept victims as they are. Don’t try to convince them they are wrong. Never say, “I told you so.”
Be patient. On average, it takes domestic violence victims seven attempts before they leave the relationship.
Provide assistance. Victims may need money, child care or transportation. Fill in wherever you can.
Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233)