(Re-submitted due to a recent event death in my community) A typical reaction to the knowledge of a domestic violence incident was either to ignore the situation, regard it as an issue between a married couple, or as an isolated incident that will never happen again. Either way, it was “none of our business.’ Over fifty years ago, domestic violence was even used as a comedy foil on television, as many American who loved the show “The Honeymooners” heard the familiar punch line of “One of these days Alice…POW! To the moon,” at which Alice would cross her arms and look away with a mixture of amusement and disbelief. Everyone, including Alice, knew Ralph would never hit her; however, the use of such aggressive references or gestures on television for comedic emphasis minimized the gravity of the circumstance.
From a form of entertainment to being the elephant in the room, common cultural practices have minimized the severity of the immediate and long-term physical and mental problems that domestic violence has on the spouse/intimate partner, and on the children.
Domestic violence is not simply an American issue, as it permeates across cultures and societies. Domestic violence is an act of aggressive toward an intimate partner which includes physical, psychological, economic, and sexual abuse. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) reports that the economic and community costs of domestic violence are high. On any given day, there are approximately 20,000 phone calls to domestic violence hotlines across the nation, days of work lost to tend to the injuries, and between 2 to 6 out of 10 victims of domestic violence lose their jobs, placing the financial strain not on the perpetrator of the violence but on the taxpayer who pays into social programs that help treat the victim. Most telling, woman are 11 times more likely to be killed by a gun, and from those who were killed, over 60% were killed by an intimate partner - a figure much higher than in any other high-income countries.
The chronic nature of domestic violence carries its own consequences because of the uncertainty, frequency, and severity of the aggression. In particular, the stress experienced by the victim. Many who are abused struggle to find a pattern to the violence, citing general periods when the partner is either intoxicated, or on the weekend, or after being with friends, to attempt to minimize the abuse, often with little success. It is not uncommon that victims experience the onset and exacerbation of stress-related gastrointestinal problems (i.e stomach pain, gastritis, ulcers), neurological problems, chronic pain, high blood pressure, and severe headaches. The damage is not limited to the physical.
Psychological Issues in Children and Adult Victims
The cost of exposure to domestic violence is economical and in human capital. Victims of domestic violence experience a dramatic increase in medical and psychological treatments when compared to non-victims. Treatments are costly, requiring private and public insurance programs to address the aftermath of preventable violence. The adult victim will often develop persistent depressive symptoms that include difficulties sleeping through the night, frequent nightmares, low self-esteem, sadness, decrease in short-term memory, persistent lapses in focus and concentration, low motivation to attend to daily responsibilities, including effective and consistent child care. Secondary effects trickle down into the behavior of the children.
Children exposed to parental violence often show an increase in anxiety, expressed as an increase in motor activity (e.g. running around, jumping from activity to activity), especially among the younger children. They show poor concentration and failure to keep their attention and focus on homework or schoolwork. They have general and specific fears that are expressed as fear of the dark, fear of being alone, and/or fear of death that continues into late childhood. Sadness is typical, but the child’s expression of sadness is often done as diffuse anger and a quick temper, with a smaller percentage having suicidal thoughts. It is not unusual that a child reports that he/she hears their name called at night when no one is around.
School work often suffers, and they struggle to cope with moderate stress and expectations at school. They are more likely to fight without apparent reason. Children will skip school, and are more likely to fail to complete a high school degree, which affects the child’s long-term earning power, creating an increase in the probability of welfare support. Further, chronic truancy affects the federal and state funds a school receives, and the staff devoted to management of the acting out behavior is costly to the school district. These children will often be referred for psychiatric treatment and prescribed medication for an attention deficit disorder, but, more accurately, the child’s behavior is an expression of chronic stress.
Types of Perpetrators
The victimizer/perpetrator, if he (and in 1 out of 4 cases, she) were not doing such despicable acts, would merit sympathy and, in some cases, even pity. In my practice, and across my experience as a psychotherapist, consultant, and evaluator in three states and two countries, I have identified three general types of victimizers:
The Uncertain Male: This victimizer is often an angry, insecure, psychologically unstable person, who hides his psychological scars to the public, but who believes, based on his history and the role models in his life, that to keep a partner, he needs to belittle her, threaten her, humiliate her, and injure her physically, economically, and sexually. This type of victimizer was often humiliated as a child, and pressed by threatening socializing agents in his life (i.e. the father, uncle, grandfather) to act against women with violence, socialized into the victimizer either through direct modeling or through stories. This abuser can be anyone in the community, as they keep their social persona consistent, but only in situations of emotional intimacy and perceived compromise does his hidden nature manifest, typically without regard to presence of the children or the impressions of other family members.
The Opportunist: This type of victimizer is, quite simply, a predator and a pedophile. His mode of operation is simple. He will seduce a single parent with children to gain access to her children. Following the seduction stage, this victimizer will transition to the control stage, where he will threaten the woman with assault, and make the woman believe that she needs him by instilling guilt and self-doubt, often focusing on the woman’s insecurities and belief in religious compassion and expectations. After gaining sufficient control, the victimizer will begin the sexual abuse, that will be partially concealed from the parent because of her level of stress, fear, and self-doubt. This type of abuser is infantile in character, who never fully sexually matured, and who is more likely to never have kept a job for long, yet presents himself as highly competent and industrious, but without known achievements.
The Nonconsensual Sadist: While all three types possess some sociopathic tendencies, this type is closest to the prototype. He is charismatic, intimately attentive, and emotionally intense. From early in the relationship, this type of abuser will steadily increase in verbal, psychological and sexual manipulation of the partner, motivated by his need for sadistic entertainment or for maximizing the potency of his sexual release. He will threaten her with separation, harm, or with performing acts on their young children. He may verbalize to his intimate partner his fantasy about killing her and gloat that no one will be the wiser. As with other abusers, the Nonconsensual Sadist will slowly isolate the partner from important family and friends, using indirect threats on important family members, such as the partner’s mother, and subjugate the partner into participating in sexual exploits with the sole purpose of humiliating the partner for her sexual pleasure. These abusers are more likely to be professionals or people in positions of influence and power, with a solid standing in their community.
The types depicted above are only for descriptive purposes, and an abusive individual may possess one or all the traits outlined above. These individuals tend to have experienced abuse in their own childhood, normalizing their behavior in their self-identity, and allowing for easier rationalization of their treatment of intimate partners. The abuser often has problems with alcohol abuse and drug abuse, with between 40% and 66% of reported cases involving alcohol or drugs.
Solutions and Recommendations
A common comment said about woman who remained in an abusive relationship is “why didn’t she just leave!?” A fair question, but one that fails to consider the perspective of the victim, which is a difficult perspective to take if the person was fortuitous of only experiencing healthy relationships. The reality is that most victims involved in domestic violence do leave, with approximately 66% leaving the relationship, probably because these individuals were not isolated in their despair. So, if you are planning on leaving your relationship, you are not alone. Thousands of women and men across the nation are wanting to leave their abusive partner but are hesitant, scared. One thing is likely if you stay and that is that he/she will continue the abuse, the abuse will increase in frequency and severity, and you will lose a little of yourself after each incident of abuse. What can you do?
First, Be Certain When to Leave: As simple as it seems, the decision is anything but easy. Many options and situations will likely run through your mind, likely from feelings of misplaced guilt or thoughts of failure, but these are doubts that were probably told to you by your abuser and not in your best interest. If you are certain you want to leave, then prepare for your departure. Some folks begin to keep a week’s worth of clean clothes in a bag, hidden away from the home.
Don’t Keep It to Yourself: Tell someone who has proven to be trustworthy with your intimate information. One person should be enough, since more may compromise your decision to leave. This person may allow you to stay with him/her for sanctuary when you leave. To the friend, I say just listen and don’t judge. Offer support, financial if possible, in their moment of need and stay with them if needed.
Involve the Law: Report the abuse to the police. Call your local police station and ask to make a report about the abuse, or when your partner is being abusive (and after meeting the requirements for point #4), call 911 and report a domestic assault. Ask for a copy of the report for your records. Afterwards, file a protective order that will specify that your abuser needs to keep away.
Keep a Separate, Secret Cash Account: You have decided to leave, but are concerned about the economic cost. Many folks who leave an abusive, controlling relationship have little in spare cash, and are uncertain of being able to manage living away from the abuser. This uncertainty will make it difficult to remain away from the abuser. A separate account with living expenses for one-month is the suggested minimum.
Seek Assistance from a Domestic Shelter/Nonprofit Agency: Locally, you can contact Mujeres Unidas (mujeresunidas.org/800-580-4879) for consultation or shelter options once you have decided to leave your partner. If a shelter is unavailable, you will need to find an alternative shelter, be it a friends’ home or relative, but stay away from your home.
Stay the Course: The transition from your home life to a new life is often frightening, uncertain, even intimidating, even though it is a better situation overall. Your lifestyle will change; your friendship circles will change; your financial stability will change; however, in the long run, your life and well-being will be better.
While the above recommendations are an immediate resolution to problems in our community, it is certainly not the most effective. A long-term solution is education to our children against abuse and apathy towards the abuser. For example, teaching children about self-respect and respecting others, even while living in a situation of abuse, is vital in their social development. Parents often get caught up with the idea that the abusive parent needs “respect” and “because he’s your father,” even after separation, usually coming from a misplaced sense of obligation or the belief in the maintenance of the family regardless of the child’s psychological or physical well-being. The abusive parent needs to find the answer to regaining the respect of their child ON THEIR OWN. Forgive the abuser, but let him/her be to live the way they will live and, perhaps, the situation and separation will help them change or seek ways to change. Regardless, teach the child that hitting your partner is wrong, unequivocally wrong.
In conclusion, couple violence continues to be a significant community concern, despite efforts to promote awareness and legal consequences. We as a community of concerned citizens can do more to help those in need, from offering a place to stay, or to offer some money to help them get back on their feet. As a community, we can promote better health through our efforts to support the victim’s return to a normal life and their children’s sense of safety and that people can be a great help.