Some women wish they had bruises, if, for nothing else than to let others know they are hurting. Others have mastered the art of disguising their bruises. Either way, everyone wishes the abuse would stop.
Domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence (IPV), is a billion-dollar-a year epidemic in our country. 2
Statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence show that 48.4 percent of women have experienced at least one instance of emotional or psychological aggression by a partner and four in ten women have experienced an intimidating threat from an intimate partner.
Nearly three in ten women and one in ten men in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner (or former partner)...
...and reported at least one impact related to experiencing these or other forms of violent behavior in the relationship. This includes feeling fearful, concern for safety, post-traumatic stress disorder, need for health care, injury, crisis support, need for housing services, need for victim advocacy services, need for legal services, missed work or school.5
While according to national statistics, a large majority of abusers are male—which is why I’ll use the male pronoun to reference the abuser and the female pronoun to reference the victim/survivor throughout this article—it’s important to realize that some women abuse men, and intimate partner violence also happens in same-sex relationships.
Anyone can be an abuser. They come from all groups, all cultures, all religions, all economic levels, and all backgrounds. There is no one theory that explains why abusers abuse their partners. They can be your neighbor, your pastor, your friend, your child’s teacher, a relative, a coworker—anyone.
A victim of domestic violence can also be anyone. There is no such thing as a “typical victim.”6
Domestic violence is all about power and control. It is not an act that occurs when a partner is impaired by substances (alcohol or drugs) or happens when one is frustrated. Those are excuses for the abuser’s actions.
Partners may use a variety of means to exercise this power and control within a relationship. The crux of IPV involves physical and sexual abuse. However, there are many other ways in which a partner may gain power and control over another. Examples include emotional, economic abuse, using male privilege, using children, using intimidation, coercion and threats, isolation, minimizing, denying, and blaming. 1
Emotional abuse leaves invisible scars that many who experience abuse wish could be seen. Psychological and emotional abuse is defined as any act or series of acts that contribute to the victim’s feeling of helplessness or a diminishing of self-worth.2 Examples include bullying their partner to do something they do not want to do, humiliating them in public or private, denying them access to money or resources, isolating their partner from family or friends, and deliberately undermining their sense of self-confidence or self-worth.6
The effects of emotional and psychological abuse can have long-term consequences both physically and mentally on the survivors of IPV. Survivors of IPV suffer from anxiety, depression, and other post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.3 Furthermore, survivors of psychological/emotional abuse have been found to be more likely to physically suffer from chronic illness and rate their general overall health as poorer than those who do not experience IPV.4
Individuals experiencing emotional abuse may begin to question their contributions to the abuse, which takes away responsibility from the abuser. Emotional abuse can evoke the feeling of “walking on eggshells” in the relationship you share with the abuser.
This type of abuse is one of the hardest to prove in court, as it becomes a “she said, he said” battle. It is harder to “prove” compared to the visible scars experienced in physical and sexual abuse situations.
Here are some questions to ask yourself to determine if you may be in an emotionally abusive relationship:
The more questions to which you answered "yes,” the more likely it is that you are in an abusive relationship.
If you feel you are in an abusive relationship, reach out. No one deserves to be emotionally abused by another person, no matter the circumstances. Remember that you are not alone and there are people out there who want to help you.7
On average, it takes a woman seven attempts in order to leave the same relationship for good. Each time she leaves, she returns with more education, resources, courage, and support.
Many women have been isolated, never having the documents needed to secure employment, housing, credit, etc. Documents like a driver’s license, a credit card, or a social security card. She may return because of the children, for financial reasons, and/or because of threats and intimidation. Once the abuse becomes too much, she may decide to leave again and gain more valuable resources and support for the final leave.
Domestic violence can result in death, serious injury, isolation, emotional damage, medical issues, and poverty for victims.
About 75 percent of women who are killed by partners or ex-partners are murdered while they are attempting to leave or after leaving a violent relationship.
One theory is abusers see their partner’s efforts to leave as the ultimate refusal to be controlled. Killing her is the only way to exert that control. Leaving an abusive relationship can be dangerous.8 Domestic violence remains the leading cause of injury to women, and is the leading cause of women’s visits to hospital emergency rooms. Nationally, one half of all homeless women and children are fleeing domestic violence.8
So why does she stay so long? You may have asked yourself this question, or heard it asked of others. Though you may have simply been expressing care, concern, or curiosity and you may not have intended it this way, asking this question blames the victim/survivor of the abuse. It’s a question we need to stop asking.
These eight factors ("The 8 Fs") can help explain what might be influencing someone to stay in an abusive relationship.
If you know or suspect that someone you know is in an unhealthy relationship, talk with her. During the conversation, keep the focus and support on her, not the abuser. One of the eight Fs mentioned above is “feelings.” Most likely, the individual you are trying to support may still have feelings for her abuser, so it is best not to dismiss the abuser or his actions. Instead share how you feel her abuser is treating her, and state that you are concerned for her well-being. She may justify his actions, if so focus on her and what you observe about her while in this relationship.
Finally, let her know you will always be there for her, even if she doesn’t leave, or if she returns to the relationship. Share with her specific ways you are available to her; transportation, clothing, money, pre-paid phone or phone card, someone to listen, a person who will go with her to the authorities, etc. The more specific you can be with what actions you are able to take, the more apt she is to lean on you when she is ready.
If these sound familiar to you, you are not alone.
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