Each year in the United States, an estimated two-to-four million women experience serious abuse from a male partner and thousands are killed. As many as one-in-three adult women is abused by an intimate during her lifetime. While 5% of all annual violence against men is by an intimate, 28%of all annual violence to women is by an intimate and 70% of intimate murder victims are women.Domestic violence is one of the major causes for emergency room visits by women and more than half of all injuries presented by women are the result of apartner's aggression. Also, 86% of the victims suffered at least one previous incident of abuse, 40% had previously required medical care for the abuse,and more than one half of all rapes to women over the age of 30 were partnerrapes. Ten percent of the victims were pregnant at the time of the abuse, and10% reported their children had also been abused by the batterer. Domestic violence is not limited to any specific socioeconomic, ethnic, racial, or religious group, and same-sex abuse among intimates is just as prevalent as abuseamong heterosexual intimates.
What Is Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence tends to be a pattern of behavior used by one person in a relationship to control the other. Forty-seven percent of male batterers beattheir wives an average of three times a year, and 32% of battered women are battered again by their partner within a six-month period. The most frequentlyreported type of domestic violence is physical abuse such as hitting, punching, pushing, arm-twisting, biting, and use of a weapon. Other criminal formsinclude stalking; sexual abuse such as unwanted, forced sexual activity; emotional abuse which may include intimidation, mind games or insults, threats tokill the victim or her children, torture or killing her pets, or threats ofsuicide; economic abuse such as withholding money or preventing the partner from obtaining or holding a job; and dating abuse which occurs even though thevictim and abuser do not cohabitate. Domestic abuse may occur continuously or sporadically.
Domestic abuse usually becomes an established cycle of violence. The abusiveepisode is often followed by apologies, promises that things will get better,and even denial by the batterer that the abuse occurred. Loving behavior andgifts from the batterer may precede an even more severe episode of violence,and the cycle generally becomes shorter with each occurrence. For abusers and victims who have grown up in abusive situations, recognition that this pattern is abnormal may be difficult.
Separating Facts from Myths
Stereotypes of the perpetrators of domestic violence may often be conceived as being from a particular socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, or age group, or tobe affected by mental illness or chemical dependency. However, these are allmyths. Similarly, there is no typical profile of domestic violence victims, except that they are female. What is known is that life for the victim in thissetting is painful, dangerous, and even deadly. FBI statistics relate 1,400deaths occur annually in United States to women victims of domestic violence.
Many victims of domestic violence are accused of "liking to be beaten" because they may remain in the abusive relationship, or return several times if they do leave. This myth is not supported by evidence. Studies have shown that the average battered woman leaves the relationship seven times before developing the ability or finding the support necessary to make a permanent break. Inmany instances, victims are trapped in the abusive cycle. Often, the abuserthreatens to kill the victim, the children, or other family members if they leave. In fact, a woman's risk of serious injury or death drastically increases after she leaves her abusive partner. Sixty-five percent of all murdered intimates had already left their abuser. Women separated from their intimate abuser have a three-times greater risk of further abuse than do divorced women,and 25 times higher rate of abuse than married women. Victims therefore often remain with their abuser out of fear and intimidation, and often tolerate abuse to protect their children from becoming the victims. Lack of emotional,financial, and legal support from family, friends, church, and the communityis often another reason victims have a difficult time leaving the abusive relationship.
It is also untrue that a low self-image allows victims to become involved inviolent relationships. Victims of domestic violence may be scientists, lawyers, doctors, or professionals. The only overwhelmingly common characteristic among victims is that they are female. However, the shame and embarrassment ofthe abusive relationship may ultimately affect the victim's self-esteem. Many abusers are skilful in demeaning and degrading the victim through emotionalabuse combined with denial of abusive behavior and loving tendencies. The victim may then lose self-esteem, self-confidence, and even become convinced they are crazy or to blame.
While mentally ill individuals are just as at-risk as the general populationfor domestic violence, it is not true that victims must be mentally ill or suffer from psychological disorders to become involved in an abusive relationship. However, victims frequently suffer with post-traumatic stress disorder, severe depression, and other psychological effects because of the abusive situation.
Alcohol and/or drug use is often used as an excuse by the batterer for theirabusive actions. While substance abuse does increase the frequency and oftenthe severity of the abuse, it is not the root cause. Therefore, requiring offenders to attend substance abuse programs without attending batterer intervention programs has little effect on curbing their violence.
Stress related to work, joblessness, or finances is also often cited as a reason for abusive behavior. This is also untrue. Domestic violence crosses allsocioeconomic parameters, and abusers are typically only abusive toward theirspouse, intimate, or children--not their co-workers. Abusers may be law enforcement officers, corporate executives, sports heroes, and other professionals. There are two common trends among abusers - they are male and-as children-witnessed domestic abuse in their own family.
Also untrue is the idea that legal restraints such as protection and restraining orders are ineffective to curb domestic violence. They are reported to decrease the frequency of abuse, particularly psychological abuse such as stalking or keeping the victim housebound. However, they certainly do not eliminate the risk. One study in 1997 showed that 35% of women who were granted a temporary protection order did not apply for a second because her partner stopped the abuse; however, 17% did not file for another because the first restraining order was not successful. In other studies, approximately 50% of women who had one protection order were abused again within two years, 60% reported abuse after the order was issued, and 30% reported severe abuse following theorder. While there have been conflicting results, experts believe that a concerted, coordinated effort by the criminal justice system-all the way from enforcement of protection orders, to law enforcement officers making arrests, toprosecution and enforcement by judges of criminal convictions--can have a positive effect on reducing domestic violence.
Domestic violence and children: A report by the American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family in 1996 estimated more than three million children see their mother or female caretaker abused byanother (usually male) family member. In households where one adult abuses the other, children are 1,500 times more likely to be abused than children ofnon-abusive households; and 40-60% of men who abuse women also abuse children. Children make up 27% of domestic killings, with 90% of those children under10 years old, and 56% under two years of age.
Children are also frequently used as "pawns" in the adult relationship as theabusive adult attempts to control the victim. Living with domestic violenceincreases the prevalence of developmental, behavioral, cognitive, and emotional impairment in children, and increases their chances (particularly males) of growing up to become abusers themselves.
Domestic violence is also a pertinent factor in custody issues. Men who abusetheir intimates are twice as likely to file for sole custody of children than are non-abusive fathers. Often, courts favored giving custody to the abusive partner, assuming the victim was either emotionally unstable as a result ofthe abuse, or was a willing victim of the violence and-either way--unfit toraise the child. However, a greater understanding of the dynamics o of domestic violence has resulted in courts in most states assuming that the abusive parent should not be permitted custody of the children.
Violence in Lesbian and Gay relationships occurs just as frequently as in heterosexual relationships and, like heterosexual abuse, occurs in all socioeconomic, ethnic, racial, and age groups. Perhaps as many as 100,000 Lesbians and500,000 Gays are battered by their intimates each year. While the types of abuse are similar to those in heterosexual relationships, same-sex abusers often use the added "weapon" of exposing their partner's sexual preference to family, employers, and the community.
Also, homosexual victims receive far less protection from shelters, law enforcement agencies, and the law itself. Some states do not recognize domestic violence as a crime in same-sex relationships, while many states have sodomy laws and therefore reporting domestic violence means the victim is confessing to breaking the sodomy law. Also, of the more than 1,500 shelters across the nation in 1994, many denied service to same-sex domestic violence victims.
Immigrant Women and Violence
Experts believe the incidence of domestic violence against immigrant women ishigher that for United States women. This may in part be because some womencome from cultures where domestic violence is accepted, or where access to legal and social services is limited; or it may be that both victims and abusers perceive they are not covered by U.S. laws. Also, women who are illegal residents or who rely on their partner for residency status, must stay with their abusive partner if they wish to remain in the country. Language barriers, distrust of the legal system due to a non-supportive legal system in their native country, and economic dependency upon her partner, all tend to trap abused immigrant women in their relationship.
Welfare and Abused Women
As many as two-thirds of women on welfare report having been abused at one time in their adult lives. The higher ratio of abused women in the welfare system as compared to that in the general population may be because the abuse detrimentally affects her ability to support her self and her family. Such womenhave a higher rate of mental and physical disabilities, including acute depression--primarily as a result of the domestic abuse. Many report drastic efforts by their abuser to deter them from education, training, or work. Such efforts include calls at work demanding they quit, being beaten on the way to aninterview, stalking, death threats, committing suicide in front of the victim, breaking her writing arm, and encouraging drug addiction. By causing a woman to remain financially dependent, the intimate can continue his pattern ofabuse.
How Can Domestic Violence Be Stopped?
A sentence from an informational article by The Commission on Domestic Violence-Myths and Facts About Domestic Violence, reads: "Law enforcement officersmust make arrests, prosecutors must prosecute domestic violence cases, and courts must enforce orders and impose sanctions for criminal convictions. It isimportant for batterers to receive the message from the community that domestic violence will not be tolerated, and that the criminal justice and law enforcement systems will be involved until the violence ceases."
In 1995, Attorney General Janet Reno, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, became co-chairs of the Advisory Council on Violence Against Women. Among other efforts, the Council created many working groups involving different segments of the entire community-including law enforcement agencies--having each one focus on creating "checklists" of how their particularsegment could help save the lives of thousands of domestic violence victims annually. Following is list of those segments and a brief overview of the checklists they developed.
Religious communities can provide a safe and nurturing environment for womenand their families. Actions that can be taken by this segment of the community include:
- Speaking out against domestic violence.
- Volunteering to help those in need.
- Providing places for educational meetings and support groups.
- Intervention if violence is suspected by talking individually to each partner.
- Providing financial support to train clergy, lay people, and seminary students in order to increase awareness.
- Ensure religious leaders are themselves non-abusers and are a safe resourcefor the victim.
Universities and colleges are excellent venues to educate young adults aboutdomestic violence by:
- Ensuring the campus is safe.
- Increasingawareness among students and staff.
- Targeting fraternities, sororities, athletic groups etc. for educational, resource, and training purposes.
- Encouraging the reporting of violence.
- Establishing protocols for administrative action against violence.
- Assessing student codes ofconduct and policies to ensure violence against women is punished as severelyas other crimes.
Agencies nationwide are identifying, developing, and implementing strategiesto reduce violence against women. These include:
- Creating community roundtables where law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, religious leaders, health officials, business leaders, victims, educators, and the like meet on a regular basis to provide coordinated efforts.
- Providing clearprotocols for response to reports of domestic violence.
- Ensuring thelaw enforcers are well informed by providing a specific individual as the sexual assault contact.
- Meeting with staff and residents of women's shelters to determine where law enforcement can be most effective.
- Implementing and maintaining comprehensive statewide registries of restraining orders.
- Developing and supporting legislative action against domestic violence and sexual assault.
Health Care Industry
Health care providers are often the first contact victims of domestic violence have following abuse. It is therefore critical they not just recognize theinjuries for what they are, but understand their own potential to intervene by referring victims to community resources. Some strategies health care professionals recommend are:
- Training medical students in recognition and intervention.
- Having resource information readily available for victims, such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
- Ensuring that protocols are addressed through the National Commission for Quality Assurance andthe Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals.
- Providing and encouraging continuing education for health care professionals.
- Including violence against women issues on meeting agendas.
- Developing standard intake forms and protocols to help determine abuse.
- Providing responsive assistance programs to employees experiencing domestic violence.
In order to utilize the enormous influence athletes and sports organizationshave on the public to send "...positive messages to all Americans about preventing domestic violence and sexual assault," strategies devised by sports associations include:
- Encouraging joint efforts among leagues to increaseawareness of, and combat violence against, women.
- Strictly disciplining athletes who abuse women.
- Providing educational materials from local shelters to sports team members to increase their awareness.
- Involving local sports heroes in community activities.
The media have perhaps more influence over more people than any other singleagency. Media leaders have identified ways that communities and local media can responsibly report violence against women by:
- Providing accurate coverage of violence against women and using that coverage as an educational tool.
- Linking media staff with experts in domestic violence.
- Encouraging awareness among media staff.
- Helping bring media people andlaw enforcement agencies together on air to educate the public.
- Publishing resources during the reporting of domestic violence incidents.
Because domestic violence interferes drastically with workplace productivity,business and labor leaders suggest:
- Involving corporate leaders in order to provide a work environment that will not tolerate domestic violence, and will not victimize the victim.
- Providing adequate training and tools for management to deal with domestic violence issues.
- Meeting theneeds of victims through employee policies which are responsive to those needs.
- Holding workshops for employees, and distributing educational materials.
- Providing adequate safety by training security guards to recognize and handle the needs of battered women being stalked at work.
- Donating time and resources to community programs.
Helping the Victim
When attempting to help a victim of abuse, it is important to recognize thatthe victim's self esteem is often low due to the continued physical and emotional abuse. Also, the victim may perceive their abuser as their main source of love and affection, not to mention financial stability. It is important tohelp the victim understand that they are not to blame for the abuse and do not deserve-for any reason-the abuse. It is also important to recognize that breaking away from the cycle of violence is often a long, difficult, and dangerous process.
Not only do victims need support from family, friends, and community, they also need legal assistance. A family lawyer can help with protection and restraining orders, child support, divorce and separation advice, and custody issues. Landlord/tenant lawyers may be necessary to ensure women and children arenot left without a place to live or that they regain property they left whenthey fled the abusive situation. Tax lawyers may be necessary if women were beaten into signing fraudulent taxation documents, and an estate planner can help a victim become and remain financially independent from her abuser. Domestic violence prevention groups encourage lawyers to volunteer their servicesto victims of domestic violence.
Recognizing that the most dangerous time in situations of domestic violence is when the victim tries to leave home, a safety plan should be established. Knowing where they can go and transportation to get there will allow the victim to leave the home quickly with the appropriate necessities. Quick accessibility to money, important papers and contact phone numbers, and a change of clothing for themselves and their children, should be a part of the safety plan. When not in an emergency situation, the best place to call is the NationalDomestic Violence Hotline, staffed 24 hours a day by individuals who can assist the victim in accessing resources within the local community. The phone number is 1-800-799-SAFE(7233), or 1-800-787-3224 (TDD, for the hearing impaired).