Domestic violence is defined as any type of violence or abuse that occurs in a familial relationship. Generally, it occurs when someone in a position of power tries to control another person such as a partner, spouse, or child. It can also occur in a relationship where people are dating or living together.
Domestic Violence is not Solely Physical
When people hear the word “violence,” they immediately think of physical violence such as hitting and punching. However, domestic violence is much more complicated. Just because a person doesn’t have physical bruises doesn’t mean that they aren’t a victim of domestic violence. Categories of domestic violence are outlined below:
- Demeaning language (You’re worthless. You’re stupid.)
- Yelling and screaming
- Constant criticism
Threats and Intimidation:
- Threatening to hurt your spouse/partner
- Destruction of property such as punching walls or breaking items
- Threatening to hurt children or pets
- Threatening to commit suicide
Control and Surveillance:
- Controlling who your spouse/partner talks to, where they go
- Using GPS to track where they are
- Signing in to your spouse/partner’s social media accounts to track their activity
- Forbidding your spouse/partner from working or going to school
- Requiring a receipt for everything they purchase
- Giving an “allowance” for their expenses
- Not giving your spouse/partner access to financial information
- Saying the violence is “his/her fault”
- Saying he/she is imagining it
- Minimalizing the abuse
- Forcing your spouse/partner to engage in sexual acts against their will
- Withholding birth control
Who are the Victims of Domestic Violence?
Typically, women and children are considered the primary victims of domestic violence. However, men can also be victims of domestic violence.
Often when we think of domestic violence, we think of the victim as the person being abused. However, domestic violence extends far beyond the person who is actually the target of the abuse. From neighbors who hear the yelling and crying to a passerby who notices a violent act, domestic violence impacts everyone. The impact extends even further to those who interact with and care about the victims of abuse: friends, teachers, coworkers, etc. They may not observe the abuse occurring, but they can see the effects.
Signs of Domestic Violence
Each person will react to domestic violence differently. Being the victim or even being an observer of domestic violence is extremely stressful. While the abuse may only last for a matter of moments, the impact can last for a lifetime.
Below is a list of behaviors and symptoms that may be observed in a person who is affected by domestic violence:
- Quiet, depressed, and withdrawn
- High strung, anxious, jumpy, and on edge
- Change in appetite or no desire to eat
- Common psychosomatic symptoms (physical symptoms brought on by stress) include stomachache, headache, chest pain
- Easily frustrated and angry
- Difficulty sleeping
Domestic Violence and the Impact on Children
The most tragic victims of domestic violence are the children. It is difficult for young children to comprehend why someone is hurting them or someone they care about. Developmentally, abuse can be devastating to a child. Research has shown that children who are abused experience serious traumatic stress that can affect emotional and cognitive development. In infanthood and early childhood, important neural connections are being made in the brain.
The stress of domestic violence can alter these connections and have lasting consequences for children who grow up in homes with domestic violence.
Small children who are victims of domestic violence may revert to infant-like behavior such as sucking on thumbs and bursting into tears. Children can also become fearful and seem on edge. They will be in a constant state of fear not knowing when the next act of abuse will occur. It will be difficult for them to trust others and develop healthy relationships.
Domestic Violence and Teenagers
Teenagers deal with domestic violence in a variety of ways. Some may become withdrawn and spend a lot of time alone. Frequently teens will become frustrated and angry. Some teens will become rebellious and start engaging in risky behavior. They may change their groups of friends and start hanging out with new friends. Some teens will start experimenting with drugs or engage in promiscuous behavior.
Domestic Violence and Families
Family relationships struggle under the strain of abuse. Abuse leads to a lack of trust which makes it difficult for a family to function in a healthy way. Fear and distrust make it difficult for effective parenting since children live in fear. Although the abusive parent may feel that threats and violence are effective methods for disciplining, the children will not develop healthy relationships or attachments with the parent. Overall, the family unit becomes dysfunctional.
Helping Victims of Domestic Violence Heal
Domestic violence can be debilitating for its victims. It is painful to watch someone you care about suffer. Below is a list of ways that you can support someone who is a victim of domestic violence.
Get Help for Victims of Domestic Abuse
It is tricky to know how to intervene when domestic violence is involved. If you are concerned that someone that you care about is a victim of domestic violence, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for guidance. If you feel that someone is in immediate danger, you can call 9-1-1 and ask for a welfare check. The police will go to the home to see if anyone is in danger.
Safety and Love
The most important thing that family members can do to help those exposed to domestic violence is to help them feel loved and safe. Children and teens who have been exposed to domestic violence feel scared and uncertain. They don’t know when they will be abused again. They live in a constant state of fear.
Tell them that they are safe with you. Ask them to help you set boundaries for what is comfortable for them. Children who have been abused sexually may not feel comfortable with hugs or physical touch. Ask them for their boundaries and then promise to respect them.
It is also important to talk to them about healthy relationships. Talk about how domestic violence does not create healthy relationships. Help them understand what healthy relationships look like and how to create these kinds of relationships.
Be Ready to Listen
Tell them that it is ok to feel afraid. Tell them that you will listen if they want to talk about it. An important part of the healing process is talking about what has happened. People need to express their emotions and feelings. Make sure not to force them to talk about it if they are uncomfortable.
Routine and Normalcy
Children thrive on routine and normalcy. Domestic violence upsets a child’s world making them feel insecure and scared. When they are in a home with domestic violence, they don’t know what to expect. At any moment the abuser may become angry and erupt. By creating a set routine, you help the child feel more comfortable and safe. It diminishes their anxiety when they know what to expect every day.
Therapy for Families Affected by Domestic Violence
While creating a safe and loving environment for children is helpful, the lasting effects of domestic violence are more complicated. It is important that children and teens affected by domestic violence receive therapy to help them process their experiences. Victims of domestic violence are more likely to suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and therapy can make a big difference in helping victims cope. Research has shown that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help them process the experience and learn coping strategies. The therapists at San Antonio Behavioral Healthcare Hospital are trained to provide support and counseling for victims of domestic violence. You can reach them at 210.541.5350.
How Does a Victim of Domestic Violence Get Help?
Victims of domestic violence need to realize that they are not alone. The first step to ending domestic violence is to reach out for help. When you are in an abusive relationship often the abuse has progressed incrementally. It may feel like the behavior is normal and you may feel like you are overreacting. However, if you feel uncomfortable or controlled, it should not be happening. You can talk to a person you trust such as a family member, religious leader, or health care provider.
If you are nervous to approach any of these people, a great resource is the National Domestic Violence Hotline. You call them at 1-800-799-7233. If you don’t feel comfortable talking, you can also use their online chat tool. Trained professionals can help you determine the best plan of action. They can get you in touch with local resources including safe houses, food assistance, counseling, support groups, and more.
Most importantly, if you feel like your life or the life of those you love are in immediate danger, you need to leave. You can call 9-1-1 or you can go to your nearest hospital for help.
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, it is important to get therapy. The highly-trained staff at San Antonio Behavioral Healthcare Hospital are prepared to provide support and counseling for victims of domestic violence. Contact us today at 210.541.5350 to schedule an assessment. Our intake staff is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.