Note from GGS: The topics we most often cover on our website tend to relate to strength training, nutrition, mindset, and women’s health. Domestic abuse, which definitely falls under the category of women’s health, is an important topic we feel doesn’t get discussed enough, though statistics say that three out of 10 women in the GGS community have likely experienced some kind of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. Many women suffer in silence.
Oftentimes, domestic violence happens to women who we may have a hard time imagining ever dealing with these issues. We think: “It could never happen to her.” “Her life is perfect.” “She is so strong.” “She is so smart.” “She speaks her mind.” “She is a go-getter.” “She is a successful woman.” The thing is, it can, and it does happen. It can be happening to a dear friend. It can be happening to one of us.
We invited licensed clinical social worker Lisa Borchardt to write on this topic because, in the GGS community, we are here for each other. If you are currently in an abusive relationship, or know someone who is, please know that you not alone. We want you to know you can reach out for help.
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). 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)
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 4 in 10 women have experienced an intimidating threat from an intimate partner.
Who is the abuser?
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)
Power and Control
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:
- feel afraid of your partner much of the time?
- avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?
- feel that you can’t do anything right for your partner?
- believe that you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?
- wonder if you’re the one who is crazy?
- feel emotionally numb or helpless?
Does your partner…
- humiliate or yell at you?
- criticize you and put you down?
- treat you so badly that you’re embarrassed for your friends or family to see?
- ignore or put down your opinions or accomplishments?
- blame you for their own abusive behavior?
- see you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?
- have a bad and unpredictable temper?
- hurt you, or threaten to hurt or kill you?
- threaten to take your children away or harm them?
- threaten to commit suicide if you leave?
- force you to have sex?
- destroy your belongings?
- act excessively jealous and possessive?
- control where you go or what you do?
- keep you from seeing your friends or family?
- limit your access to money, the phone, or the car?
- constantly check up on you?
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)
Follow these steps to get the help you deserve:
- Call a local or national help line:
National Domestic Violence Hotline, 800-799-SAFE (7233) www.thehotline.org
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, www.ncadv.org
- Go to www.womanslaw.org to find state and national help.
- Contact your local police or call 911 if you are in immediate danger.
- Talk to your doctor or other healthcare professional.
Trying to Leave
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.
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 can result in death, serious injury, isolation, emotional damage, medical issues, and poverty for victims. 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.
How Can I Help?
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.
- Every nine seconds in the U.S. a woman is assaulted or beaten (9).
- On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men (10).
- On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide (11).
- Intimate partner violence accounts for 15 percent of all violent crime.12
- 19 percent of domestic violence involves a weapon (12).
- Domestic victimization is correlated with a higher rate of depression and suicidal behavior (12).
- Only 34 percent of people who are injured by intimate partners receive medical care for their injuries (12).
- One in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year, and 90 percent of these children are eyewitnesses to this violence (2).
- Power and Control Wheel. National Center for Domestic and Sexual Violence
- Wallace, H. & Roberson, C. (2014). Family Violence: Legal, Medical, and Social Perspectives. 7th Edition. Pearson: Boston, MA
- Beeble, M.L., Sullivan, C.M., & Bybee, D. (2011). The impact of neighborhood factors on the well-being of survivors of intimate partner violence over time. American Journal of Community Psychology, 47, 287-306. doi: 10.1007/sl0464-010-9398-6
- Coker, A.L., Smith, P.H., Thompson, M.P., McKeown, R.E., Bethea, L., & Davis, K.E. (2002). Social support protects against the negative effects of partner violence on mental health. Journal of Women’s Health and Gender-Based Medicine, 11, (5)
- Intimate Partner Violence in the United States — 2010. A publication of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- Emotional abuse test adapted from Domestic Abuse and Violence by HealthGuide.org.
- Friendship Home
- Bachman, R. Saltzman, L.E. (1995). National Crime Victimization Survey. Violence against Women: Estimates from the Redesigned Survey.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report.
- National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey — 2010 Summary Report. A publication of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- 2013 Domestic Violence Counts: A 24-Hour Census of Domestic Violence Shelters and Services. National Network To End Domestic Violence.
- Truman, J.L. Morgan, R.E. (2014). Special Report: Nonfatal Domestic Violence, 2003–2012.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report.