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Many years ago, I made friends with a professor who taught business communications in a respectable Long Island University. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that this self-reliant, well-educated, and good-looking woman could be the victim of domestic abuse. Yet, she was. As our friendship grew, she began to trust me and tell me about the awful experiences in her past. She had stayed in that abusive marriage for over fourteen years. When her son turned fourteen, for his sake as she put it, she ended the marriage. Fortunately for her, it was an opportune time because the husband had a girl friend who had become pregnant by him.
It is not always that easy. Most of the time the abusive partner does not want to let go and women cannot leave even if they want to, or if they do, they face poverty, stalking by their exes, or death.
During the last couple of decades, thanks to more awareness nationwide, domestic violence is being treated as a social and medical issue. This has led to opening of shelters and educating the caregivers and the public nationwide. Most states now require domestic violence courses for granting medical licenses.
Even with all the steps taken, experts agree that statistics of domestic violence are understated. In the United States a woman is battered every fifteen seconds. Seventeen percent of the adult pregnant women and twenty-one percent of pregnant teens are battered. The most important clue to abuse of a woman is child abuse. Children raised in a violent home are seventy four percent more likely to commit a crime against another person and fifty percent are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. Violence is the reason stated for divorce in twenty two percent of the marriages and domestic violence is the leading cause of injury in women.
Statistically, the domestic abuser is a male, although sometimes these roles may be reversed. The abuser uses threat of violence or violence itself in order to gain power, domination, and control over his partner. The events are usually progressive. They may begin with verbal abuse, belittling, making the woman lose confidence in herself and her actions. Afterwards, they escalate into shouting, pushing, and beating. Added to all this are an extremely insane, and uncontrollable jealousy and attempts to limit the actions of the woman to reach her family and friends or any kind of help. Thus the victim, progressively and on purpose, is caused to be isolated from the outside. Although some abusers may be helped by psychotherapy and behavior modification therapies, most abusers will not stay in therapy long enough.
Abuse and the tendency to control can be recognized even in a dating relationship. These are “forgiven” because the victim “loves” the abuser. She also mistakenly may believe that she can change the behavior after marriage and children. Unfortunately this is not the case. The controlling behavior continues all through the relationship and even after the divorce. After the divorce many men continue this control by not paying court ordered child-care or alimony payments.
Although abuse is expressed in many different ways, usually there seems to be a repetitive pattern or cycle of violence escalating to a higher level at each incident.
The pattern circulates like this:
* After each incident the abuser apologizes.
* Promises are made for rehabilitation attempts.
* The abuser blames the victim.
* After some thought he denies, minimizes or rationalizes his actions.
* He brings gifts and is very charming for a short while.
* Soon both parties forget the incident.
* No abuse takes place for a while.
* Tension starts to rise.
* Minor incidents as if making mountains out of molehills begin.
* Communication breaks down.
* Victim and the family start being very careful around the abuser. “Walking on egg shells syndrome”
* Explosive episodes start and abuse -physical, sexual or emotional- occurs.
Abusers may also show behaviors that represent their own personal dynamics, pointing to behaviors they observed when the abusers were children, events within current or past relationships, or their evaluation of what they can lose at each episode.
Abusers exist in all levels of society, in all age groups, and socioeconomic levels. Abusers carry some or all of these characteristics:
* Violent temper
* Limited tolerance for frustration
* Jealousy, often to the extreme, erupting in violence
* Ego problems – He is (men are) always right.
* Career disappointments- even when they seem to be successful to others
* Accepting no responsibility for the abuse
* Inability to accept blame for any failure
* Suffering from depression, which they hide very aptly
* Attempting to isolate spouses and children
* Having a history of abuse in their childhood or within their family
* Increasing abusive behavior when the partner is pregnant
* Making promises for change and for things getting better
* Believing abusive behavior to be necessary to control the family and the children
* Having their abusive skills “improve” with time
* Demanding sexual practices not desired by the partner, leading to marital rape
* Exerting control over the partner by threatening suicide or homicide
An abused woman suffers emotional, psychological, physical and financial problems. Ninety per cent do not report it to their physicians and when asked about the scars they invent stories to cover up the abusive partner. Most of the time the covering up of the victim is due to her assessment of the risk in her situation. She may have fear of retribution for herself and her children if the abuser learns that the violence is disclosed. She may also feel shame and humiliation of what is happening to her. She may think she deserves the abuse for any number of reasons. She may feel other people, her physician, co-workers etc. may be too busy. She may be unfamiliar with the help available in her community.
Just like the abusers, victims too exist in all levels of society, in all age groups, and socioeconomic levels and have certain characteristics:
* Fifty percent of them experienced violence in the family they were raised.
* They marry young to escape their family.
* They have often been in an another previous abusive relationship
* They feel guilty to disturb others with their problems
* They feel responsible for the abuser’s actions
* They may be protecting someone else other than themselves, usually their children.
* They will do anything to keep the abuser calm and not angry.
* They feel powerless with no choices
* Since abuser has taken control of her, the victim loses the ability to make decisions and seek changes.
* They show anxiety for making the routine decisions in everyday living, fearing a negative reaction to any decision they have made on their own.
* They have feelings of helplessness and isolation especially created and reinforced by the abuser.
* They have very low self-esteem, again intentionally reinforced by the abuser.
* They suffer from medical problems, depression, substance abuse, and psychosomatic illnesses.
* They don’t sleep well mostly due to the concerns of violence and safety of themselves and their children.
* They are always on guard.
* They try very hard to make the home safe for their children because of that they take the blame for the abuser’s actions.
When anyone meets such a person and wants to help them there are messages to be given when the time is appropriate. The victim needs to know that she will be believed and listened to, that she does not deserve this treatment, that abuse is a common problem, that she is not alone because help is available.
A Battered Woman’s Bill of Rights
* The right not to be abused
* The right to be angry over past beatings
* The right to choose to change the situation
* The right to freedom from the fear of abuse
* The right to request and expect assistance from the police and social agencies
* The right to share her feelings and not be isolated from others
* The right to want a better role model for her children
* The right to be treated like an adult
* The right to leave the battering environment
* The right to privacy
* The right to express her own thoughts and feelings
* The right to develop her individual talents and abilities
* The right to legally prosecute the abuser
* The right not to be perfect
Child abuse and domestic violence often exist together. The following symptoms in children should alert us to examine their situation more closely.
* Miscarriages due to beatings or mother’s stress
* Poor health due to lack of proper nutrition or mother’s stress
* Crying and irritability
* Sleep disturbances
* Digestive problems
Toddlers and Preschoolers:
* Being more aggressive or withdrawn than other children
* Impaired cognitive abilities
* Delays in motor or verbal abilities
* General fearfulness or anxiety
* Stomach aches and nightmares
* Lack of bowel and bladder control over three years old
* Lack of confidence to begin new tasks
* Poor grades and/or special classes
* Failing one or more grade levels
* Poor social skills
* Low self-esteem
* Outbursts of anger
* Bed-wetting or nightmares
* Digestive problems, headaches
* Poor grades, failure, quitting school
* Low self-esteem
* Refuses to bring friends home, stays away or runs away from home
* Has no or few friends or withdraws from them
* Feels responsible for taking care of home and mother
* Violent outbursts and destroying property
* Poor judgment and irresponsible decision making
* Inability to communicate feelings
* Bedwetting, nightmares
* Severe acne, headaches
* Joining in on beatings of mother
* Females getting hit by boyfriends
* Males hitting their girlfriends
SUGGESTIONS IF YOU ARE A VICTIM
If you find yourself facing a violent incident:
* Leave the physical presence of the batterer if possible.
* Leave home; locate your escape items.
* Get to a room with a lock on the door and a telephone.
* Call 911 or call the local shelter for battered women.
* Have your children call the police.
* Scream so your neighbor may hear and call the police.
* If you have to leave your children in the home contact the police immediately.
* If you leave by car, lock your car doors immediately and do not unlock the doors until you arrive safely at your destination.
* Check yourself and children for injuries and go to the hospital if necessary.
* Try to protect yourself in any way you can, if you can’t leave.
The items you may need for a comfortable, safe escape:
* MONEY : Always have some hidden. If you can’t keep it at home keep it in an easily accessible place, night or day. Plan to have enough for rent, phone calls, gas, food etc.
* KEYS : have extra sets both for the car and the home. One for you, the other to put some place else other than the home or to give to a friend for safekeeping.
* EXTRA CLOTHING : Consider the fact that you might have to escape in any season. Choose the clothing accordingly.
* IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS : Have a plan to gain quick access to them. At least have copies made.
1. social security numbers – his, yours, and children’s
2. birth certificates- yours and children’s
3. pay stubs -his and yours
4. bank accounts
5. insurance policies
6. marriage license
7. driver’s licenses -yours and a copy of his
8. any ownership papers of property
9. copies of all you monthly bills
10. valuable jewelry
· IMPORTANT TELEPHONE NUMBERS:
1. local police department or 911
2. shelter and another alternative shelter
3. victim’s assistance
4. probation officer
5. social services
6. your counselor
7. his counselor
My Personal Notes
Salber and Taliaferro “The Physician’s Guide to Domestic Violence” Volcano Press 1995
June Sheehan Berlinger, R.N. “Domestic Violence”
Jacobson, Neil and Gottman “When Men Batter Women: Insights into Ending Abusive Relationships” Simon and Schuster 1988
write by martinez