While we all know that certain types of behavior can destroy a relationship, sometimes these behaviors can actually ruin a person’s life. Domestic violence might be a very difficult topic for some people to talk about, or even hear about, but it’s crucial that more people start to recognise when either themselves or someone they know has become a victim of domestic abuse.
The shocking truth is that, on average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by a romantic partner in the USA. Therefore, raising awareness of what to look out for and how to reach out for help can give past and current victims support and restore some self-esteem, while helping protect others from potentially suffering such abuse.
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What is domestic violence?
The US Department of Justice defines domestic violence as ‘a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.’ Sadly, we know that domestic violence is not limited to adults. A worrying number of children are also victim of domestic abuse. Such abusive behavior can take on many forms, including:
- Physical: using deliberate physical force against another person, resulting in pain, injury or trauma.
- Sexual: including forcing someone into sexual acts against their will.
- Emotional/Psychological: this might include constant criticism of the victim, verbal abuse, ‘teasing’ (which they might claim the victim is being too sensitive about), dismissing ideas or opinions, isolating the victim and controlling how he or she behaves.
- Economic: controlling all the finances, allowing the victim no access to money or information about financial matters.
Signs of possible domestic violence
Some forms of abuse can be quite subtle. Victims may not even be entirely aware that it’s happening to them. Furthermore, abuse can often happen behind closed doors, making it difficult for outsiders to know what is taking place. To avoid being a potential victim of abuse, or as a friend or relative of someone who may be suffering from abuse, it’s important to be aware of what signs to look out for.
The possible abuser
Although of course, there’s no ‘textbook’ abuser, there are certain signs and traits to be aware of, for example:
- Extremely jealous and/or have a bad temper
- Belittle people publicly and/or privately
- Harass victims at work or school
- Charismatic and extremely polite to both victim and outsiders in between episodes of abuse
It’s also important to recognize the signs of when an individual has become a victim of abuse. It’s not always easy as they may feel ashamed and choose to hide it, however if you are concerned, look out for:
- Marks or bruises on their skin, or always want to keep certain areas of their body covered.
- Afraid to do anything that the abuser might not approve of
- Have become socially withdrawn and/or be very anxious or depressed
- Often ask the abuser for permission to do or have something (e.g. financial or social)
Possible signs of abuse to look out for in children
- Behavioral changes including aggression, anxiety and anti-social behavior
- Problems with drugs and alcohol
- Being absent from school a lot
- Suicidal thoughts
The sad truth about children who have been abused is that they can then go on to develop social and behavioral problems and become abusers themselves. This, compared with the fact that children are less likely to report abuse than adults, makes reporting any concerns about possible abuse all the more critical.
Helping those suffering in silence
With victims’ mental health at such a low ebb, many cases of domestic violence go unreported. Quite understandably, victims are often too afraid to report what is happening to them or seek help. Sadly, this means that domestic violence is probably more common than the statistics suggest.
If you are worried that a friend or family member is the victim of domestic violence, knowing how to approach them about your concerns is obviously a very difficult matter. Discretion, attentiveness and a lack of judgment are key. Following a safety plan for the victim will help you fulfill these needs and hopefully give you the best chance of being able to encourage the victim to open up and find a way out.
Finding the courage to speak up about abuse
Being the victim of domestic abuse can be extremely frightening and very isolating. But if you think you are being abused, then you are not alone. There is support available. Finding someone safe to talk to who knows about domestic violence is crucial. If you feel able to, contact the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence for anonymous, confidential support. They also offer advice on how to make your own safety plan whilst you seek help.
It’s important to note that certain types of friendships can be detrimental and may subconsciously further lower your self-esteem. Identifying friends and family members who are understanding, and whom you feel safe and at ease around, is therefore crucial. Above all else, remember that none of this is your fault, you matter and deserve to be happy.
This post was written by Jane Sandwood, a professional freelance writer with over 10 years’ experience in many different fields. She decided to move into freelancing to take advantage of the flexibility and work-life balance it offers. Sally has a particular interest in mental health and addiction and has written extensively on the subject.