From Seduction to Survival, Part Three
Written by Randi Fine
Domestic abuse creates a complex emotional and psychological syndrome in victims that makes their reality very difficult to accept. Victims believe that if they do and say all the right things, the person who loved and treated them well in the beginning of the relationship will return. When their abusers apologize and promise to be different, their hope that everything will change is reinforced.
Fear is a major factor that keeps victims stuck in abusive relationships. They may fear for their life or the lives of those they care about. They may fear having to survive on their own; where they will live or what they’ll do for money. They may fear losing their children or putting them through the trauma of divorce.
Victims often remain in abuse relationships out of shame. They don’t want anyone to know about the embarrassing situation they’re in. Those who observe particular religions or of certain cultures that prohibit divorce may feel compelled to stay and preserve the sanctity of marriage. In some cases victims grew up surrounded by violence in the home and the abusive relationship seems normal to them.
Domestic abuse and violence affects more than just the victims. Children who witness abuse are victims too; the abuse predisposes them for emotional and social problems throughout their lives. Adult victims, so caught up in their own survival, may fail to see the danger to others in the household. Once they are aware that other loved ones are suffering too they are more likely to get help. If you see that children or other family members are being adversely impacted, speak up.
We don’t always know what goes on behind closed doors. What we do know is what our observations tell us. Following is a list of domestic abuse and violence warning signs to be aware of:
- Cut off or restricted from interactions with friends and family
- Never without his or her partner
- Has limited financial resources
- Has frequent, “accidental” injuries
- Dresses oddly or inappropriately and/or wears sunglasses all the time
- Frequently absent from work or school
- Often misses social engagements
- Seems afraid of his or her partner
- Constantly worried about pleasing the partner, never voices an opinion around the partner, and/or is always agreeing with whatever the partner says and does
- Mentions the partner’s anger, possessiveness, and/or jealous temperament
- Partner constantly checking in and/or demanding frequent reporting in
If you suspect that someone is a victim of domestic abuse or violence, get involved – don’t wait for the victim to ask for your help. You may feel as if it is none of your business, but your involvement may be the difference between the person’s life and death.
Victims may not want to talk about the abuse or may be in denial about the danger they’re in. They may be staying in the relationship as a survival strategy. Ask if something is wrong. Let them know that you are concerned about their safety. Point out the things you’ve noticed that are causing that concern. Tell them that you want to help them with whatever they’re going through and are available whenever they want to talk. Assure them that they can trust you.
Encourage and support abuse victims through the process. Don’t give advice, judge, pressure, or blame them. Reinforce that what they’re experiencing is not their fault. Be a good listener and validate their feelings. Let them know how valuable they are to their friends and family; that they deserve to be treated well and loved.
Offer to make calls to social service agencies, attorneys, and safe houses. Offer them a place to stay, money, or child care. Provide transportation so they can get out and get help.
Before the 1970’s, until a women’s movement shined a light on the domestic violence issue and increased public consciousness about it, there was a lack of understanding and very little help for victims. Today there are many domestic violence programs in most communities around the country that provide support for women and help them stay safe. These programs have victim service professionals that will assist women in navigating the process, advocate their case for them, and help them make a survival plan, whether or not they choose to stay in the relationship.
Since male domestic violence/abuse victims don’t have the same support systems or the abundance of available help that women do, their cases go largely unreported. Many men are embarrassed to report that they have been assaulted by a woman, and unless their injuries are serious will choose to just put up with it. Because society sees men as the aggressor, many men won’t fight back out of fear of being accused as the perpetrator of the violence.
In general, law enforcement tends to ignore or minimize the seriousness of men’s complaints. The judicial system often sides with women when these cases go to court. Many men report being treated the same way by domestic abuse hotlines. Fortunately there is an organization called SAFE, “Stop Abuse for Everyone,” that promotes services for all victims and accountability for all perpetrators. Men may also find the specific help they need at HelpGuide.Org
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available to everyone, no matter the situation, gender, or sexual preference, without judgment. They can be reached by calling 800-799-7233.
Reporting your abuse to the justice system may enrage your abuser and put you in more danger. Discuss your options, such as obtaining a restraining order, with a victim service professional first. Whether or not you choose to report your domestic violence incidents it’s a very good idea to document all evidence by saving emails and texts, or recordings and telephone messages. Take pictures of evidence or injuries. If possible get witness statements. You’ll need this proof if there are ever criminal proceedings filed by you or against you, or if there is a divorce or child custody hearing.