Domestic Violence is the third leading cause of homelessness among families.
According to the latest stats, three women are murdered every day in the United States by a current or former male partner. Women with disabilities are 40 percent more likely to experience intimate partner violence (IPV) – especially severe violence – than women without disabilities. One in four women will be victims of severe IPV in their lifetimes. Eight million days are missed per year by working women who are abused. This equates to 32,000 full-time jobs. Every time you count to nine, a woman is beaten in the U.S. IPV equates to 18,500,000 mental health visits, with the average cost of care in an ER at $948 per visit. IPV is the leading cause of female homicide and injury-related deaths during pregnancy. Women who are victims of domestic violence are eight times more likely to be killed by an intimate partner if there are firearms in the home. In 98 percent of domestic violence cases, there is evidence of financial abuse. (The number one reason domestic violence survivors stay or return to an abusive relationship is because the abuser controls their money supply, leaving them with no financial means to break free.)
But how can one person yield so much power over another, virtually leaving her helpless, afraid and dependent? According to an article from Psychology Today, in many instances, abusers exhibit at least one of the following: antisocial personality disorder, which can be characterized by deceitfulness, repeated lying, use of aliases or conning others for personal profit or pleasure; borderline personality disorder, which is a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships by alternating between extreme idealizations (overestimating the desirable qualities of his partner and underestimating their limitations); and devaluation (minimizing his partner’s value). An abuser with a narcissistic personality disorder has a grandiose sense of self-importance.
One domestic violence survivor quotes her abuser, “What do you want? An apology? You deserve worse. You should be grateful that I love you so much.” These words were spewed after he punched her so hard that he knocked her out of the passenger seat of his car for accidentally putting her purse on his lap while she tried to close the door. Her purse touched some of his stuff, so he got violent.
Another abuser said the first time he laid his hands on his wife was just weeks after their wedding. He says he got jealous after a party because she was dancing with someone else. “It set me off,” he said. “I remember walking up to her and smacking her full force. I grabbed her by her neck and kind of held her against the car. Then, I walked her over to the bushes and threw her in there and just started choking her. [It was with every bit of rage, every bit of anger I’ve ever had.]”
After the first incident of abuse, he held a gun to his head and swore it would never happen again. His wife forgave him. However, the abuse persisted for two-and-a-half years, even after his wife became pregnant. “She didn’t want to be intimate with me…She didn’t want to have sex with me and I got very furious. I got on top of her and sat on her stomach.”
He goes on to say when he was in rage and beating his wife he wanted her to die. “I had every intention to take her life. I felt like I had power and control over something in my life. It made me feel invincible.”
Watch. See Things As They Are. Try Your Best Not to Excuse Bad Behavior.
When it comes to IPV, there are usually telltale signs. If he exhibits these characteristics, beware: often blows up over small things; is excessively jealous; tries to isolate you; has a poor self image; blames others for his own problems; abuses drugs or alcohol; has a family history of violence; is cruel to animals or children; has a fascination with weapons; thinks violence solves conflicts; breaks or strikes objects; uses physical force during arguments; uses verbal threats; holds stereotypical views of a woman’s role; is controlling; acts out instead of expressing himself; has unrealistic expectations.
It’s time to get help when your intimate partner keeps track of what you are doing all the time and criticizes you for little things; constantly accuses you of being unfaithful; prevents or discourages you from seeing friends and family, or going to school or work; controls all the money you spend; gets angry after drinking and drugging; humiliates you in front of others; destroys your property and the things you care about; threatens to hurt you or your children, pets or hits you; threatens to use weapons against you; forces sex against your will (rapes you); blames you for his violent outbursts.
Living to Survive
When it comes to women living in violent households, too often people minimize her daily hell by asking, “Why don’t you just leave?” It’s not that simple. Women planning or attempting to leave a violent partner are 70 times more likely to be murdered, and almost half face homelessness – along with their children. Those of us who advocate for battered women can only hope this article, and ones like it, sensitize the critics to the plight of domestic violence victims. There is no room for judgement, dismissal or minimizing this issue. For that is what the abuser does. Here are a few reasons why women stay:
Reason 1: Fear
Victims of domestic violence live in fear. It could be fear of her life and those she loves, including her children; fear that no one would believe her; fear that the abuser will take the child or children away; fear the abuser will find them and the outcome gets worse or even deadly; fear of always looking over her shoulder; fear that law enforcement won’t help; fear of making it on her own due to low self-esteem, self-confidence and feeling void of any personal power.
Reason 2: Sense of Shame, Embarrassment or Blame
Some women don’t think anyone will believe them or understand why they allow it to happen. Some victims’ families and friends blame them for the abuse, asking “what did you do to make him so mad?” Other victims’ families are angry with the victim for staying in the relationship and have withdrawn their support. The victim feels even more isolated and alone and believes she has nowhere to turn.
(Victim-blaming attitudes marginalize the victim and make it harder for her to come forward and report the abuse. If she knows that friends, family and society blame her for the abuse, she will not feel safe or comfortable sharing the hell she endures. Consequently, victim-blaming reinforces the abuser’s attitudes and allows him to perpetuate the violence while avoiding accountability.)
Reason 3: Financial Hardship
Some victims have little or no work skills and are insecure about finding employment that will provide shelter, food, clothing and child care. Sometimes abusers harass the victim and threaten her safety and others in the workplace if she is employed. In other instances, the victim’s employment was terminated due to the abuser’s ongoing harassment on the job, or her absenteeism due to injuries or emotional distress. In many instances the victim has no access to cash. The abuser makes all of the financial decisions and controls all the money and important financial documents. The abuser may have also destroyed the victim’s credit; therefore, she is unable to lease an apartment, purchase a home, car or other necessities.
These reasons merely scratch the surface of why domestic violence victims stay in abusive relationships and don’t begin to touch upon her psychological status. At the same time, there are countless numbers of women who have endured unthinkable abuse at the hands of their intimate partners, have left the abusive situation and have lived to tell about it. Bria is one case in point.
She was just 18 when she made her escape. After three years of abuse by the guy who fathered her daughter, she knew that if she didn’t leave she’d spend the rest of her life in prison for murder. He worked the graveyard shift. So, after he left for work, she packed her things and her daughter’s things and moved about two miles away to a girlfriend’s house. Somehow he found out where she was. He busted through the front door, pushed his way through the house and took their daughter. She ran after him, jumped in the car and tried to grab the toddler from the back seat. Before she knew it, he pressed on the gas, leaving her dangling half in the car and half out. She held on for dear life. A policeman happened to be parked nearby as the car sped by. The abuser had an arrest warrant and was taken into custody. Angry, frustrated and tired, Bria weighed her options: “I could kill him while he’s sleeping or simply leave the state,” she said. Bria chose the latter.
“Looking back on this now, I see a pathetic, weak person who was so insecure that he had to beat and batter to build himself up,” she said. “I was just a kid. The abuse started when I was only 15 years old. I didn’t know my worth then. Through the years, I learned my value. Life’s experiences either edify you or destroy you. Today, I feel empowered, strong, courageous and confident. Most importantly, I know my worth.”
The Best Laid Plans: Moving from Victim to Survivor
Assess Your Risk
Domestic violence advocates urge women to have a plan. More importantly, they urge that the first step is to know the risks. They say that even if a victim thinks their intimate partner is not capable of murder that there is always a risk of death. They encourage women to contact a local shelter and the police for help with a threat assessment. This tool helps victims, social services, police and others decipher the “risk of death” level before executing the escape. The assessment tool can be found at: dangerassessment.org/DATools.
Develop Your Safety Plan:
Assess your risk; know the best time to leave; gather all essential documents, medicines, etc.; carefully select a person or persons to share your plan with; if your children won’t tell the abuser, talk to them about the safety plan; figure out an escape route from the new place just in case he finds you; if employed, tell trusted co-workers and human resources department about your situation so your workplace can put together its own safety plan; tell your children’s school about the situation and give them a picture of the abuser; inform the police about your situation; go to a place that is safe and secure; last but not least, care for yourself and let others help you during this difficult time.
Leaving is the alternative to dying at the hands of the abuser, or perhaps killing him. In the last 30 years, the number of women jailed because they fought back increased by more than 800 percent, according to a campaign called Free Marissa Now. Black women are 2.8 times more likely than white women to go to prison for fighting back (or murdering their abuser). “Most battered women who kill in self defense end up in prison,” said Rita Smith, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “There is a well-documented bias against women in these cases.” On the other hand, less than two percent of domestic violence offenders ever receive jail time. Although all 50 states have, in recent years, passed more probable cause, mandatory arrest and other laws to encourage or require the police to make more arrests in domestic violence situations, the jury is still out on whether these laws are making an impact on the safety of battered women. When a batterer does goes to trial for beating his intimate partner, too often jurors are uneducated about the dynamics of domestic violence, including the cycle of abuse and what’s known as the battered woman’s syndrome. If you are a victim of domestic violence call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1.800.799.SAFE (7233).