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Am I Experiencing Domestic Violence? Answers and Resources.

By Marissa Tolero

FRI OCT 02, 2020

TW: mention of physical and sexual abuse

Yesterday started Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which was founded in 1981 by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) in order to unite advocates across the U.S. A heartbreakingly common experience of those who find themselves in violent relationships is the belief that they either deserve the abuse or do not “qualify” for the definition of “domestic violence.” This was the case for me when I was in an abusive relationship. In fact, it wasn’t until years after the relationship ended that I realized what it was. I want to provide this information so you can understand that your experiences are valid and/or if you know someone who may be in this situation and what to do about it.

Note: if you are in immediate danger, dial 9-1-1.

What is domestic violence?

According to NCADV, “domestic violence is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another.” This definition is vague for a reason: each of these acts contains many types of experiences and behaviors. For example, intimidation can be verbal, emotional, or physical. Physical assault is not just punching or hitting, it can be grabbing, pushing, and more. Sexual assault is not just penetration. These apply to all types of relationship, heteronormative and LGBTQIA+ alike, monogomous and polyamorous/polygomous alike.

Another important thing to know about domestic violence is that there is no such thing as a “typical” victim - they do not “bring it” upon themselves, lack self-confidence, etc. Victims come from all walks of life and we cannot identify someone who is “likely” to be a victim from the outside. When victims fight back, this is NOT domestic violence - violence is not equal in these relationships. Domestic violence occurs when one or more partners feel entitled to power or control over the other(s).

Domestic violence also often occurs in patterns or cycles. There are periods that are calm or “good,” followed by an escalation of tension and abuse, which leads to a peak of intensified abuse. This repeats and becomes more extreme over time. See the image below and click to learn more about the Power and Control Wheel.

How do I know if I or someone I know is experiencing domestic violence?

While domestic violence in relationships can look very different from one another, there are some common warning signs, such as:

  • The abuser(s) denies or minimizes the seriousness of the violence and its effect on the victim(s)
  • The abuser(s) objectifies/sexualizes the victim(s)
  • The violence is blamed on circumstances such as stress, a “bad day,” substances like alcohol or drugs, or on the victim(s) themselves
  • There is the presence of extreme jealousy, possessiveness, unpredictability, bad temper, controlling and/or intimidating behavior, forced sexual interaction, sabotage or denial of birth control methods, isolation of victim(s) from family, school, or work, abuse of other family members like children or pets, embarrassment, humiliation, or demeaning of the victim(s), and/or harassment of the victim(s) when they are not with the abuser(s)

Why do people stay in these relationships?

When it is possible and viable, it is best to escape domestic violence. However, there are many situations that make it dangerous and/or nearly impossible for someone to leave. In fact, leaving an abuser is the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence. Many people will stay for fear of the abuser(s) following through with threats that have been used to keep them trapped in the relationship, such as hurting them more, hurting/gaining custody of children, ruining them financially or socially - the list goes on and on. Some other barriers include:

  • Fear that the abuser(s) will become more violent/lethal
  • Lack of support system (family, friends)
  • Emotional abuse of knowing that sometimes the relationship is “good”
  • Lack of knowledge on how to access safety and support
  • Lack of means to support themselves when they leave
  • Fear that homelessness may be the only option if they leave
  • Religious or culture beliefs that do not support divorce/break-ups
  • Lack of support and belief in victims by law enforcement and/or medical professionals
  • Reluctance of prosecutors to prosecute cases
  • Lack of access to shelters or beds for victim to stay in
  • Socialization that make the victim(s) believe they deserve the abuse

These are just some of the very real situations which may cause someone to choose to stay in a relationship where domestic violence exists. It’s important to not judge yourself or someone else for staying, as this judgment can cause further withdrawal and isolation. Whenever you or the person you know is able and willing to leave, there is support available.

How do I or the person I know get help?

  1. Create a safety plan. NCADV has a very helpful personalized safety plan template here. You cannot predict or know when violence will occur, but you can make a plan on how to respond to it.
  2. Get a list of resources and keep them somewhere safe. Collect national and local information of advocates, support groups, shelters, and contacts to reach out to. Some national ones include: NCADV, Love is Respect, and the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
  3. Talk to someone you trust. If you do not have a family member or friend you feel comfortable or safe talking to, you can reach out to one of the resources from your list. Many of them have chats available and you can remain as anonymous as you want.
  4. Know that you are not alone. Isolation is one of the biggest strategies abusers will use so that a victim does not reach out for help or even know that they should. They can maintain power and control much easier if no one else is aware of the violence or connected to the victim(s).

If any of this has resonated with you, you are not alone. There is help available. You deserve to be in a healthy and safe relationship.


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