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.
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:
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:
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?
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.