Domestic Violence affects men and women of any age, gender, ethnic or cultural background, income level or religion.
Abuse comes in many forms – it may involve physical violence, but also includes emotional or financial abuse as well as pattern of intimidating behaviours like stalking. Here we explore these various forms of abuse.
What is Domestic Violence?
Unfortunately, many victims of physical assaults do not seek help for fear that their abuser will retaliate, or do not believe the violence exists in the first place. Reporting might further harm relationships and worry them further as authorities may not believe their accounts.
Domestic violence must be understood so that you can take steps to keep yourself and your family safe. Abuse can happen to anyone of any age, economic status and ethnic background – from gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals all the way down to children who witness domestic abuse and believe it’s normal behavior.
Domestic violence is treated more seriously under the law than other types of assault, and often classified as a “special” crime in separate courts with separate penalties than regular assault cases. Some of the most serious offenses may be heard on domestic violence dockets such as first degree assault (a felony offense) and threats of killing; misdemeanor offenses include reckless endangerment and simple assault charges.
Domestic abuse comes in five forms, which a perpetrator can employ to gain power and control over survivors. Physical assault is the most evident type of domestic abuse; but emotional, sexual and financial forms also play a part. A perpetrator might sabotage efforts of victims to work or spend money; this form of coercive control; restrict access to family and friends via isolation; or make threats of harm against the survivor, their children or other family members.
Physical abuse refers to any action which causes or could potentially cause physical harm, including but not limited to hitting, slapping, kicking, throwing objects at someone or pinching, scratching and choking. Physical abuse can also include the misuse of drugs or restraints.
Physical violence may seem minor at first glance; after all, it could just be the result of frustration or anger. Unfortunately this is not true – physical abuse should never be accepted as part of any relationship and is never acceptable behaviour. Physical assault occurs regardless of age, gender or relationship status and affects all types of individuals including children, elders and pets – although unfortunately women are particularly prone to physical assault in intimate relationships.
Physical abuse is often the first indicator of an abusive relationship. It may start as minor pushes or slaps, but soon escalates to more serious behaviours that create fear, such as bruises and marks on skin – any act which threatens or makes victims feel unsafe can be considered abuse.
After an incident occurs, it’s not unusual for abusers to deny any wrongdoing. They might blame alcohol or drugs, make excuses about feeling stressed or frustrated, and/or try convincing their partner they truly apologize – all tactics which make it more difficult for victims to escape abusive relationships.
Some survivors may be fearful to reach out for assistance due to fear that their abuser will find out and get in trouble for calling for assistance, but doing so may be the safest solution. When making their call, survivors should assess whether their abuser has access to any devices such as their phone or laptop and consider whether there may be spyware installed on those devices by considering whether their abuser could access these items via remote access or otherwise.
People tend to associate domestic violence with physical contact between family members that leads to visible injuries. However, domestic violence encompasses much more than this and includes all manner of emotional and psychological harm to its victims; though difficult to detect as easily, its long-term damage could still be devastating.
Emotional abuse occurs when someone manipulates another to reduce their self-esteem or sense of control, typically within romantic or familial relationships, but also among friends or family members. Recognizing emotional abuse may be difficult due to its subtlety; proof may not always be easy to provide.
One of the hallmarks of emotional abuse is when an abusive person restricts a victim from making decisions for themselves, including where and what to go out, wear, or spend their money. They might lecture them about “their shortcomings”, make public outbursts against them or simply lie about them.
Emotional abuse occurs when one party attempts to isolate the victim from family and friends, convincing them they do not have support systems in place. Financially abusive relationships typically include not allowing someone to work, refusing to share income and threatening consequences if they do not obey. Other tactics employed may involve mind games where an abusive person accuses the victim of cheating or flirting with other individuals before going through their phone, reading their diary or cutting off social connections altogether.
Financial abuse may not be well understood, yet it can be just as crippling to survivors of domestic violence. According to studies, 9 out of every 10 domestic violence cases include some form of financial abuse. Abusers use control over money as leverage against victims of physical or emotional abuse in abusive relationships – this makes leaving impossible when survivors fear they won’t have enough income after leaving an abusive partner’s income behind.
Abusers may bar their partners from accessing accounts, force them to write bad checks or file fraudulent tax returns, run up debt on joint accounts and even steal identity or inheritance of their victim. Abusers can even interfere with job opportunities by stalking at work or interfering with attendance at interviews and training events.
Before leaving their partner, survivors should try to gather as many documents as possible – this includes copies of all credit reports, bank statements, PIN codes and passwords as well as any other access details they can find. They could even consider freezing their credit to make it harder for an abuser to apply for loans or open new credit accounts using their name.
Survivors should research what resources are available in their area for themselves and their children, which can help determine what forms of compensation may be available. For instance, if you share a lease agreement with an abuser you may want to look into reading “Breaking a Lease Without Breaking the Bank.” Additionally, there are resources that can help identify possible compensation awards that you might be eligible for.
Sexual abuse is an epidemic within domestic violence and often goes unreported. Sexual abuse occurs when one’s intimate partner uses physical force or threats against their victim during sexual situations, including forced sexual activity, penetrating against will, taking pornographic photos of children without consent, forcing sex on them against their will or simply touching inappropriately. Over 21 percent of women and 2.6 percent of men will experience rape at some point during their lifetimes – some victims experiencing it more than once.
Sexual assault and coercion is another form of domestic violence and its consequences can be serious. Most perpetrators are intimate partners; thus known as spousal or marital rape; yet many remain silent due to fear over how their partner might react, fear of labeling as sexual predator, or losing family ties.
In criminal domestic violence cases, the decision to prosecute is made by the prosecutor. Accusers have no control over this decision and should not attempt to make this type of decision. Doing so could put them at risk of prosecution themselves.
Understand that each victim/survivor will react and heal in their own unique manner, so being an excellent listener and allowing them to share when ready are key parts of responding effectively. If unsure how best to react, contact an advocate at a domestic violence hotline who can guide you in understanding your options.