- Who are the Victims?
- Who are the Abusers?
- What is Abuse?
- Power & Control
- Treatment for Abusers
- Protecting Yourself
- Personal Safety Plan
- Protection Orders
- DV and Children
- DV Later in Life
- Barriers to Leaving
- What is a Forced Marriage?
Nearly 1 in 3 women experience at least one physical assault during adulthood. Domestic violence is not just about physical violence. Domestic violence is a pattern of controlling abusive behavior – emotional, sexual, or physical. It is a pattern that can be prevented and it can be stopped. It is something that can happen to anyone.
On this page you can learn more about domestic violence, what it is, and whom it involves. The information has been adapted from the 2000-2003 Eastside Domestic Violence Program.
DHF Crisis Helpline & office phone number: (516) 385-8292.
If you are experiencing domestic violence or want to help someone who is, please call us, or if you are in an emergency situation, please call 911. If you want to learn more about what you can do to end domestic violence, please check out our Donations page.
No one deserves to be abused. You deserve to be in a relationship that is built on equality and mutual respect. You deserve to be in a relationship where you can get your needs met, feel safe, and be free from harm.
There is no one particular type of person who is a victim of domestic violence. A victim of domestic violence does not cause the violence to happen. The violence is a result of the abuser’s behavior, not the victim’s behavior.
Domestic Violence happens to people from all different backgrounds. It happens to people of all ages, races, cultures, sexual orientations, religions, economic levels, and educational levels.
Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence. However, 90-95% of domestic violence victims are women. Men can also be victims.
Children are impacted by domestic violence, either by witnessing the abuse or by being abused themselves.
There is no typical abuser.
In public, they may appear to be caring to their partner and family and may be abusive only when others are not there to witness the abuse.
Abusive behavior is a choice. Abuse is not an accident.
Men who batter come from many different backgrounds and have different life experiences, but the tactics they use to control their partners are very similar. Being stressed out or using alcohol or drugs does not cause someone to be abusive but can aggravate violent behavior.
The following are tactics many batterers use:
- Controlling Behavior – A batterer may attribute his controlling behavior to concern for his partner (for example, his partner’s safety or decision-making skills). He may assume all control of finances or prevent his partner from coming and going as she wishes.
- Unrealistic Expectations – A batterer may expect his partner to meet all of his needs, to take care of everything for him emotionally or domestically.
- Isolation – A batterer may isolate his victim by severing her ties to outside support and resources. The batterer may accuse others, such as the victim’s friends and family of being “trouble-makers.” He may block his partner’s access to a vehicle, work, or telephone service in the home.
- Jealousy – A batterer may equate jealousy with love. He may question the victim about who she talks to, accuse her of flirting and having affairs or become jealous of her time spent with others. This creates isolation too.
- Blames Others for Problems – A batterer may blame others for his shortcomings. He may blame the victim or potential victim for almost anything that goes wrong.
- Blames Others for Feelings – A batterer may use feelings to manipulate his victim. Common phrases to look for: “You’re hurting me by not doing as I want,” “You control how I feel.”
- Use of Children – A batterer may expect children to perform beyond their capability and may punish them excessively if they don’t (for example, whipping a two-year-old for wetting a diaper).
- Use of Force in Sex – This includes restraining partners against their will during sex; acting out fantasies in which the partner is helpless; forcing sex when the partner is asleep; or demanding sex when the partner is ill or tired. He may show little concern for his partner’s wishes and may use sulking or anger to manipulate compliance.
- Verbal Abuse – A batterer may say things that are intended to be cruel and hurtful, curse or degrade his partner, or put down her accomplishments.
- Rigid Sex Roles – The victim, almost always a woman, will be expected to serve. For instance, a batterer may see women as inferior to men, responsible for menial tasks, stupid, and unable to be a whole person without a relationship.
- Dual Personality – “Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde” – Abusive behavior and moodiness, which can shift quickly to friendliness are typical of people who batter their partners.
- Past Battering – He has been abusive to previous partners. The abusive person is responsible for the problem; circumstances do not make a person an abuser.
- Threats of Violence – This consists of any threat of physical force meant to control the partner. While most people do not threaten their mates, a batterer may try to excuse this behavior by claiming that “everyone talks like that.”
- Breaking or Striking Objects – The batterer may break household items, punch holes in walls or kick doors to scare the victim.
- Use of Force During an Argument – The batterer may hold down his partner, physically restrain her from leaving, push or shove her, or tell her if she leaves he will hurt her.
Abuse is a pattern of hurtful behavior that one partner in an intimate relationship uses to control the other.
It used to be believed that abuse was the result of one person becoming angry and “losing control.” Now we know that abuse is actually a way a person attempts to gain control over his partner.
Abuse can take many forms.
Examples of Abuse :
(Please note that this list does not encompass all types or tactics of abuse but provides a variety of examples. Also, it is not necessary for you to identify with several of the examples in order to be in an unsafe situation.)
- Jokes, ignores feelings
- Withholding approval as punishment
- Puts down your roles or abilities
- Repeated insults, labeling
- Private humiliation
- Blaming you for the faults or circumstances of the abuser
- Degrading or controlling your choices (clothing, food etc.)
- Demanding of all attention
- Resentful of children
- Threats against the marriage/relationship
- Threats of outing a partner
- Sends mixed signals
- Lack of cause and effect between actions and consequences
- Unpredictable consequences of actions
- Claims to forget abusive incidents or denies they occurred
- Questions your sense of reality or causes you to question your sense of reality
- Makes veiled or obvious threats, threatens to take children, or to harm you or your children
- Tells you that you are hysterical, paranoid, psychotic, mentally ill, suicidal/homicidal
- Threatens suicide
- Uses gender “myths” and “roles” (society reinforces these)
- Degrades or uses culture, religion, nationality, profession, gender, and/or sexual orientation to maintain control
- Destroys/damages items belonging to you
- Controls major decisions
- Controls money/finances
- Falsely tells you that you are the one in control all of the time
- Threats of outing a partner in a social environment
- Tracks you or monitors your activities and/or whereabouts
- Denies your ability to work/gets you fired
- Limits your outside activities/social interactions
- Threatens to hurt your extended family/friends
- Eliminates your support system, alienates your family/friends
- Threatens deportation
- Practices child abuse or incest
- Destroys/maims/hurts a family pet
- Throwing household items
- Grabbing, pushing, shoving, shaking, jerking, slapping, biting, pinching, bruising, hitting, punching, kicking, pulling hair
- Targeted hitting
- Use of household objects as weapons
- Throwing you
- Restraining you, restraining while hitting or punching
- Physical abuse during pregnancy
- Deprivation (food, sleep, medical needs, etc.)
- Strangulation /Hands around your neck
- Lacerations/Cutting you
- Broken bones, internal injury
- Threats or use of conventional weapons, such as guns or knives
- Disabling, disfiguring permanent injury
- Sexual jokes or demeaning remarks toward your sex
- Name calling, sexual labels
- Criticizing/demeaning/questioning your sexuality
- Ignoring sexual needs
- Demanding monogamy from you, while insisting on freedom for self
- Jealousy, assumes you will be with others sexually
- Unwanted/forced touching or sexual acts
- Justification of unwanted sexual acts
- Labeling sexual abuse as consensual behavior
- Forced to look at/engage in pornography
- Demanding sex with threats
- Coerced/demanding sex following pregnancy/surgery
- Rape, forced sex, sex against your will
Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior used by an individual to establish and maintain coercive control over his/her intimate partner.
Domestic violence consists of physical, sexual, psychological, and/or emotional abuse. Abusive partners often use certain tactics to control their victims. The tactics used are compounded when physical violence is also involved. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list of tactics and they do not apply to everyone. Also, please note that although the pronouns he/him/his are used to describe the abuser and the pronouns she/her/hers are used to describe the victim, there are no such gendered roles within the dynamics of domestic violence situations.
Minimizing, Denying and Blaming
- Making light of the abuse
- Not taking her concerns seriously
- Denying that the abuse occurred
- Saying that she caused the abuse
- Blaming an outside event or situation for the abuse (loss of employment, drugs or alcohol, an argument, etc.)
- Making her afraid by using looks, actions or gestures
- Smashing things
- Destroying property
- Destroying her personal belongings
- Abusing pets
- Displaying weapons
- Hiding or destroying important papers (passports, ID cards, health care cards, etc.)
- Threatening to “out” the other person
- Driving recklessly
- Putting her down
- Lying about her immigration status
- Making her feel bad about herself
- Making her think that she is crazy
- Playing mind games
- Humiliating her
- Making her feel guilty or responsible for the abuse
- Constantly criticizing her parenting skills
- Focusing on her insecurities, such as her weight or education level
- Encouraging the children to participate in the belittling of their mother
- Lying to her
- Cheating on her
- Controlling what activities she is involved in
- Limiting who she sees and talks to
- Using jealousy to justify the isolation
- Not allowing her to drive or have access to a vehicle
- Not allowing her to learn English
- Isolating her from friends and family
- Not allowing her to have contact with people who speak her language
- Threatening friends or family members so that they may be reluctant to have contact with her
- Making her feel guilty about the children
- Criticizing her parenting skills
- Refusing to pay child support
- Using children to relay messages
- Using visitation to harass her
- Threatening to take the children away
- Threatening to call CPS or INS
- Threatening to harm the children
- Teaching the children to disrespect their mother
- Constantly undermining her authority with the children
- Physically abusing the children
- Not taking proper care of the children during visitation
Using Male Privilege
- Treating her like a servant
- Making all of the decisions for the family
- Being the one to define both men’s and women’s roles
- Expecting to be treated with a level of respect that he does not return
- Quoting religious sources to justify his actions
- Preventing her from getting or keeping a job
- Making her ask for money
- Taking all of her money
- Giving her an allowance
- Making her account for every penny that she spends
- Not letting her have access to the family income
- Acquiring great amounts of debt
- Refusing to pay child support
- Not allowing her to complete job training classes
- Forcing her to do illegal work
Coercion and Threats
- Threats to kill
- Making and/or carrying out threats to hurt her
- Threatening to leave her
- Threatening to commit suicide
- Threatening to take the children
- Making her do illegal things
- Threatening to report her to the INS
- Promising that the abuse will never happen again
- Threatening to out her to family and employer
- Forcing her to engage in sexual activity
- Refusing to wear a condom
- Withholding sexual attention from her
- Forcing her into pornography
- Forcing her into prostitution
- Making her feel guilty if she does not want to have sex
- Normalizing the abuse, which can be especially confusing if it is the victim’s first sexual relationship
Using Physical Violence
- Pulling hair
- Using weapons
- Not allowing her to sleep
- Not allowing her access to medicine or medical attention
- Not allowing her access to food
- Hurting her while she is pregnant
What is the goal of domestic violence treatment?
- To end abuser’s violent and abusive behavior
- Increase victim safety
- To hold batterers responsible
What about couples counseling?
Couples’ counseling for victims of domestic violence is generally not recommended. Couples’ counseling allows the batterer to stay focused on his criticisms of his partner, rather than dealing with his own problems. He may even retaliate against the victim physically or verbally for what she says to the counselor. Abuse is a problem in the abuser, not a problem in the relationship. It is also important to note that therapists are not required to have any domestic violence training.
What about “Anger Management” programs?
In the past, it was thought that domestic violence was about problematic anger. It is now known to be about the abuser’s desire to control a partner using whatever behaviors are necessary. Many abusers are not angry when they use a control tactic. Abusers in treatment often say that they used their expression of anger as a way to intimidate and control their partners. Anger management programs are not designed to address the fundamental causes of domestic violence or safety and accountability issues. Anger management is not an appropriate alternative to domestic violence treatment.
How does the victim know if her partner is changing?
The victim is the best judge of whether real change is happening or not. Below are some examples of changes in the abuser’s behavior that may indicate that his treatment is or is not helping him to change his behavior.
Some indicators that the abuser is NOT changing.
- Uses treatment against her in any way
- Tells his partner that she is the abusive one
- Pressures his partner to go to therapy or couple’s counseling
- Tells his partner that she owes him another chance
- Says that his victim’s support is necessary for change
- Tries to get sympathy from his partner or their children
- Requires encouragement or nagging to attend sessions and stay in the treatment program
- Minimizes the abuse when talking about it in a group (victim can ask counselors to describe what is being said.)
- Expects something from his partner in exchange for being in the treatment program
- Pressures his partner to make up her mind about the relationship or to move back in together
- Pressures his partner to drop the protection order or he continually violates the order
Some indicators that the abuser’s behavior may be changing.
- Does not blame his partner for his actions or behaviors
- Does not minimize the abuse
- Has completely stopped saying and doing things which frighten his partner
- Doesn’t punish the victim when she expresses anger
- Allows her to discuss upsetting topics without her feeling unsafe
- Listens to his partner’s opinion and respects it, even if it is upsetting
- Respects his partner’s wishes about sex and physical contact
- Allows his partner to spend time with friends and family without fear of retaliation
- Allows his partner to do others things that are important to her, such as going to school or getting a job
- Makes his partner and their children feel comfortable when interacting with the children
- Makes his partner feel safe leaving the children alone in his care
- Is supportive and gives complements; truly listens to her
- Shares in household work and childcare
Call the Police
Call 911 if physical or sexual abuse occurs or is threatened. If you don’t have a phone, try to arrange a signal with neighbors so that they can call the police. Police records help in the protection order process, but are not required.
Get Medical Help
If you have been injured, go to the emergency room or urgent care unit, or see your doctor.
- You may not even know you are injured. What seems like a minor injury could be a major one.
- If you are pregnant and he has physically attacked you, tell the doctor. Especially if you have fallen or been hit in the stomach, your unborn child may also have been injured.
- If you have suffered a blow to the head, be aware of the danger of closed head injuries.
- Be specific about where he hit you and what injuries you have.
Medical records can be important evidence in criminal or civil court cases. Medical records can also help you get an Order of Protection. Give all the information you feel safe giving. Medical records are confidential and are not supposed to be given out to anyone without your consent.
Make a Safety Plan
Figure out what to do before the next attack happens. See the next section on how to make a Personal Safety Plan.
The most important step you can take is to build a safety plan to protect yourself from the abuser. When abuse has occurred once in a relationship, it is likely to happen again. The following steps will help you figure out what you need to do.
- Have important phone numbers available for you and your children. For example:Police – 911
Friends and relatives
DHF – (516) 385-8292
- Think about some friends or neighbors you could tell about the violence and ask them to call the police if they hear suspicious noises coming from your home.
- Think about places you can go if you leave your home.
- Think about leaving extra money, car keys, clothes, and copies of important papers with a close friend, relative or neighbor you can trust.
- Think about keeping change for phone calls with you at all times, opening a savings account, rehearsing your escape route with a support person, reviewing your safety plan periodically.
- Your life and your safety are most important. Bringing your children with you is important. Everything else is secondary. However, think about taking the following items with you when you leave:
Items to take checklist:
- birth certificates for you and your children
- social security cards
- school and medical records
- money, bankbooks, credit cards
- driver’s license and registration
- change of clothes
- welfare identification
- passport(s), green card(s), work permits
- divorce papers
- lease/rental agreements
- insurance papers
- address book
- pictures, jewelry, items of sentimental value
- children’s favorite toys, blankets, etc.
- personal protection order
WARNING: Violence frequently gets worse when you try to leave or show signs of independence, like taking a class or filing for divorce. Your partner may become desperate. Take special care. After the relationship is over, you still need to take care.
- Think about changing the locks, installing steel/metal doors, a security system, smoke detectors and an outside lighting system.
- Think about telling a couple of neighbors that your partner no longer lives with you and ask them to call the police if s/he is observed near your home or children.
- Think about telling people who take care of your children the names of those who have permission to pick them up. If you have an Order of Protection that names your children, give their caretakers and their schools a copy of the order.
- Think about telling someone at work about your situation and ask that person to screen your calls.
- Think about not using the same stores, banks, or other businesses that you used when you lived with your battering partner.
- Think about getting a protection order from the court. Keep a copy with you all the time, give one to the police, to your children’s caregivers, to your children’s schools and to your own supervisor at work.
- Think about someone you can call if you feel down and are thinking about returning to your battering partner. Think about attending workshops and support groups to gain support and strengthen your relationships with other people.
For your safety’s sake, ask yourself these questions:
- Are there weapons in the house? Where? Can you remove the weapons safely? The ammunition? Lock them up? Take them to the police?
- Can you figure out a signal for the neighbors to call the police? Can you teach your children to call the police? Or go to a neighbor’s and call?
- How will you get out of the house? Some women take out the garbage, walk the dog, get the newspaper or offer to go get him cigarettes. Set up a routine where it is normal for you to leave for a short time.
Many victims of domestic violence ask these questions about leaving:
- Can I take my children with me when I leave? Yes. If it is possible and safe, consult with a lawyer about this first. If you can do it safely, definitely take your children with you. It may be more difficult later. Get legal custody of them within a few days. This is very important. If you do not have your children with you, it may be difficult filing for temporary custody of your children. The parent who has physical possession of the children may have an advantage getting temporary custody.
Your partner may try to kidnap, threaten or harm the children in order to get you to return.
If you are in immediate danger and cannot take your children, contact the police immediately to arrange for temporary protective custody.
- Where do I go? Stay with a friend or relatives. If you are a woman, do not stay with a man unless he is a relative. (Living with a man you are not married to could hurt your chances of getting custody of your children and spousal support. It could also cause conflict with your abuser.) If a safe and confidential domestic violence shelter is accessible to you, you may consider staying there as well.
An Order of Protection is a special legal order available to victims of domestic violence. It orders the person who has been committing the acts of violence to be restrained from further acts of assault or threats.
When you are the victim of domestic violence and need to ask the court for a civil order of protection to restrain someone, you are filing a civil (non-criminal) case. In the legal documents that are used in the case, the people involved are called:
- Petitioner – the person who is asking for the order for protection. The petitioner is usually the victim of domestic violence, but can also be the victim’s parent or legal guardian.
- Respondent – the abuser, the person you are filing the order against.
Who can get one?
Anyone who has been physically, emotionally or sexually abused by a spouse, former spouse, family member, partner, other parent of your child, current or former roommate, or current or former person in a dating relationship.
Anyone who has been stalked-repeatedly harassed to the point of being terrorized, intimidated or threatened.
What protection does the Order provide?
An Order of Protection can:
- Order that the Respondent is restrained from committing acts of violence
- Exclude Respondent from Petitioner’s residence or residence shared by the Petitioner and Respondent
- Prohibit Respondent from harassing, stalking, and/or contacting the petitioner (on the street, by mail, by telephone, at school, at work)
- Award temporary custody of minor children to one parent, establish temporary visitation
- Order Respondent to participate in treatment or counseling
- Prohibit Respondent from removing the children from the jurisdiction of the court
- Order the Respondent to pay for the administrative court costs and service fees and to reimburse petitioner for costs incurred in bringing the action
- Order the Respondent to surrender weapons and concealed weapons permit if a weapon was used in the incident
How much does an Order of Protection cost?
- There is no fee for an Order of Protection.
- An attorney is not required to file for an Order of Protection
How do I get one?
- You can file for an Order of Protection in any Family Court (and Supreme Court) in any county in New York
What should I bring?
- Bring any information that supports the facts – police reports, medical records, photographs.
- Have as much information about your abuser as you can–date of birth, hair color, eye color, height, weight, address, Social Security number, driver’s license number, etc.
- Any court documents you have – custody orders, lease agreement, divorce papers, etc.
- There is no fee for filing an Order of Protection. You will be provided with the necessary number of certified copies at no cost to you. Keep one copy with you at all times.
What should I expect when I get there?
- It will take two or three hours to fill out the forms and try to get a judge’s signature. Please try to be at the courthouse no later than 2:30 p.m.
- The first step is to fill our forms that ask the court for a Temporary Order of Protection and an Order of Protection. You will be asked to describe the most recent incident of abuse and a history of the domestic violence.
- A Judge or Commissioner will review your paperwork, possibly ask some questions and decide whether to grant or deny the Temporary Order of Protection.
- A Full Order hearing will be held later. The respondent needs to be served 5 days prior to the hearing. Both the Petitioner and the Respondent attend the full order hearing.
- At the Full Order hearing the court will decide whether to grant or deny an Order of Protection effective for one year or more.
- After the hearing, if the Order is approved, you can request as many certified copies as you need at no extra charge.
Can I change the Order once it has been approved?
This Order may be modified or terminated prior to the expiration of the order. Please contact the issuing Court for further information about the process for modification or termination of an Order of Protection.
What happens if the Order of Protection is violated?
- Call 911 immediately. Show the law enforcement officer a certified copy of your order.
- If the Respondent has been served with the order he may be immediately arrested or issued a citation. Arrest is mandatory if the Respondent violates the restrain provisions or goes on to the ground of a residence, workplace, school or daycare where prohibited; for other violations criminal charges or contempt charges are possible.
“Orders of Protection can be an important part
of an overall safety plan”.
We know that children, living in an environment where domestic abuse has occurred, are often silent victims of abuse, even when they are not the targeted victims. Almost all children know that the violence is going on in their home and are affected by it in many ways.
Children who witness domestic violence experience, depending on their developmental level, have many of the same feelings adult victims do.
Children may feel:
- Guilty about loving the abusive parent
- Guilty about not protecting abused parent
- Worried about the future
- Worried/insecure about the possible loss of a parent
- Divided loyalty
The children are likely to be traumatized by what they see and/or experience. Without the ability or opportunity to process their feelings, children may learn:
- Other people are responsible for my behavior
- I am responsible for other people’s behavior
- Men have the right to control women
- Violence is an appropriate way to solve problems
- My mom is to blame for my dad’s violence
- The violence is my mom’s fault
- Women have no rights
- My mom can’t protect me
- Nothing is safe
- Domestic violence is normal
- Intimidation is the way to get what you want
- Other people have the right to abuse me
- My dad’s violence is my fault
- It’s OK to abuse my mom
Children who don’t find safe ways to talk about their feelings may act out in many different ways:
- Regress: bedwetting, temper tantrums
- Take on too much responsibility for their age
- Earlier childhood fears return
- Aggressive to other kids, brothers and sisters, pets
- Treat mom like dad treats her
- Have problems concentrating
- Easily distracted
- Fight at school
- Get bad grades
- Lie, steal
- Act withdrawn and unusually shy
- Have trouble sleeping
- Very anxious
- Physical illnesses: stomach aches, nausea, headaches
- Startle easily
- Are unable to play
- Highly sensitive to noise
- Eating Disorders
- Strive for perfection
- Attempt to be invisible
- Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) symptoms
(Some children who have lived in homes where DV occurred are incorrectly diagnosed with ADD. They may be given medication for ADD when they may really need counseling and support for having witnessed DV. You can help by telling the counselor that your child has witnessed DV and may be reacting to it.)
Some of this text was adapted from Helping Children Who Witness Domestic Violence: A Guide for Parents, by Meg Crager and Lily Anderson.
According to the National Elder Abuse Incidence Study (Administration On Aging, The National Elder Abuse Incidence Study; Final Report, September 1998) nearly one-half million elder people, age 60 and over, experienced abuse and/or neglect in domestic settings in 1996. From statistics gathered, the study concluded that for every reported incident of elder abuse/neglect, approximately five go unreported.
Elder abuse can be divided into two categories:
- Domestic Elder Abuse (Domestic Violence) refers to abuse and/or neglect of an older person by someone who has a relationship with them (this could be a spouse, child, sibling or other relative as well as a friend or a caregiver) and occurs in the older person’s home or the family member or caregiver’s home.
- Institutional Elder Abuse refers to the abuse and/or neglect of an older person in a residential facility, which is committed by someone who has a legal and/or contractual obligation to provide the victim with care and protection.
- Domestic Elder Abuse is Domestic Violence!!!
Spouses or other relatives commit most abuse of persons in later life (according to the Administration on Aging’s report). Findings showed that approximately 90% of abusers were related to the victim and Adult Protective Services (APS) data suggests that adult children are the largest category of abusers.
- Psychological Abuse: The infliction of mental or emotional suffering. Any act, verbal or non-verbal that is intended to threaten, humiliate, intimidate, provoke, frighten or confuse an older person.
- Physical Abuse: The use of physical force to inflict injury, pain, or restrain/confine an individual.
- Sexual Abuse: Any non-consensual sexual activity of any kind with an older person.
- Financial Abuse: The improper or illegal use of an older person’s resources, including money or property.
- Neglect: The failure to provide the care necessary to maintain the mental and physical well being of an older person.
The Federal Administration on Aging
Elder Abuse Prevention and Treatment Resources page. Provides links to elder abuse resources in all states.
National Center on Elder Abuse
Provides many resources to help find the assistance, publications, data and information you need.
National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse
Information about elder abuse
Washington State’s Adult Protective Services
Includes a description of their services and procedures, definitions and answers to commonly asked questions.
Many times people who are in abusive relationships are asked by others “Why don’t you just leave?” People observing the situation ask each other, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” It is usually not that easy. The nature of domestic violence encourages conditions that keep a woman economically dependent and socially isolated. Listed below are some examples of barriers that women face when leaving an abusive relationship.
- Lack of Financial Resources – A person who is being victimized by domestic violence may not have access to money. She may have been prevented from working or if she does work she may have not access to the money. Even if the family has significant financial resources, the abuser may control all of the finances, not allowing her access to bank accounts, etc. He may also sabotage any attempts on her part to get or keep a job. For many women who do have an income it is still not enough to support themselves and their children, due in part to escalating housing costs and childcare.
- Not Enough Shelter Resources or Other Safe Places to Go – Because isolation is a part of abuse, the person being victimized may not have supportive friends and family to turn to, or if there is support, it may not be safe to go there. The abuser may have access to weapons and know where the friends and family live. The victim may not know about crisis phone numbers or supportive community resources. Domestic violence shelters may be full when she calls and it is difficult to call back everyday to check space. There are very few confidential shelter beds in most areas.
- Threats of Murder – Physical violence, threats, and intimidation are present in many abusive relationships. The risk of homicide increases when a woman leaves an abusive relationship. Fear of death or serious injury is a very real thing. An abuser may threaten suicide as well as homicide. A situation like this is especially lethal because someone who is suicidal may not be concerned with consequences of his actions. According to the Washington State Fatality Review Report, “Honoring Their Lives, Learning from Their Deaths” by Margaret Hobart (December 2000), abusers were suicidal in 35% of domestic violence fatalities studied. The report also states that suicidal abusers were more likely to kill multiple victims.
- Social Stigma – There are social stigmas around being a victim of domestic violence, as well as around divorce and single parenthood. The shame these stigmas cause may make it difficult for victims to reach out for help. The lack of accurate information about domestic violence coupled with these social stigmas leads to victims being blamed for the abuse, which creates additional barriers.
- Threats of Outing the Victim – Homophobia in our society is very prevalent. In same-sex relationships the abusive partner will often threaten to expose his or her partner’s sexual orientation to people who don’t know, which may cause the victim to lose his or her support system, friends, family, job, etc. Homophobia can be highlighted by an abuser to make the victim think no one will believe him or her, domestic violence agencies will not help, or that the abuse is deserved because the victim is lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or trans-gendered.
- Religious Beliefs – Many religions can be used to support both liberation from abuse AND control of a husband over his wife, depending on how the religious text is interpreted. An abuser may quote religious text to justify abuse. A victim may be told that she is responsible for keeping the family together and may fear being cast out from her community if she separates or divorces her husband.
- Immigration Issues – An abuser may choose to not file the papers necessary to legalize his partner’s immigration status, to withdraw already filed papers, or destroy important papers, threaten to report her to United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). If English is not her first language, he might isolate her from people who speak her language, prevent her from learning English, and not allow her to have access to information. If the person being victimized does not speak English, she may not have access to resources in her first language or know where to find them to get help.
- Victim Blaming – A very common dynamic of domestic violence is minimizing the seriousness of the abuse, denying abuse is happening, and blaming the victim for the abuse. Many victims think that the abuse is their own fault; that the abuse is caused by something they are doing to make their partner angry and abusive.
- Wanting to Keep the Family Together – Victims often believe that it is in the children’s best interest to keep the family together, particularly when the children are not being physically abused. Many women also fear losing custody and not being able to protect the children.
- Societal Acceptance – There are many ways in which our society inadvertently, and sometimes purposefully, teaches people that violence is an appropriate way of dealing with others. Some examples of this include anger, violence, and power and control being romanticized in movies or books, domestic violence portrayed as “a crime of passion” in newspapers and in the media, and a general belief system that implies that a woman must have done something to deserve the abuse. These and other forms of societal acceptance may make it difficult for a battered woman to leave the relationship because she may believe the societal norms around domestic violence or she may not receive support from friends or family members because they buy in to this belief system.
- Myth: Batterers use violence because they get so angry that they are out of control.Fact: Batterers who beat their partners do not usually beat other people with whom they associate. If battering reflected solely a mental illness, or inability to control oneself, then it is highly unlikely that the same target would be singled out time after time. Abusers tend not to behave in public as they do at home. For example, most abusers do not beat their boss when they become angry in the workplace, but will beat their spouse when they get home. Violence is not an uncontrollable act.
- Myth: Drugs and alcohol use cause the violence.Fact: Blaming alcohol or drugs is another way to get out from under the responsibility for violent behavior. Substance abuse and domestic violence are two separate problems which can occur together, but treating one will not ‘cure’ the other. However, substance abuse may increase the frequency or severity of the violent episodes in some cases.
- Myth: Stress and unemployment cause the violence.Fact: Most people at some times in their life have been unemployed or underemployed and did not physically abuse their partners. Everybody experiences stress. Stress and unemployment are not causes of violence. Using violence is a choice and blaming it on stress or unemployment is a tactic used by batterers to shift the blame and not take responsibility for their actions.
- Myth: The victim can always leave.Fact: The period after a woman leaves or expresses her intention to leave is the most lethal for her. Seventy-five percent of the homicides and serious assaults occur during this time. This is a powerful deterrent to leaving. Often a woman who leaves is tracked by her abuser and threatened with harm if she does not return. The nature of domestic violence encourages conditions that keep a woman economically dependent and socially isolated. There are many barriers women face when trying to leave an abusive relationship.
What is a Forced Marriage?
- Forced marriage occurs when a man or woman is coerced by their family or other persons in authority, to marry, without any regard for their consent. A forced marriage may involve many forms of oppression and abuse such as threats, emotional blackmail, fraud, and even bribes. Emotional and social coercion is often experienced as threatening by the individual, as distress may lead to accepting the decision that is against one’s will.
- Sometimes a forced marriage is mistaken as an arranged marriage. The practice of arranged marriages has been a long-standing tradition in many cultures and countries. In an arranged marriage, the families of both spouses take an active role in arranging the marriage; however, the choice whether to accept the arrangement remains with the individuals, and is valued.
- Although the basic difference between an arranged and forced marriage often involves the issue of choice and consent, it is important to understand what choice and consent means and looks like. Some parents use the tactic of not speaking to a son/daughter for months at a time to convince him/her to get married to the person of their (the parents’) choice; they may threaten to disown the child if he or she does not accept the prospective spouse. Others would not even give the right to a daughter to decline. In many cultures, girls are trained from a very young age to obey their parents and never to say “no” to them. Parents often do not realize that they destroy their own children’s lives by coercing them into an unwanted marriage.
- What is wrong with such a marital relationship? Early and forced marriage is associated with many adverse psychological, emotional, medical, financial and legal consequences. Early marriage often interrupts a victim’s education and hence limits any possibility of economic independence. Daughters of young, uneducated mothers are more likely to drop out of school and be married early, repeating the cycle. Many times such marriages go unregistered, leaving a woman with no legal protection in case of abuse or divorce.
- Girls who are victims of early and forced marriage have higher mortality rates compared to their unmarried counterparts. According to a research carried out by the World Health Organization, married girls between the ages of 15 to 19 are more likely to experience violence compared to older married women. Due to a lack of education, lower socio-economic status, lack of control and powerlessness, girls subjected to early or forced marriage often suffer higher levels of violence, abuse and rape.