What is Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence, or violence between intimate partners, can conjure up so many different feelings and images. You may get sick to your stomach. You may imagine a woman with a black eye or people screaming at each other. Maybe these images and feelings are all too familiar for you, or maybe you’ve never experienced or witnessed anything close to domestic violence and don’t understand how people can stay in those types of dangerous and soul-crushing situations. Regardless of your thoughts and potential experiences with it, having some basic information is helpful not only for you, but may be of use should you ever encounter someone who is in a domestic violence situation.
Most of the time when we think about domestic violence or hear about it on the news, we see extreme examples. That is important to be aware of, but it’s also very important to be aware that domestic violence can take much more subtle forms and can be occurring without the evidence of lasting marks or injuries on people.
What might more expansive examples of domestic violence look like?
- Power/domination through financial control/manipulation, or emotional manipulation
- Verbal abuse/intimidation via cruel language/yelling
- Threats of physical/sexual violence toward partner or partner’s loved ones
- Hitting, biting, shoving, throwing objects, slapping, punching, choking
- Not letting someone leave a physical area
- Isolating a person from friends and family
- Mental abuse and gaslighting that can make a person question themselves and the actual occurrence of abuse
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but we are seeking to provide you with some increased awareness to think about. Namely, just because someone isn’t physically bruised, doesn’t mean that they aren’t experiencing domestic violence in some way.
Men as Victims of Domestic Violence
Women are often at the forefront of domestic violence awareness campaigns, but men are abused too, likely at a higher rate than you might think. About 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience extreme intimate partner violence. [Link: https://ncadv.org/statistics] The rates of men experiencing intimate partner violence may be higher, or more common then we know, because men are less likely to report this type of partner violence, because of the stigma surrounding it.
Domestic violence can occur in any relationship, regardless of gender expression and the biological sex of individuals; however, in heterosexual couples, the domestic violence men experience from their female partners may look a little different from what women experience from their male partners. Domestic violence against men with women as aggressors can absolutely be physical, but oftentimes includes more verbal and emotional manipulation. This could include coercion to get male partners to do things they don’t want to do. Some areas of coercion may include threatening to eliminate access to their children, threats of difficult divorce proceedings, and making statements to lead the spouse to question themselves and their abilities to leave the relationship.
Reasons men don’t disclose being abused by women:
- They’re embarrassed
- They worry others will wonder why they can’t protect themselves
- They will seem less masculine
- They worry they won’t be believed
- There are significantly less shelters/services for abused men
- Fears of loss of their children
If It’s So Bad…Why Don’t People Just Leave?
This is a complex question, and everyone has their own unique reasons for staying in unhealthy relationships. It can be devastating to watch someone that you love be in an abusive relationship, especially when they might not see it as abusive. Keep in mind that the relationship likely didn’t start off as abusive. Violence often gradually ramps up and then when you love someone, you want to believe that they will change their behavior. Very often it will follow a cycle of abuse- regret/apology- changed behaviors- slow sliding back into abusive tendencies.
Emotional manipulation can also be very powerful. If someone stays in an abusive situation for a long time, they may start to unconsciously equate violence and pain with love and see it as normalized and expected rather then a problem to get away from.
Additional reasons why people might stay in an abusive relationship:
- They are financially dependent/don’t think they could make it on their own
- They love their partner and hope things will get better
- They are too scared to leave
- They are too embarrassed to leave/admit their situation
- They feel like they have no support/nowhere to go
- They believe that they don’t think they deserve better
- They fear losing their children or having their children turned against them
Another important thing to understand is that: You CAN’T make someone leave a relationship until they are ready. Even if you were to tie your loved one up and put them in a closet in order to keep them away from their abusive partner (no, we don’t recommend this), if they aren’t ready to leave, they would likely return whenever you released them.
What You Can Do
If you or a loved one are experiencing any type of violence, there is help available. If you are unsure whether what you are experiencing constitutes domestic violence or not, but you know something isn’t quite right in your relationship and you’re uncomfortable—reaching out for help via a counselor can help to put things in perspective. In most cities you can find very helpful Crisis and Emergency Shelters to help you with the process and to keep you and your family safe.
Please note that if your current situation includes domestic violence, you most certainly don’t deserve it, and with some work, you can absolutely get to a place where you really believe that. However, oftentimes the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence is when they choose to leave the relationship. This is because the aggressor wants to remain in the familiar pattern of behavior (their intimidation/violence/promises to act better and your choosing to stay).
What all this means is that if the current situation is very violent the process of leaving should be done with care and must be PLANNED. It helps to involve other people in your plan to leave, have a bag packed and set aside somewhere for quick access, include a cell phone (even a deactivated cell phone can still call 911 as long as it has a charge to it), a small amount of cash, and at least a few days supply of any medications you may be on currently, and go somewhere that the aggressor WON’T SUSPECT or doesn’t have access to, so they can’t find you. A counselor can help you with these safety exit plans. The Crisis Shelter in New Castle is a fantastic resource for information and supports for domestic violence and has a 24 hr crisis line available 724-656-7867.
Blog Credit: Natalie Drozda, MA, LPC is a PH.D student in Counseling Education and Supervision at Duquesne University & therapist at Angelus Therapeutic Services