Domestic violence is a widespread, under reported problem in the United States today. Domestic violence is not bound by economic status, education, race, religion, or age. People from any walk of life can be victims of domestic violence; although, statistically, male-female relationships are more often violent than same sex relationships. Statistically, about 20% of emergency room visits by women are for injuries related to domestic violence. More staggering is that over a third of female murder victims are killed by their male partners.
Domestic violence is a pattern of threatening and/or controlling behavior imposed on a person by someone he/she loves without regard to the victim’s rights, feelings, body, or health. A person is abused if he/she is intentionally, and often repeatedly, harmed by a person with whom he/she has (or previously had) an intimate relationship. This harm can be physical, emotional, and/or sexual in nature. Often times, mental abuse and bullying go hand in hand with physical violence.
Domestic abuse takes several forms:
- Physical Assault – Examples of physical assault include when a victim is pushed, hit, slapped, kicked, choked, beaten, attacked with a weapon, and/or has objects thrown at him/her.
- Sexual Assault – Sexual assault is when a victim is forced to engage in any type of sexual activity against his/her will. Examples of sexual assault include forced vaginal, oral, and anal intercourse.
- Psychological Abuse – Psychological abuse includes forcing a victim to perform degrading acts, threatening to harm the victim or the victim’s loved ones (children, family, friends, and/or pets), destroying objects that the victim values, killing or harming the victim’s pet(s), and/or trying to control the victim’s life. Controlling a domestic violence victim can include taking away the victim’s money, food, sleep, clothing, and/or transportation. The victim can also be forced to not have contact with his/her family and friends. Some male abusers try and control their partner’s reproductive choices by trying to prevent her from using birth control.
Abuse of Pregnant Women
Many pregnant women face abuse from their partners. Sometimes abuse begins, increases, or decreases when a woman becomes pregnant. Abuse during pregnancy poses health risks to the mother and the fetus. Abusers who begin or increase abuse during their partner’s pregnancy will often strike their partner directly in the belly. This can cause miscarriage, vaginal bleeding, low birth weight, and fetal injury. Sometimes the fear of harm to her unborn baby can motivate a woman to escape her abuser. Other times abuse can decrease when a woman is pregnant, in fact, some abused women only feel safe when they are pregnant and may get pregnant many times. Unfortunately in these cases the abuse usually resumes as soon as the baby is born.
Domestic Violence & Child Abuse
Over half of all men who abuse their partners also abuse their children. Other abusers threaten to harm their children as a way to control their partner. Children who witness domestic violence or are abused themselves can be deeply psychologically damaged. This damage can cause chronic headaches, stomach problems, nightmares, trouble sleeping, and bed-wetting. Children of abuse will often withdraw from school work and friends and begin lashing out in anger and causing fights. These children may become violent themselves, believing that violence is the only solution to life’s problems because that’s the only example they’ve ever been shown. In fact, when these children grow up, male victims often become abusers and female victims often get into violent relationships.
Partners in abusive relationships come from all walks of life, but there are a few factors that can predispose a person to developing an abusive relationship (as either the abuser or the victim). Abusers and victims often have a family history of violence and have low self-esteem and low self-confidence. Abusers tend to be jealous and will blame the victim’s relationships with others for the abuse. Alcohol and drug abuse are common in domestic violence cases. Many victims feel they deserve the abuse they receive because the abuser continually tells them they deserve it or that it is their fault. Victims often stay in abusive relationships because they have conflicting feelings of love, loyalty, guilt, and fear of retaliation. Also, the victim may be financially dependent on the abuser.
The Cycle of Abuse
Many victims become trapped in a cycle of abuse, escaping one abusive relationship simply to get into another. Unless the victim breaks the cycle, the violence gradually escalates with the abuse becoming more frequent and more severe. The cycle of abuse:
- Phase 1 – During this phase the abuser uses name calling, threats of violence, and/or shoving the victim down to control the victim. The victim usually tries to please or calm down the abuser. Usually this will only delay the violence.
- Phase 2 – The abuser becomes violent and hits, slaps, kicks, chokes, rapes, or sexually abuses the victim. The abuser will also throw things at the victim or attack the victim with weapons.
- Phase 3 – The abuser apologizes, expressing guilt and shame. The abuser will often promise to never do it again and will buy the victim gifts. Sometimes the abuser blames the victim for the violence, saying it wouldn’t have happened if the victim hadn’t provoked the abuser. Over time, the abuser puts less effort into Phase 3 because the abuser has already established control over the victim and doesn’t feel the need to placate the victim with apologies or gifts.
Are You a Victim of Abuse?
People with a history of family violence, sexual assault or incest, or physical abuse are at a higher risk of being in an abusive relationship. If you have a history of any of these violent problems, please be aware of your increased risk of being drawn into a violent relationship.
Ask yourself the following questions to help determine if your current relationship is a safe, healthy relationship:
- Does your partner threaten you with violence?
- Does your partner throw things at you?
- Does your partner tell you it’s your fault if he/she hits you?
- Does your partner promise to stop hitting you but continue anyway?
- Does your partner put you down or degrade you?
- Does your partner keep you from contacting your family and/or friends?
- Does your partner force you to have sex when you don’t want to?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions then you may be in an abusive relationship. If so, please remember that you are not alone and that you don’t deserve to be abused! No one deserves to be abused and there are resources that can help you escape the abuse.
Break the Silence & Get Help
The first step in breaking the cycle of abuse is to TELL SOMEONE.
Inform someone that you are being abused and ask them if you can call if you need to escape a dangerous situation. This person can be a relative, close friend, doctor, nurse, counselor, social worker, or a clergy member. The key is to TELL SOMEONE. You may find it difficult to discuss the abuse at first, but you will feel a sense of relief and safety once you tell someone outside your home. Feelings of shame are common but keep in mind that no one deserves to be abused. Violent behavior is the fault of the abuser NOT the victim!
Your next step is to think about your long-term situation.
Your decisions may be difficult, you may still love your abuser or you may be financially dependent on your abuser and not feel that you can leave. Counseling can be a huge help during this trying and confusing time. You will need to focus on your children (if you have any), your well-being (both emotional and physical), and your monetary needs. If you still love your partner and wish to develop a healthy relationship then it is of the utmost importance for both you and your partner to be in counseling. The cycle of abuse must be broken if your relationship is to become healthy. You may feel that you need to leave your partner for good. If you are married to your abuser (or are “common law” married) then get a lawyer who specializes in abuse cases. If you are worried about finances, check out your local resources (see below). There are legal aid services available for such cases. When you leave your partner, make sure you have someplace safe to go to like a friend’s house, a family member’s house, or a local shelter or organization that specializes in helping abuse victims (such as the AWAIC Shelter).
Sometimes the act of leaving can be scary. You may need to sneak out of the house when your partner isn’t home or your partner may become so violent that you feel you need to leave that moment. Have a safety plan prepared for yourself (and your children and/or pets) in case this situation arises:
- Pack a suitcase – Pack a suitcase with a change of clothing for yourself and your children, basic toiletries, and an extra set of keys to your house and car. Keep this suitcase at a close friend or neighbor's house. This way if you have to leave in a hurry you don’t have to worry about packing.
- Keep special items in a safe place – Have important items (e.g., prescription medications, identification, extra cash, checkbook, health insurance cards, credit cards, important medical and financial documents) in a safe place that is easily accessible to you if you need to leave in a hurry. If you have children, take a special toy or book for each child.
- Talk to your children – If you have children, let them know that they must not try to stop a fight or they may be injured. They need to call the police or get help from a family member, friend, or neighbor.
- Know exactly where you will go – Regardless of the time of day or night, know where you will go if you have to escape a violent situation. Know of a shelter or friend or family member’s home that you can go to with no notice.
- Know where to go if you are injured – Go to the emergency room or call your doctor if you are injured. Give your doctor complete information about how you were injured. If you were sexually assaulted, ask that a rape kit be performed. Then ask for a copy of all of your medical records so you can file criminal charges if you wish.
- Call the police – Domestic violence is illegal. Give the police complete details of the abuse. Get the officer’s badge number and a copy of the report in case you wish to file charges later.
- Know about available resources – Learn about the resources available in your community. See below for resources available in the Anchorage Area.
- Alaska Court System: Family Law
- Alaska Department of Administration, Violent Crimes Compensation Board
- Alaska Family Violence Prevention Project
- Alaska Legal Services Corporation (ALSC) is a private, non-profit law firm that provides free civil legal assistance to low-income Alaskans.
- ANDVSA (Alaska Network on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault)
- AWAIC (Abused Women’s Aid In Crisis)-domestic violence services include:
- 24-Hour Crisis Line (907) 272-0100
- A residential shelter
- Children’s program
- Non-residential services
- Moving forward/LINK program
- Willa’s Way
- Volunteer program
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline
- STAR (Standing Together Against Rape): Community Resources
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline
- State of Alaska Council on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault
- State of Alaska, Office of Children's Services
- UAA Justice Center: Victims of Crime Links
- Victims for Justice
- VINELink (Victim Information & Notification Everday) - National Victim