“He’s Not Abusive, But . . . “ Domestic Violence and You, As Seen in The Morris County Women’s Journal (Oct 2002)
Jan L. Bernstein
We all have heard the statistics: Two out of three female victims of violence are related to or know their attacker. One in three Americans have witnessed an incident of domestic violence. More than seven percent of American women who are married or living with someone as a couple are physically abused, while more than thirty-seven percent are emotionally or verbally abused by their partner or spouse. Yet while we shake our heads at the horrors of domestic violence, do we truly have an understanding of how widespread and common this national epidemic actually is?
For many of us, terms “domestic violence” and “battered women” conjure up an image of a woman who has been brutally, physically assaulted by her husband or boyfriend. And while this is often the case, domestic violence encompasses a much greater, maybe less obvious stream of behavior which, all too often, goes unnoticed and not addressed.
More than just physical battering, domestic violence is the actual or threatened physical, sexual, psychological, or economic abuse of an individual by someone with whom they have or had an intimate relationship. This definition of domestic violence includes not only physical attacks resulting in a black eye or bruised body, but also the repetitive harassing and degrading comments which serve to lower self-esteem, the intentional withholding of affection which causes one to question their self-worth, and the frequent arguments and fights over one’s spending of money, leaving them unsure about their financial future. Episodes of verbal, psychological, and financial abuse quickly have become the most common and most insidious forms of domestic abuse suffered by women at the hands of someone they love.
However, no matter how much the perpetration of domestic violence serves to demean, degrade, and disempower its victims, it is not only the individual victim who suffers. Everyone in her household and family is at risk as well. A recent Bureau of Justice study found that one-third of women who are physically abused by a husband or boyfriend were raised in a household where their mother also was abused. This statistic is even greater for those who do not yet suffer physical abuse, but are the recipients of psychological or verbal battering. As a result of these documented statistics, we know that there is a cycle of violence, a pattern of abuse, that is passed on from generation to generation. Yet, this is not a legacy that must be left to children of survivors of domestic violence abuse. Domestic violence, in whatever form it takes, can be stopped.
The first step to ending domestic violence is recognizing it. Because such abuse most often occurs behind closed doors, it is only the resulting physical bruises, which receive the majority of attention. Unfortunately, as a society and a community, we are hesitant to recognize and acknowledge that the repetitive harassing comments and accusations women often suffer during an intimate relationship, as well as the withholding of attention and affection by a loved one, or the constant control over money, constitute a form of domestic violence just as damaging as physical abuse, with often longer lasting scars. But victims of such domestic abuse no longer have to suffer in silence. Help and information is available. Local women’s centers provide a variety of services, such as individual and group counseling, references to battered women’s shelters, and informational programs which enable victims of domestic abuse, and/or those at risk, to openly address what is happening to them and their families, and receive the assistance they need. Also, local police now are trained to recognize incidents of domestic violence, no matter what form they take, and are equipped to deal with both victims and abusers accordingly. If you, or someone you know, is the victim of psychological, verbal, or financial abuse, help is available.
Restraining Orders are available to those survivors of domestic violence who need protection from a batterer. Such orders provide a victim and her children with a measure of safety from the ongoing physical abuse or threats and harassment from a husband or boyfriend by preventing contact. A victim of abuse may seek a restraining order on her own, or with the help of the police or an attorney twenty-four hours a day. Group and/or individual counseling for the victims, and their children is available privately or through local battered women’s shelters or other women’s organizations, much as the New Jersey Women’s Fund, enabling women to begin to rebuild their lives after an abusive relationship. Acknowledging that the behavior you are experiencing from an intimate partner or member of your household is abuse and not just a “normal” relationship dynamic can be difficult. But once a victim recognizes that it is abuse (and that it will escalate), she can begin to stop the cycle of violence. Resources are available to empower women and their children so that they many lead a healthier, violence free life.