When faced with the thought of domestic violence, many of us automatically have visions of physical abuse – cuts, bruises, broken bones and physical scarring.
Domestic violence can be so much more and leave far more scars than just the ones seen on the surface. When domestic violence is coupled with substance abuse, the risk of death skyrockets. Additionally, research has shown that women who have been abused are 15 times more likely to abuse alcohol and nine times more likely to abuse drugs.
According to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, domestic violence is defined as “a pattern of behavior used to establish power and control over another person through fear and intimidation. Domestic violence does not necessarily have to include physical violence; it often includes the threat or use of violence.”
What should not be ignored is that it also includes:
- Emotional abuse
- Psychological abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Financial abuse
- Spiritual abuse
- Verbal abuse
- Social abuse
- Elderly abuse
- Image-based abuse
Examples of abuse can be threatening, intimidating, forcing someone to do things against their will, keeping someone from friends and family, embarrassing or shaming them and not allowing them access to finances that would provide them with some measure of freedom.
Many people who have never been in an abusive relationship wonder why someone stays in that relationship. In fact, there are quite a few reasons, such as fear of what will happen if they do leave. They may have no idea what a healthy relationship looks like and believe that their experience is normal. Embarrassment or shame, religious reasons, lack of resources, disability, even love and hope that their abuser will return to the person they once were can all be reasons to stay. Last but certainly not least, leaving an abusive relationship can be very difficult and dangerous. According to Psychology Today, more than 70 percent of all injuries and deaths occur after the abused have left.
A common misconception is that someone who is abused is fragile or powerless. This way of thinking could not be further from the truth. They come from all walks of life – male, female, rich, poor, all ethnicities and all religions. It can even be more difficult for those who everyone views as strong and independent. Family and friends may even blame the abused for staying, believing that they choose to stay and not understanding the powerlessness that comes with abuse.
In preparing to leave an abusive relationship, there are numerous things that can be done to ensure victims’ safety, such as finding safe friends and places to go. It’s helpful to prepare a “go bag” that they can keep hidden containing an extra prepaid cell phone with emergency numbers and contacts already programmed into it. They can also memorize phone numbers in case they are unable to get to that phone in the bag, which can also contain a spare set of car keys, clothes for themselves and children if there are any, medicine they regularly take, some spare cash if it can be accessed and important papers. If possible, they should try to backup any documents or data they might need onto a small, portable USB drive, and they can try to take with them any evidence of the abuse that may be helpful later.
Above all, if your safety and well-being depend on leaving your violent partner, help is available.
Additional assistance available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week includes the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673).
Troy Becker is employed by Gateway to Prevention and Recovery and is a graduate of St. Gregory’s University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in social science and Master of Arts in counseling psychology. Becker has also received his Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling Emphasis from Mid-America Christian University.