October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and this issue is unfortunately common. Nearly 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have experienced domestic violence from their intimate partner. As of 2017, I have a female friend who was raped by her then-boyfriend and a male friend who was verbally and psychologically abused by an ex-wife.
First of all, it’s important to define domestic violence. Domestic violence is not always physical harm; it has various forms. The Department of Justice defines domestic violence as,
“A pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.”
Examples of each type of violence are as follows:
1. Physical Abuse: Hitting, slapping, shoving, etc are examples of physical abuse. This also includes denying a partner medical care or forcing alcohol and/or drug use.
2. Sexual Abuse: Coercing or attempting to coerce any sexual contact or behavior without consent. This includes, but isn’t limited to the following: marital rape, attacks on sexual parts of the body, forcing sex after physical violence, or treating one in a sexually demeaning manner.
3. Emotional Abuse: Undermining an individual’s sense of self-worth and/or self-esteem is abusive. Examples include: constant criticism, diminishing one’s abilities, name-calling, or damaging one’s relationship with his or her children and/or family.
4. Economic Abuse: occurs when the abuser attempts (or succeeds) to make an individual financially dependent by taking total control over financial resources, withholding one’s access to money, or forbidding one’s attendance at school or employment.
5. Psychological Abuse: Examples of psychological abuse include (but are not limited to): causing fear by intimidation; threatening physical harm to self, partner, children, or partner’s family or friends; destruction of pets and property; and forcing isolation from family, friends, or school and/or work.
What are signs and symptoms of abuse? Individuals who are being abused may display certain behaviors, such as the ones below.
- Appear afraid or anxious to please their partner
- Follow whatever their partner says/does
- Have to check in with their partner often to report where they are and what they are doing. They may receive frequent phone calls or texts from their partner.
- Talk about their partner’s temper, clingy behavior, or jealousy
Signs of physical violence:
- Frequent injuries with a story of ‘accidents’ that caused them
- Often missing work, school, or social meetings without explanation
- Clothes that are designed to hide bruises/scars (long sleeves during warm weather, sunglasses indoors)
Signs of isolation:
- Restricted from seeing family and friends
- Rarely seen in public without partner
- Limited access to resources like money, credit cards, or vehicles
Signs of psychological abuse:
- Very low self-esteem. This can happen even if the individual used to be confident.
- Major personality changes, like an outgoing person becoming withdrawn and shy
- Depressed, anxious, or suicidal
On average, a victim leaves their abuser seven times before leaving them for good. This can be surprising to observers of domestic abuse. The flow chart below helps to explain this process.
The reasons for why victims stay vary according to their circumstances, but they can be broken into four main categories.
1. Conflicting Emotions:
- Often victims stay in the relationship because they fear what might happen if they leave. The partner may threaten to hurt the victim or others if they attempt to leave. If a victim is not open about their LGBTQ+ relationship, they may be afraid of their partner ‘outing’ them to their family and friends.
- The victim may believe that their abusive relationship is normal. They may not realize that their relationship is not healthy.
- The victim can be embarrassed; ending a long term relationship can be seen as a ‘failure.’ It can be hard for victims to admit to themselves that they have been abused; it often harder to admit this abuse to others.
- The victim may have low self-esteem. This is common with emotional abuse; the abuser causes the victim to doubt their own self worth. Constant put downs can cause victims to believe that they are at fault for the abuse.
- The victim may stay in the relationship because they love their partner, and they hope that their abuser will change
- The victim may feel social/peer pressure to stay in the relationship. Often, abusers can appear quite charismatic to outsiders. Victims can be reluctant to tell others the truth because they doubt people will take them seriously.
- The victim may feel they must stay in the relationship due to cultural/religious pressure. Depending on the culture/religion, leaving a relationship can bring shame. Females may be reluctant to disclose their sexual activity, and males tend to be reluctant to admit abuse.
- If children (or a pregnancy) are involved, the victim may feel that they must stay in order to provide their children with a ‘stable home life.’ There is also the fear of the abuser harming the children if the victim decides to leave.
3. Distrust of Adults or Authority:
- In teen relationships, adults may not believe that teens can experience ‘in-depth’ love; instead, they write it off as ‘puppy love.’ The victim may feel that they have no adult to talk to who will take them seriously.
- Young adults and teens may not trust that the police will help them, so they may not attempt to report abuse.
- Language barriers/immigration status: this can be a difficult situation if the victim is not documented; the victim may fear deportation. Similarly, language difficulties can make it harder for the victim to describe their abusive situation.
4. Reliance on Abusive Partner:
- Money: Abusers can try to make the victim financially dependent; the victim may not have any financial resources. This makes ‘leaving’ seem unrealistic.
- Nowhere to Go: A victim may believe that they have no resources or friends to turn to for housing. This is especially common if the victim lives with the abuser.
- Disability: If the victim is physically dependent on their abuser for care, victims may fear that their well-being will suffer if they leave.
This post is the first in a series about domestic violence. My next blog post on October 20th will cover what healthcare providers need to know about domestic violence.
Much of what I have learned about physical therapy and online health/wellness, I have learned from Greg Todd, the founder of Physical Therapy Builder. He is a fantastic physical therapist whose mission is to help physical therapy students and physical therapists provide patient focused care without becoming overwhelmed. Greg Todd is also known as a “social media guru,” and I have a lot of thank him for. I highly suggest his courses, especially Smart Success PT. In May, I attended Smart Success PT Live, a business, marketing, and branding course by some of the top PT entrepreneurs in the field.