Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Hidden Behind Closed Doors

While it seems absurd to those of us who know the root and results of domestic violence, there are not many variables in abusive behavior but there are, however, millions of barriers to escaping abuse.  In my work with victims of domestic and intimate partner violence, I’ve found that oftentimes, the survivor-stories are dissimilar: he yells, calls me names, cut my off from my family and friends, makes me feel bad about my accomplishments, won’t allow me to work, takes my phone and keys, and eventually, he hits/”chokes” (strangles)/pushes me.  Baffling to me is the lack of understanding that outside society actually pays to abusive situations aside from physically violent behavior; in fact, in many states, a person of abuse may not be able to take any sort of legal recourse against their abusers.  Devastating as this in itself is, sufferers of intimate partner violence in same-sex relationships may have far fewer legal resources and an increased number of barriers to escaping the abuse.

I’ve said it before and I will always contend that violence in itself is not indicative of “abuse”.  Abuse goes deeper; abuse is about power and control over another person.  Abuse is about one party being dominant and the other being dominated.  In fact, this is the reason for the existence of batterers intervention programs instead of just anger management type programs.  A person in anger management may have a difficult time controlling themselves and lash out at everyone; people who are abusive target their rage and assert their power over one person.  Batterers intervention, often referred to as abuser treatment programs, focuses on the dynamics of domestic violence and eliminating abusive behavior in itself.  Not to be cliche, but the much thought out and praised power-and-control wheels are right-on in terms of identifying the characteristics of an abuser/abusive situation. See: heterosexual power-and-control wheel, LGBT power-and-control wheel.

This video of a very real abusive situation clearly illustrates domestic violence in all its forms.

TRIGGER WARNING: This video may be disturbing to view, as it explicitly deals with an abusive situation video-taped by the couple’s son at the batterer’s request. If this is upsetting, please scroll beyond it; this blog is not intended to be anything other than a safe space for subscribers.

Most victims of intimate partner violence that I have encountered maintain that emotional and psychological abuse is far more severe than physical violence ever could be. One in four women experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. Black American women are victimized at a rate that is 35% higher than white women. Gay men are victimized by their partners at higher rates than heterosexual men; and while domestic violence agencies are a wonderful resource for victims, there are rarely shelters available to gay men.

There are options that people experiencing intimate partner violence can exercise, but sadly – and for very legitimate reasons – victims are rarely informed or prepared to leave. These include:

Calling the police.

Creating a personalized safety plan.

Contacting your local domestic violence agency.

Obtaining a restraining order or taking other legal recourse.

Enrolling in your state’s address confidentiality program.

While Susan’s situation is very common, not all victims of intimate partner violence are able to move forward as successfully as she; in fact, in many instances, police will not make an arrest if there are no visible bruising which is likely in victims of color.  Conversely, the police may be forced to arrest both parties — even if some physical marks are defensive.  The process of receiving a restraining order may be too difficult depending on the state, or may not offer protection to people in same-sex relationships.   Beyond the systemic problems with escaping abusive relationships, there are a number of social and emotional reasons why victims feel trapped in abusive situations.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and it is very important that people are aware of the barriers and the sheer horror and reality of intimate partner violence.  People who victim blame likely do not witness situations like Susan’s, and instead see sufferers of abuse and their assailants as numbers and factoids. Abuse is real, and its affects are lasting.  If you know someone in an abusive relationship, it’s important to offer support.

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

National Sexual Assault Hotline (RAINN): 1-800-656-HOPE(4673)

GLBT National Help Center: 1-888-843-4564

The Trevor Hotline: 866-4-U-TREVOR (while Trevor is a suicide prevention hotline for LGBT youth, many people in the LGBT community may feel unsafe contacting hotlines that are not specific to the LGBT community.)

National (teen) Dating Abuse Helpline: 1-866-331-9474 (their website also allows you to chat online or text a peer advocate)