Domestic violence and its effects are nothing to take lightly. Here’s why

Woman, victim of domestic abuse

If you have ever felt attacked or abused in a relationship, had a partner hold power over you through intimidation, or felt manipulated, isolated and afraid, you know the impact domestic violence can have on you and those around you.

Both women and men suffer from domestic violence.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),  as many as 1 in 2 women, and 1 in 5 men have experienced sexual violence victimization, other than rape, at some point in their lives from an intimate partner.  Sexual abuse is a small piece of a much larger, complex picture.

Domestic violence can involve any or all actions that are

  • physical
  • sexual
  • emotional
  • economic
  • psychological

Any action or threat that is intended to influence another person to gain control of that individual could potentially be domestic violence.

The United States Department of Justice states this includes actions, threats, and activities that “intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.”

As you may have guessed, “domestic violence” is an umbrella phrase that includes many destructive behaviors, and just as each domestic violence case can be unique, so too are the lasting repercussions for its victims.

Is this domestic violence?

Domestic violence varies from one individual case to the next, but there are five categories the Department of Justice groups abusive actions under. These are:

  • Psychological abuse: Generally characterized by threats, intimidation, destruction of property, and isolation from family and friends.
  • Physical abuse: Any type of physical harm caused to a victim, including denial of medical care and the forced use of drugs or alcohol.
  • Economic abuse:  Controlling someone by making them dependent on the other person’s financial income. This also includes withholding money and maintaining complete control over all finances.
  • Sexual abuse: Any sexual behavior without consent, or forcing participation in any sexually demeaning activity.
  • Emotional abuse:  Includes (but is not limited to) encouraging a person’s low self-esteem through criticism, name-calling, or by damaging relationships with family/friends.

Domestic violence is not limited to one single form of abuse. In many cases, domestic violence is a complex mixture of all of the above.

In some situations, victims may not even realize they are the victims of abuse because emotional, financial, and psychological actions don’t leave immediate, physical pain.

Effects of domestic violence on you and those around you

Being a victim of domestic violence can be a life-long struggle. Domestic violence leaves lasting scars on the victim, children, and on family/friends.

According to The Advocates for Human Rights organization, a victim of domestic violence may experience:

  • Chronic pain
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Depression
  • Dissociation
  • Increased risk for sexually transmitted infections
  • Increased risk for substance abuse
  • Reproductive/genital health issues
  • Death

Chronic issues like those above are in addition to the more temporary, physical traumas like bruises, cuts, and broken bones, in the case of physical abuse.

The primary victim of domestic violence isn’t the only one who suffers, however. Children in the household are not spared the consequences of abusive adult relationships.  

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) indicates children in domestic violence situations may experience:

  • Abuse in many forms, as a way to manipulate the adult victim
  • Impaired growth
  • Impaired cognitive development
  • Excessive irritability
  • Emotional distress
  • Fear of being alone
  • Immature behavior
  • Delayed language development
  • Trouble with school work
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased risk for bed-wetting
  • Depression
  • Suicidal tendencies
  • Increased risk for juvenile pregnancy
  • Increased risk for substance abuse

Children exposed to domestic violence are also at an increased risk to become bullies in school, show aggressive behavior, and to become abusers as adults.

Wondering about other family members and close friends? They also suffer the effects of domestic violence.

Many times family and friends won’t understand why a victim becomes distant, or they may be told hurtful things by the abuser who is attempting to drive them, or keep them, away from the victim. Worst of all, loved ones have to watch someone they care about suffer, oftentimes out of their helpful reach.

Domestic violence among Hispanic communities

Domestic violence touches everyone. No race or ethnicity is spared from this debilitating form of abuse.

For Hispanics, domestic violence is a very real issue too. The Allstate Foundation survey results from 2014 found nearly two-thirds of Hispanic women personally know someone who is the victim of domestic violence, and the CDC indicates 3 out of 10 Hispanic women have been the victim of domestic violence themselves.

While Mexican-Americans and Puerto Ricans show the highest rates of domestic violence, acculturation seems to have something to do with the numbers.

Acculturation is linked to higher rates of domestic abuse, as Hispanics get further and further away from their original cultural and religious beliefs.

Further complicating domestic violence issues are the facts that Hispanics are less likely to seek help for domestic violence, and are often distrustful of services available to them.

What to do 

If you are in a domestic violence situation, leaving is often much easier said than done. Many victims of domestic violence don’t feel safe enough to leave, and that is why The National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) recommends having a safety plan.

A safety plan to escape a domestic violence situation includes tips such as:

  • Identify safe areas of the house where there are no weapons, and there are easy means of escape.
  • Do not to run to the children during a domestic violence dispute. This could put the children in danger.
  • If violence is unavoidable, make yourself a small target by curling into a ball and protecting  your head and neck.
  • Have a phone accessible at all times to call for help.
  • Ask friends and neighbor to look for visual signs that you need help in your home, like flickering of lights or opening and closing of curtains.
  • Make a habit of backing the car into the driveway with a full tank of gas. Keep keys easily accessible.
  • Have somewhere safe to go, ideally a shelter or hospital where there is security.
  • Maintain several viable reasons for leaving your home: exercise class, doctor’s appointment, grocery shopping, etc.

Once you have left your abusive situation, seek professional help such as a support group to start your journey of healing.

Domestic abuse effects can take years to overcome, and having a support network is critical to working through problems like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. You are not alone.

By finding other men and women who facing similar struggles, not only will you benefit from what others have learned, you may also be able to provide a little light in someone else’s darkness.

For more information, or to get help, visit the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Safety plan for domestic violence victims

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