Domestic Violence: You are not alone

Sometimes you just pretend to be asleep, hoping that tonight will be different and maybe he’ll just go to bed. Sometimes you wake up in the dark with the weight of reality bearing down on your chest. Sometimes, out of nowhere, your breathing accelerates and your heart rate spikes as fear, anxiety, uncertainty and dread start to pile up. Your stomach twists into knots when you hear his car pull into the driveway. You wonder which version of the person you’ve devoted your life to is going to walk in the door. 

Sometimes you just try to put a smile on your face. You robotically prepare his favorite meal. You set out a beer or glass of wine. Maybe if you do everything perfectly, you can “love” him enough to change him. 

Or maybe not. Maybe this is the night he doesn’t just yell, hit or demean you, but he lashes out at your children. You know deep inside you need to leave, but he’s isolated you from the outside world. You’ve been separated from friends, family, money, maybe even a vehicle. 

The Trauma of Domestic Violence

Hopefully you’ve never experienced even a portion of this, but odds are someone in your life has gone through this trauma—a sister, friend, daughter or co-worker. One in four women in the United States has reported experiencing domestic violence, and domestic violence rates in this area are three times higher than the state average. The numbers may even be higher than that, because many survivors are afraid to speak up.

Domestic violence can take many forms, and isn’t limited by gender or sexual orientation. All of them are abusive:

  • Physical abuse: Hitting, punching, choking, using weapons or other objects to cause severe injury
  • Sexual abuse: Forcing a partner to engage in unwanted sexual acts, refusing to practice safe sex or treating a partner like a sexual object
  • Emotional abuse: Name-calling, denying/shifting blame, treating a partner as an inferior, threatening to harm self or others, stalking, using threatening looks, actions, or technology to monitor or frighten 
  • Economic abuse: Stealing or destroying belongings or money, preventing a partner from getting or keeping a job, not allowing the partner to have access to family income, damaging or ruining a partner’s credit

It’s not always easy to recognize survivors of domestic violence because they don’t often “look battered.” Many suffer for years in silence. The abuse typically begins with warning signs that only continue to escalate:

  • Possessiveness and extreme jealousy
  • Subtle control, such as strongly encouraging the victim to dress a certain way
  • Guilt tripping
  • Unpredictability
  • Building you up, then breaking you down and repeating this cycle
  • Forced sex or disregard of their partner’s unwillingness to have sex
  • The silent treatment
  • Sarcastic comments downplayed as jokes
  • Publicly or privately demeaning the victim
  • Coercive and confrontational behavior
  • Antiquated beliefs about roles of women and men in relationships
  • Accusations of the victim flirting with others or having an affair
  • Severing the victim’s relationships with family or friends

“Why don’t they just leave?”

This is a common question directed at victims of domestic violence, but people stay in these relationships for complex reasons:

  • Fear: The victim may believe it is more dangerous to leave than to stay in the relationship. The abuser may threaten to hurt or even kill the victim, or to take away or hurt their children or pets if she attempts to leave.
  • Economics and logistics: Abusers often control the financial resources as well as access to phones, car keys, and even medication and food. When victims believe they cannot support themselves and their children, they struggle to leave.
  • Social isolation: The abuser often restricts the victim’s ability to communicate with friends and family, keeping them from reaching out for support. This creates psychological dependence on the abuser.
  • Stigma, shame and failure: Many victims have been made to feel, by their abuser or others, that they are responsible for the abuse, leading to shame and embarrassment.
  • Children: Survivors may believe their children deserve a two-parent family, even at the expense of their own safety. In some cultures and religious traditions, the victim is stigmatized and shamed for leaving a spouse—even an abusive one—or for seeking a divorce.
  • Hope: A survivor may believe her abuser’s expressions of remorse and any promises that it will never happen again. Many survivors also feel it is somehow their responsibility to change or redeem their abusers.
  • Immigrants: Survivors whose native language is not English may find it difficult to communicate with health care providers, advocacy services and law enforcement. In some cases, the abuser has legal, documented status while the victim does not, leaving the abuser with near absolute power over the victim.

Domestic violence is not your fault. If you or a loved one is in this situation, please seek help. If you are in immediate danger, always call 911. You can also call the Family Support Services 24-hour crisis hotline (806-374-5433) to access our advocacy services or our emergency safe house. 

Author

  • Christy Bertolino

    Christy is the Director of Donor Engagement for Family Support Services of Amarillo (FSS), a nonprofit agency founded in1908. While serving on the Board of Directors, Christy witnessed firsthand the countless number of people FSS served and is grateful to be back where her heart is: FSS, “The Beacon of Hope.”

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