Emotional Health · Relationships & Dating

Domestic Violence: Home Is Where the Hurt Is

In many states, the laws are inadequate, and abusers who nearly kill their victims are charged with “assaulting a female,” a misdemeanor (sometimes the sentence is 150 days in jail).

They only weapon many victims have legally is a restraining order, which can be ineffective. One expert referred to restraining orders this way: “they should be renamed the ‘last will and testament’ as she pointed to a stack of them taken out by women who were later killed by their partners. . .in just they way they predicted.”

Why don’t the women run away? Many women are too frightened to leave. They fear they will be found (one recounted that her husband was “trained by the U.S. Marine Corps to hunt people down”). If they leave and are found, the retaliation will escalate. After a prolonged period of abuse, the victim feels helpless and unworthy.

Many victims are also greatly weakened and damaged as a result of repeated beatings. Often they suffer the effects of traumatic brain injury, or TBI. In an article in The New Yorker the writer discusses:

How the emotional component of T.B.I. in cases of domestic violence complicates the lives of survivors. Veterans, for example, have the benefit of a support network when they’re injured. Family, friends, medical personnel, and fellow-survivors are all explicit supporters of the injured party. But domestic violence continues to be seen as a mostly private issue. One woman I spoke with, whose ex had been found guilty of torture and was given a life sentence, talked about the shame she felt knowing that she’d ended up in an abusive relationship. “I was profoundly embarrassed,” she says. “You think of someone who’s poor, who’s uneducated, who doesn’t have resources. I thought if I could get him to change back, I wouldn’t have to tell people about it.” This emotional component can haunt victims for years. “That trauma of knowing someone you love is willing to take your last breath,” she says. “How do you live with that?”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, more than 1 in 3 women (35.6 percent) and more than 1 in 4 men (28.5 percent) in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

[A]n estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year. And nearly half of all women in U.S. (48.4%) have experienced at least one form of psychological aggression by an intimate partner during their lifetime, with 40.3% reporting some form of expressive aggression (e.g., their partner acted angry in a way that seemed dangerous, told them they were a loser or a failure, insulted or humiliated them), or some form of coercive control (41.1%) by an intimate partner.

There is the mistaken impression that domestic violence is limited to poor or uneducated families. An audiotape played in the HBO documentary of a prominent doctor beating his wife and daughters belies this notion. This is an issue that cuts across all class and racial lines. And as the general prevalence of sexual assault has been highlighted in the national conversation this month, let’s hope that the vulnerability of women and girls will stay in the spotlight. One of the ways to help other women fight and escape all abuse is helping the many victims find their voices. There is power in numbers and we can use it.

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  • Holly October 22, 2016 at 10:21 am

    Thanks! I think there are also parallels between these women’s silence and those who have been sexually assaulted/abused. Even when you are the victim, the shame of it stays with you.

  • Alex MacAaron October 20, 2016 at 3:05 pm

    Thank you for writing about this, Dr. Ford. It’s such an important topic and so misunderstood. A few years ago, I saw this Ted Talk about it, and it really helped me understand the question we all ask, “Why doesn’t she leave?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1yW5IsnSjo

  • Anonymous October 20, 2016 at 12:17 pm

    Thank you, Women’s Voices, for bringing attention to this important film. The issue of domestic violence deserves our attention.