There is no doubt that violence against women and children – your moms, your sisters, and your friends – is the fastest rising best-hidden crime in America today. This issue has taken such a back seat that we don’t even have current estimates of the numbers of cases. Estimates from 2001, range from 960,000 incidents of violence against a current or former spouse, or girlfriend per year, to three million women who are physically abused by their husband or boyfriend per year.
Around the world, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime. Nearly one-third of American women (31 percent) report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives. Nearly 25 percent of American women report being raped and/or physically assaulted by a current or former spouse, cohabiting partner, or date at some time in their lifetime. No matter where you get your statistics, or how different they may be from one source to another, they are nonetheless astounding. And, these numbers of domestic abuse are rising to a shocking level in the gay and lesbian communities as well.
Abuse Without Bruises
There is another side to abuse, however, that is even less talked about. It is the kind that does not leave bruises. It is the kind of abuse where one partner railroads a discussion to make it appear his or her bad behavior is your fault. It’s the kind in which one partner controls the finances and keeps the other in the dark about the fact that he or she is putting the family in financial jeopardy. It’s the kind in which one partner creates a feeling of powerlessness fear or dependency in the other through secretive, clandestine behavior or decision-making. It’s the kind in which partner’s are treated as sexual objects instead of beloved partners.
Abuse is not just about hitting; choking; slapping; using a weapon or physically restraining. It can also be about isolation, restricting freedom – controlling contacts with friends and family, access to information and participation in groups or organizations, restricting mobility or monitoring telephone calls.
It can be about constantly criticizing, ridiculing, trying to humiliate or degrade, lying; undermining self-esteem, misleading someone in order to control or exploit. It can be about threats and intimidation, interrogation and economic abuse of making financial decisions without asking or telling partner.
Abuse is about forcing sex or specific acts, pressuring into unwanted sexual behavior, criticizing performance. And it’s about property destruction – destroying mementos, breaking furniture or windows, throwing or smashing objects, trashing clothes or other possessions. It’s about making the environment or the person you live with or are partnered with unsafe in anyway.
Whose Fault Is It
Abuse is always the responsibility of the abuser, even though in the majority of cases, perpetrators of abuse have, more often than not, been abused as children. Once you are an adult, being abusive is a choice and one can choose to heal from his or her abuse of the past, rather than continue the cycle by abusing others. Victims of abuse are often blamed, either because they won’t leave the abuser or because family and friends minimize the problem mainly because they don’t want to deal with the fallout of a broken relationship. Often the abused person feels trapped, either financially or emotionally, or out of a sense of duty he or she continues to make excuses and forgive the behavior. The abused person might even feel responsible for the behavior of the abuser or his or her emotional well being, or may even feel they did something to cause the abuse. This pattern enables the abuser to continue the bad behavior.
What To Do
If you are the person being abused, recognize that you are not responsible for the abuse or for your partner’s emotional state and well-being. In addition, you need to recognize that abuse always escalates if not addressed and stopped. Being abusive is a progressive addictive behavior of someone who feels out of control in some aspect of his or her life and is attempting to regain control in negative ways. Tell someone who will believe you, break the silence and get help, either professional or from your support group of friends. This is not your fault and you are not the one who should be carrying the shame.
If you are the abuser, STOP BEING ABUSIVE in any form. Accept responsibility for your behavior and give yourself the gift of healing the pain inside of you that causes this behavior and results in you feeling bad about yourself. If substance is involved, recognize that this can be a trigger to abusive behavior and seek help. You have the right to heal and feel good about who you are and your quality of life. The first step toward healing the shame inside is to own the behavior and take personal responsibility for stopping it. You are not your abuse or your abusive behavior. You are a person who has the right to an enlightened, joyful life.
© Dr. Dina Bachelor Evan 2008