October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This is a tough topic but one that must be addressed. Although this article will focus primarily on female victims of abuse, it’s important to recognize that not all aggressors are male. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner. The cycle of violence often ends in death of the victim.
Abusive relationships often start with minor incidents that escalate over time. Signs of a controlling/abusive relationship:
•Isolation (controlling how and where partner spends time; prohibiting access to family and friends)
•Emotional abuse (put-downs, blaming)
•Economic abuse (preventing partner from getting a job or withholding funds for daily living expenses)
•Intimidation (through gestures, looks, destroying personal property, abuse/torture of pets)
•Threats (including threats to harm or take away children)
Physical violence is often cyclical in a relationship. Generally there are 3 phases:
Tension Building Phase (arguments and threats)–> Acute Battering Phase (violent episodes usually causing injury) –> Honeymoon Phase (a period of relative calm where the abuser apologizes, promises to change and is kind toward the victim)
If you are in a controlling or abusive relationship, you have the power to make a decision. If you haven’t yet reached a decision, there are some practical, in-the-moment safety considerations if tension is building with the aggressor:
• Avoid rooms containing potential weapons (such as kitchen or garage)
• Avoid rooms with no outside doors (bathroom, bedroom)
• Coach children in advance with age-appropriate information (such as staying in bedroom during argument, going to a trusted relative, neighbor, or friend or calling 911)
Violence often escalates when the victim tries to leave. A victim considering leaving a violent relationship should have a safety plan:
• Discuss safety and legal options in advance with an advocacy center or shelter
• Research options for escaping on a safe computer (such as public library)
• Identify 2 or 3 trusted individuals who can help if a crisis occurs (someone the abuser doesn’t know about)
• Call police (documentation of the violent incident)
• Obtain a protection order
If you are concerned about a friend or family member in a violent relationship, let her know you’re concerned for her safety and offer support. But understand that victims leave when they are ready and feel it is safe. There are many reasons why a victim might not feel ready to leave, such as economic, threats of further harm by partner to the victim or victim’s children. The victim might also experience self-blame, believing that she caused the abuser’s rage, or feels emotionally responsible for the batterer. The victim might also be in the “honeymoon phase” where she believes the batterer’s promise to change. The dynamics of intimate partner violence are complex. Education, awareness and seeking the appropriate professional and legal help are the keys to freeing victims from abusive relationships.
If you are in an abusive relationship and would like to get help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, open 24/7: 1-800-799-SAFE(7233) or visit www.thehotline.org from a safe computer. You are not alone!
This article is intended for general education purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional counseling or medical care. If you are interested in seeking professional counseling, please call The Stone Foundation at 410-296-2004.
Elicia McIntyre, a licensed clinical social worker, and graduate of Smith College School for Social Work, has 15 years’ experience providing counseling to adults, children and families in the Baltimore-Washington metro area. She has helped clients navigate life transitions, depression, anxiety and relationship difficulties. Elicia helps couples increase emotional intimacy, and foster healthy connections among family members. She has spent the past 3 years traveling nationally and overseas, providing education and intervention to military service members and their families on communication, stress management and building healthy relationships.