Domestic violence remains a huge and largely hidden problem. The purple ribbons you may have seen recently on car bumpers and people’s lapels are to remind us that someone is physically, sexually, psychologically or verbally abused by an intimate partner every 15 seconds. It crosses all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines, and it happens in both heterosexual and homosexual partnerships. Although women are more often targeted by men, there are also men who are victimized by their female or male intimate partners and women who are battered and manipulated by their female partners.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, in the United States, 1.3 million women and 830,000 men are assaulted each year by people they believe love them. In a 2005 survey, the Centers for Disease Control found that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men are victims of domestic violence at some point.
It goes on in teen couples as well as in adult relationships. One study found that 1 in 5 high school girls reported being physically or sexually abused by a dating partner. Another study of teen dating behavior found that 3 out of 5 teens say they’ve had a boyfriend or girlfriend who made them feel bad or embarrassed about themselves.
Victims often don’t complain. Their partners may have instilled such fear in them that they don’t dare say anything. Or, they have become so inured to the manipulation and violence that they don’t recognize they are victims. Sadly, it is often only when someone has become seriously hurt or has an emotional breakdown that friends, family members, or professionals even realize what is going on.
Things are getting better. Since the 1994 passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), there has been increased awareness of the problem. More proactive measures are being taken to identify and help victims. It’s now common for medical professionals to ask people if anyone is hurting them as part of a routine physical as well as when someone is injured. School counselors, nurses, and teachers are becoming educated to the signs that a child is being traumatized or hurt and are taking steps to intervene. Mental health counselors are more sensitive to the issue and more sophisticated in encouraging their patients to talk about what they’d rather not talk about.
But we have a long way to go. In this year’s proclamation, President Obama noted that
“[… t]he ramifications of domestic violence are staggering. Young women are among the most vulnerable, suffering the highest rates of intimate partner violence. Exposure to domestic violence puts our young men and women in danger of long-term physical, psychological, and emotional harm. Children who experience domestic violence are at a higher risk for failure in school, emotional disorders, and substance abuse, and are more likely to perpetuate the cycle of violence themselves later in life.”
Often the abuser doesn’t understand that his or her behavior is in fact abusive. Raised in a family where abuse was business as usual, they don’t recognize their manipulative or overt efforts to control others as abnormal. Not having been brought up in a loving and secure family, they don’t know how to be secure and comfortable in their partner’s love.
When things go well, all is well. But when angered or threatened by real or imagined slights, they lose it – just as they watched the adults of the previous generation lose it. Some are then remorseful and apologetic. They mean well. They want to do better than was done to them. But they can’t hold onto their good intentions when upset. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much to upset them.
The Cycle of Violence
The victims are on the other side of this interaction. Sometimes the buildup of psychological and verbal abuse is subtle and gradual. Over time, the person they love undermines their self-esteem and makes them feel more and more dependent. The victim really doesn’t see it coming.
In other cases, the victim comes from a long history of childhood victimization. Like most people, she or he was drawn to the familiar when drawn to a mate. For them, being yelled at, put down, coerced into sex or taken advantage of is just more of the same.
This is what is meant by the “cycle of violence.” With somewhere between 3.3 and 10 million children witnessing some form of domestic violence every year, it’s understandable that many of those kids learn to accept abuse as normal.” The pattern of abuser/victim is thus bumped from generation to generation. Unless someone in the family gets angry enough or desperate enough to call in help, or unless someone outside the family intervenes, the behaviors continue to the detriment of the individuals involved and to society as a whole. Violence in families is linked to high rates of substance abuse and addictions, mental illness, suicides, and sexual acting out as well as criminal behaviors.
The cycle of violence can be stopped.
The cycle of violence can be stopped. Victims can be helped to find the strength to seek and accept protection, advice, and practical help from their local shelters and mental health clinics. Abusers can learn how to appropriately express anger and how to be loving partners by attending programs for partners against violence or therapy. Couples can learn how to be loving and supportive partners and parents through couples counseling and parent education classes. And children of abusive relationships can be healed when their parents get themselves and the children into treatment.
When domestic violence is known in an extended family or in a network of friends, there is no such thing as being an innocent bystander. To know about abuse and do nothing is to enable and support it. Family, friends, and professionals who are concerned about a family can and should help them face the issues and get the help they need.
Anyone can become a member of the purple ribbon campaign to help stop the cycle of family violence. To learn how to increase awareness in your community, contact the international organization by clicking here. Even wearing a purple ribbon or putting one on your car helps stop the silence that surrounds domestic violence and lends support to the millions of people who are grappling with the problem.
Victims who need help and support to stay safe can call the national Resource Center on Domestic Violence at 800-537-2238 or visit their website.
S.A.F.E. concentrates on domestic violence against straight men, gay men, and lesbians.