Martorella: End domestic abuse

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. Having worked with domestic violence victims and offenders for much of the past decade, I am grateful to have a space to discuss this concern every year. It is critical that we all understand the definition of domestic violence so that we can identify it within our relationships and educate our children to do the same.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), “Domestic Violence is willful intimidation, assault, battery, sexual assault or other abusive behavior that is used as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated between one intimate partner against another…including physical violence, sexual violence, threats and emotional or psychological violence.”

In the United States, an average of 20 people are abused by intimate partners every minute. One in three women and one in four men have been abused by an intimate partner.

And it starts early. Studies indicate that 1 in 3 teenage relationships involve physical or emotional abuse, and 57% of teens say they know somebody who has been physically or emotionally abused by a dating partner.

In Connecticut alone, one-third of all criminal court cases involve family violence. Tallies for one year (2014) showed 46,750 victims were served by domestic violence relief programs. In one day in 2014, Connecticut shelters served 1109 people. 44 were turned away because of lack of resources. I work with families across the entire Southwest region from Greenwich to Bridgeport. Our local shelters are full. All the time.

Because the definition of domestic violence extends far beyond the images of explosive fighting that may initially pop into our minds, I prefer to use the term “domestic abuse” in my discussions. While physically abusive behaviors are more identifiable and often result in outside interventions from police or child protective services, emotional abuse may be more difficult to recognize in ourselves and easier to hide from outsiders.

Emotional abuse is manipulative behavior used to make one’s partner feel inferior, at fault, and deserving of poor treatment. Emotional abusive behaviors include constant criticism, humiliation, and mean, inappropriate or demeaning comments; disregard of a partner’s feelings, dreams, accomplishments, and opinions; giving disapproving or intimidating looks; sharing personal information outside the relationship in order to embarrass or disgrace; isolating a partner from friends or family or making one’s partner feel bad for wanting to do anything without them; controlling a partner’s behaviors or constantly checking up on them via text or phone; and blaming one’s partner for one’s own problems or unhappiness.

Another more discreet form of abusive behavior is financial abuse. Although reported to occur in 98% of abusive relationships, financial abuse is known as the “silent form of domestic violence” because it is so rarely recognized or discussed.

Financial abuse goes beyond just keeping a tight hold on the family purse strings. It can include preventing a partner from earning or keeping an income, running up debt on a joint account or draining a partner’s funds, denying a partner access to money or making them beg or commit crimes or “favors” for money, making a partner account for every penny spent or not permitting them to spend money on necessities, or insisting all or no accounts are in the partner’s name. A victim of financial abuse can suffer short-term struggles with limited financial resources and a lack of necessary items, but there are also many long-term consequences such as restricted freedom to leave the relationship, limited knowledge about one’s financial status, lack of job experience, damaged credit, significant debt, and low self-esteem.

From the outside, many wonder why someone would stay in an abusive relationship. But from within, there are many reasons. Love and emotional connections, the effects on children, the logistical strains of leaving especially with limited finances and support systems, social isolation or embarrassment, and fear of one’s partner retaliating either physically or emotionally (even through children or social networks) are among the most common.

But the stress of an emotionally abusive relationship can take quite a toll, causing illness, depression and even long-term emotional trauma for victims and their children. That’s why it is important to recognize abusive behaviors and reach out for help.

If you notice signs of abuse within your own relationship or that of someone you care about, talk about it and seek help. There are many counseling services across the area that can provide individual or couple counseling for both the victim and the abuser before it escalates, as well as local crisis services to help a victim establish safety more immediately.

For confidential assistance and information, contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).  

If you are in crisis, contact Domestic Violence Crisis Center of Stamford/Norwalk at (203) 588-9100 or (203) 853-0418 or Greenwich YWCA Domestic Abuse Services (203) 622-0003.

We all have a right to feel safe and secure in our homes and relationships. Domestic abuse is never acceptable and never deserved. Visit www.ncadv.org for more information on domestic abuse definitions and statistics, resources, and how you can help support victims of domestic abuse during October and beyond.

Rebecca Martorella, LMFT welcomes ideas and comments and can be reached at [email protected]

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