This October marks the 30th anniversary of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. While we aren’t exactly celebrating a month focused on bringing awareness to the reality of domestic violence, it is critical that we have a forum to educate victims and offenders, and connect them to the many resources available in our community.
I use this space every year to discuss this important issue, so this column may be repetitive for some of you. But for others, it may be news. It may be the first time they recognize the signs in their own relationships, the first time a victim feels that they can safely ask for help, the first time an offender admits the need for change.
You may not expect that it happens here, but it does. It happens behind our stately doors and picket fences. It happens in our schools and teenage parties. There is no “typical” abusive relationship. Women are victims, men are victims, children are victims.
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 one in three 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.
Domestic abuse is not just physical, not by a long shot. While physical abuse is more identifiable and often results in outside interventions from police or child protective services, other kinds of abusive behavior are prevalent in unhealthy relationships but 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 including 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 (even more easily done now via social media); 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.
Financial abuse is another discreet behavior that, although reported to occur in 98% of abusive relationships, 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 at all, 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, as well as 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 such as 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 retaliation either physically or emotionally (even through children or social networks).
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. You are not alone.
If you notice signs of abuse within your own relationship or that of someone you care about, seek help. For confidential assistance and information, contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or dial 211 for a list of local services that can provide individual or couple counseling for both victim and abuser before it escalates, as well as local crisis services to help a victim establish safety more immediately.
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 at 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]