Knowledge is power
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This awareness effort began in 1981. The Violence Against Women Act was passed in 1994. I write about it every year right here. But it is now 2019, and still so many remain misinformed or just unaware about the scope of this experience, as well as the supports available. While we seem to be getting more comfortable discussing previously taboo subjects such as mental health, sexual orientation, and parenting fails, domestic violence remains hidden behind closed doors and picket fences.
Maybe it’s the term “domestic violence” that allows us to proclaim “not me” when there is no physical violence in our relationships—none of the black eyes, bloodied lips, or bruises that we’ve seen in the movies. No tragic drama that we read about in the news that ends in the death of the victim, sometimes along with their family members and even the perpetrator. These horrifying, BIG stories provide yet another buffer from recognizing domestic violence in our own homes and neighborhoods. But it’s here. To date in 2019 alone, Darien has had 46 domestic violence-related police reports, resulting in 16 arrests.
I prefer to use the term “domestic abuse,” which recognizes that behaviors need not be physical to be abusive. Another term gaining favor is “coercive control” because ultimately, abuse within relationships is about using power to exert control over one’s partner.
Power comes in many forms, and inequalities in power can be leveraged to keep another down, dependent, scared, immobile, and insecure in many ways.
Physical violence may be the first thing that comes to mind when we think of domestic abuse, but most abuse is much less obvious. Stoking the fear of physical violence through intimidation and threats is as abusive as actual physical contact. Destroying property or abusing pets send a message to the receiver that they could be next.
Psychological abuse may be the most expansive, and possibly the most devastating, as it can chip away at one’s confidence and make one feel that the abuse is deserved. Emotionally-abusive behaviors include constant criticism, humiliation, or insults; disregarding a partner’s opinions, dreams, or accomplishments; minimizing a partner’s concerns or blaming them for one’s own actions; passive-aggressive communication and gaslighting; isolating a partner from friends, family, and support systems, e.g, by “encouraging” them to stop working, moving to another state, or monitoring or restricting phone access (no landline, limited cell service, cancelling phone service, sharing a cellphone). An abusive partner may also involve the children, by undermining or badmouthing the other parent or limiting/threatening to limit access to the kids.
Financial abuse is known as the “silent form of domestic violence” because it is so rarely recognized or discussed, although it has been found to occur in 98% of abusive relationships. This goes well beyond keeping a strict budget. It can include preventing a partner from earning an income; limiting access to accounts, cash, or credit cards; insisting all or no assets are in a partner’s name; or running up debt on a joint account or draining a partner’s funds. Financial abuse can also be seen in family courts when one partner keeps filing motion after motion to run up legal bills and wear down the financial and psychological capacity of the other during divorce or custody proceedings.
Contrary to what some may think, it’s not easy to leave an abusive relationship. Often victims have given up careers and taken on the majority of caretaking responsibility for the children, leaving them less confident about starting over on their own. Victims can feel trapped by financial dependence and lack of work experience, concern about personal reputation, fear of seeking shelter or uprooting the children, or a lack of perceived outside supports. And of course, they are often fueled by love and the hope for change, both of which the abuser may profess in their apologies again and again.
But there is help. Knowledge of abusive behaviors and resources can begin to level the playing field for those who feel powerless. If you notice signs of abuse within your own relationship or that of someone you care about, reach out and seek support. Counseling services across the area can provide individual or couple counseling for both victim and abuser before it escalates. Local crisis services listed below can help a victim establish safety more immediately. Also note that it is now possible to text 911 in Connecticut if you are in danger and do not feel safe calling.
We all have a right to feel safe and secure in our homes and relationships. Domestic Abuse is never acceptable and never deserved.
For confidential assistance and information, contact:
Connecticut State 24-hour hotline - 1-888-774-2900
Domestic Violence Crisis Center (DVCC) - (203) 853-0418
Greenwich YWCA Domestic Abuse Services - (203) 622-0003
The Center for Family Justice - (203) 334-6154