Wednesday, October 20, 2010

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Why doesn't she just leave him?  Why doesn't she fight back? These are common questions asked by many who do not understand the fear that a victim of domestic violence lives with on a daily basis.  Those who have not experienced this type of abusive relationship often cannot imagine and ask WHY? In this blog, I hope to both raise awareness, provide some much needed information, and help people understand that help is available to address domestic violence.

In the popular media, movies such as The Burning Bed starring Farrah Fawcett (1994), Enough with Jennifer Lopez (2002), Sleeping with the Enemy starring Julia Roberts ( 1991) and What's Love Got to Do With It (the Tina Turner Story) with Angela Bassett chronicle the stark reality of domestic violence, and in each of these films, the victim gets revenge. In the real world, domestic violence victims are often terrorized, helpless and alone, often with children who depend on them. They are isolated, often have no money or friends, and feel very alone.

Domestic violence, sometimes referred to as spousal abuse, can include actions on the part of the perpetrator that cause physical injury or pain and emotional scars that can last a lifetime. Abusers can be male or female, married or not married, and domestic abuse can even occur in teen dating relationships.  The abuser often uses their violent behavior in order to instill fear or control their victim.  Anyone can be a victim, regardless of their age, religion, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.  Victims can be male or female, although the majority are female. In addition, children who are from families where there is domestic violence are more likely to be abused and/or neglected.  Even if they are not, they have more difficulties in school as well as behavior problems.

According to the website, examples of abuse can include: name calling or insults, stalking, intimidation, sexual assault or abuse, isolation of the victim from outside contacts (job, friends or family), withholding money or strict control of finances, and actual or threatened physical harm or injury.

Many have bad information when it comes to this topic, and I hope to dispel several of these myths.

Myth #1 Some people deserve to be hit. 
FALSE.  Nobody deserves to be the victim of abuse - no matter what they did or said.

Myth #2 Only the poor or minorities are the victim of domestic violence. 
FALSE. Domestic violence can occur in people of all cultures, socioeconomic status and age.

Myth #3 If it were that bad, she would just leave.
FALSE. There are many reasons that victims do not leave. They are often intimidated and have no support system or resources. And little hope.

Myth #4 People are only abusers because of drug abuse or mental illness.
FALSE. Domestic violence is rarely caused by drug or alcohol abuse, but is often used as an excuse.

The abusers are often people with low self-esteem and commonly blame the victim for "making them" do the things they do. They do not take responsibility for their behavior. It is not easy to recognize the abuser, they often appear to be loving and attentive in public. They choose to hit in areas where bruises are not readily visible and punish their victim for perceived slights in public. Most importantly, the abuser uses his/her actions in order to intimidate and control their victim through fear.

But he said he was sorry...he bought me flowers!  This is a common response following an incident of abuse. This is referred to as "The abuse cycle".  First, there is tension where the victim feels that he/she has to walk on eggshells so the abuser does not lose their temper, however, no matter what they do, the cycle has begun and the abuse happens. Next, the abuser wants to apologize and promises it will never happen again...they are going to get help and deal with their anger.  This is often referred to as "The honeymoon phase" and can last from hours, to months. A period of calm follows. Maybe things ARE better.  Inevitably, the tension builds and the cycle starts again. And again. This is not to say people cannot change and a percentage of abusers can be rehabilitated.  If the abuser is not doing anything actively to work on the problem, chances are there is no real change taking place.

It is so important to realize that abuse is against the law. Nobody EVER has the right to physically harm another person. And help is available.

If you or someone you love is the victim of domestic violence, call the domestic violence hotline or call 911 in an emergency.

IMPORTANT: If you are in danger, please use a safe computer, or call 911, your local hotline, or the U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 and TTY 1-800-787-3224.


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