By Linda Lucas, Charleston youth and education advocate
Physical abuse and domestic violence have become all too common or “normalized” in today’s society. According to national statistics, every minute, twenty people become the victims of intimate partner violence or domestic violence. A woman is beaten every nine seconds in the United States. We have moved from first place to fifth place on the national list for the top ten states with domestic violence incidents. This is no honor. An honor would be to have the domestic violence rating and the quality of education rating to switch places. Then our school district would be an exemplary district for others to follow, while the world would see that we recognize and have successfully addressed the epidemic of domestic violence and abuse. As it is, children are victims of this epidemic as well. One in fifteen children are exposed to domestic violence and 60% actually see it. (National Domestic Violence Hotline)
Domestic violence is a relational system of power and control that is forced on one individual by another. It usually results in injury, and sometimes death, to the victim. It may include physical violence, sexual violence, emotional/psychological abuse, and even financial abuse.
Domestic violence is an equal opportunity destroyer. Anyone can become its victim. It can happen in any relationship, no matter the income level, education level, ethnicity, religion, age of the victim, physical functioning, gender or sexual orientation. In most cases, the victims are women. In gay relationships, men are often the victims who are more seriously hurt or killed.
We cannot stop the cycle of domestic violence in our families and community because we cannot control the hearts and minds of those who victimize. But we can greatly reduce, and maybe, in some situations, extinguish the behavior. This can be done with effective counseling, spiritual growth and having a strong support system for accountability. Making the public more aware of the characteristics of domestic violence, domestic abuse and their consequences, may encourage people to be more cautious in forming close relationships. They may also learn how to get help for themselves or for someone else. Other factors that seem to reduce domestic violence, include legislation for stricter penalties for the perpetrator and restrictions to gun access. (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence).
Some of the factors that contribute to domestic violence include: family history; cultural denial that it is a problem; cultural acceptance and expectations for this type of behavior to be practiced. The person chooses to control another person by any means that will allow them to maintain their power over the victim. Alcohol and other drug use might contribute to the abuser’s lack of controlled behavior. Psychological difficulties could trigger violent behavior.
An emotionally “defeated” victim might stay in a domestic violence relationship because of a number of reasons or excuses they have told themselves over the time span of the abuse. They may convince themselves of several opinions: that they are trapped and powerless to leave and live independently; that they are not able to provide for the children; that the children need to have both parents in the home, no matter what it costs ; that they are the cause of the problem and if they change, their partner will do better; that it is against their religion to leave the situation, even temporarily; that they are afraid of what the abusive partner might do to if they and the children leave.
Unfortunately over a period of time, most victims of domestic violence experience some form of emotional or psychological despair which does not allow them to see a way to resolve the situation. This is especially true for the isolated woman who has no help from a support system. A woman who does not feel hopelessly so defeated will not allow this negative “self-talk” to keep her from exploring ways to solve the problem. She might consider leaving the situation to protect herself and her children. Personally, I have had experience with domestic violence in a number of ways. I have counseled victims of domestic violence and was also on the Planning Committee for My Sister’s House in earlier years.
On a more personal note, a younger cousin of mine was murdered by her husband in front of 5 of their 6 little children. He hated that she had left him and was succeeding in a new living situation. Dottie was studying to become a nurse. Her husband was sentenced to only two years in prison. That sentence was typical of South Carolina’s attitude towards domestic violence. Women, especially Black women, are often treated as is they are a man’s property, similar to the treatment of slaves. My mother was victimized by my father when I was a child. I remember it to this day. As a child, I heard adults talking about the violent deaths or beating of women from our community at the hands of their husbands or boyfriends. I couldn’t understand how that could happen, but in those days, kids did not ask adults about adult business. Years later, in spite of my determination to marry someone who would be a good husband, I found myself in a marriage plagued with the terrors of domestic violence. We both had come from the state that did not acknowledge domestic violence as a problem (in the 1970s and 1980s). That state is South Carolina. As a wife, my life was threatened many times. I will not give any graphic details in this writing. I will acknowledge that I did suffer a concussion during one attack. There were other near-death experiences. I always left home after each incident, but, somehow, always allowed myself to believe for the best and would agree to “try again.” Honeymoon phases, in a domestic violence cycle, are powerful. After one incident, I called a pastor at my church because I wanted to do the “right thing.” He assured me that God did not mean for me to stay in a relationship that could cost me my life. I chose life for myself and my child.
While I know that most domestic violence victims may experience various degrees of shame, embarrassment, and other stigmas attached to domestic violence, some of us did not or did not allow it to continue to traumatize our lives like it has done to so many others. You can overcome anything, but first, you have to be alive. As a survivor, I was grateful to be alive and well and to know that I have a purpose for living. Having the love of the Lord, my family and friends in our lives, has made all the difference. A person can overcome the pain of domestic violence with effective counseling, a strong support system and spiritual growth which reassures them of their purpose and importance to God.
Educating people about domestic violence begins at home, then is reinforced in the church, in the schools and in the community. People need to be aware that even bullying is a form of domestic violence if it has the same characteristics described earlier. It is an ongoing demonstration of control of power over another person with whom a close relationship exists. It may also be considered domestic abuse, but the terms, “domestic violence” and “domestic abuse” can be interchangeable. “Violence” usually refers to the display of overt acts against another person.
There are a number of signs and behaviors of physical abuse and domestic violence that we should be aware of in order to identify and protect a victim. The victim may: hide or deny the abuse due to shame or fear; have frequent bruises such as a black eye, a busted lip or defensive arm bruises; make up an evasive response when questioned about these injuries; wear items of clothing that seem inappropriate for the environment such as long-sleeved clothing in the summer or wearing sunglasses while inside of a building; exhibit sleep problems or disturbances; have mood swings and become overly apologetic or anxious; begin to miss important events or activities they once loved; tend to be isolated from family and friends; demonstrate low self-esteem; be cautious when talking about the abuser; engage in drug or alcohol abuse; discuss suicidal thoughts.
If you believe that you may be the victim of domestic violence, the following more passive covert signs may also be included: You may be experiencing bullying and threatening behaviors from your partner;You may experience psychological cut downs or belittling language; You may experience threats and criticisms; You may feel isolated from your family and friends; You may feel that your partner is in control of the money; You are blamed for any physical abuse that takes place.
To get life-saving assistance against the epidemic of domestic violence – call The National Domestic Violence Hotline 800-797-7233 (SAFE), The National Sexual Assault Hotline 800-656-4673 (HOPE), or My Sister’s House-in the Charleston area – 843-744-3242.