August 27th, 2016 | Brieanna Fernandez
Let’s talk about the times we have pointed fingers and said, “I will never let someone hit me. How do women stay in situations like that?” How many have laughed thinking, “How could a man be a victim when he’s stronger, taller, and faster than her/him?” Let’s talk about it because there are people around us in domestic (DV) or intimate partner violence (IPV) situations and think, “It’s not abuse because they never hit me.”
I want you to think back to your childhood and remember that old saying, “Sticks and Stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me”? As a society, we begin raising our children to believe that as long as the pain is not physical it cannot be damaging. At some time in our lives, we have been called a name or been in a conversation where the words someone spoke did, in fact, hurt our feelings. Imagine what you felt and magnify that by thousands of words inconsistent, yet unpredictable patterns that are aimed like daggers at a person’s self-esteem.
The law has assisted in our society’s beliefs that DV or IPV is only a physical act because those are things that are punishable because they can produce visible proof. For the purpose of this article, DV is any behavior coercive or assaultive that include the following: sexual, physical, psychological acts or economic coercion that a partner or family member will use to gain power in a relationship. IPV will be defined as any of the mentioned acts occurring among former or current intimate partners for the same purpose of gaining power.
How do you measure emotional or psychological damage is the question the courts and lawmakers have asked countless times before. The emotional and psychological damage can be measured and is proven in research done on children who have witnessed DV or IPV in their lives. Many become survivors or perpetrators because of the culture within their home. When the situations are not dealt with because the law does not protect what is not physical.
DV and IPV are present in every race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age group and economic status. It does not discriminate or have prejudices. The culture of the survivors home, family and individuality shapes how they will view domestic violence. The reason for this is because every culture condones domestic violence, while still trying to prevent it from happening.
We, as a society, make the mistake of labeling who can and cannot be a survivor or perpetrator. The only thing that is common for all batterers is the use of tactics to gain and maintain power and control over their partner. Generally, perpetrators are good upstanding citizens only invoking violence and torment against their partner behind closed doors. Normally, we label men as the batterers because of what we see physically.
This dominant perspective gives the imagine that a man could never be a survivor of domestic violence or intimate partner violence. We have created a stigma because of the idea that DV and IPV are physical. Partners can use children to take sides, threaten to take custody or physically or emotionally neglect children to gain control and manipulate their partner. To do this a perpetrator does not need to be bigger or stronger.
So why do women and men stay in these situations? It is simple. Someone has taken control of their lives, whether it be fear, shame, low self-esteem, limited resources, little support or a combination of things. The lines are blurred when it comes to identifying what is abusive.
In situations of economic coercion, the survivor may not have access to money, car or phone. If there are children involved they have no means to escape when they feel they cannot provide a shelter for the children. When a perpetrator is the only way in and out of the home or the bank account it can be hard for the survivor to make a plan to leave.
In terms of verbal and psychological abuse, we tend to lose empathy for survivors because we think that a physical attack is so much worse. When a survivor is broken down mentally there can be serious mental effects such as posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. Research has shown that almost half of survivors will experience name calling and humiliation by their perpetrator in DV and IPV cases.
Survivors, often, become isolated from family and friends because of the things they have said to protect themselves from further abuse and to protect their partner. You may ask yourself, how could someone protect their abuser? These relationships become complicated. Survivors may convince themselves that THEY are the reason the abuse has occurred, that it is not abuse at all and for many, they are confused because they love the perpetrator. Although we can see bruises, we cannot be a fly on the wall for what happens in the privacy of the homes of our survivors or the threats that are made against their lives, children, and family.
We as family and friends have to be able to put aside what society has taught us to break the cycles of abuse. We can add to the stress and victimization by blaming the survivor for the situation growing worse.
We need to learn to empower survivors. Let them know you are there to listen and keep their immediate needs in mind. Don’t judge the situation because each occurrence is different and unique. The survivor is the expert. They know what they can handle and who they are dealing with at home. Point out the strengths that they have! But most importantly take every situation seriously, without minimizing the threat.
Domestic Violence and Intimate Partner Violence is hard to predict because it can happen to anyone of us. 1 out of every 4 women and 1 out of every 7 men will be a victim. It is happening in your own family, circle of friends and among your coworkers. Help others identify that it is more than just physical. Because I bet that someone that will read this may be thinking it cannot be abuse BECAUSE THEY NEVER HIT ME.