According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), approximately 33% of women have been victims of domestic violence. This figure is misleading as it is based on official reports. Many victims do not come forward for fear of greater violence. If the 33% figure does not resonate with you, let me put it this way- your sister, mother, friend, cousin, co-worker, mentor, teacher, or loved one has probably been abused at some point in her life. She has been pushed, punched, slapped, yelled at, demeaned, and threatened by the person she calls ‘partner.’ That’s not true, you say? They would have told you, right? They didn’t even tell the police. They picked themselves up off the floor and washed the tears off their face, put peroxide on their wounds, left a message for their boss to let them know they would not be at work the next day, then proceeded to make their abuser dinner so that he would not get angry again. The truth is that this crime is being perpetrated in households all across the United States. Domestic violence does not discriminate. Whether you live in the most expensive house or public housing, violence may very well knock at your door. Rich/poor, black/white, Christian/Muslim, gay/straight, domestic violence knows no bounds. And so the victim puts on her mask and follows her script as society expects her to do.
For those of us on the outside, we think that if we were ever violated by a husband, boyfriend, or partner, we would never stay. I can just hear it now. “Girl, if he ever puts his hands on me, that’s it! I’m walking away!” Easier said than done. Many women do not walk away. One must first understand the psyche of victims to understand why. The reasons are many. Perhaps she does not have the courage to leave due to low self-esteem. Maybe she is a stay at home mom and leaving means a loss of financial support and living in a shelter. Then there are feelings of embarrassment. Leaving means admitting to the outside world that she failed at her relationship and ‘allowed’ her man to hit her. Then there is fear. A large number of abused women are stalked by their partners while they are together and/or after they leave their abuser. There is a constant fear that their abuser will find them and kill them because they had the courage to leave. And lastly, there is love. You loved him enough to say ‘I do’ or remain in a relationship with him or raise a family together. These are all extremely complex reasons so we simply cannot judge the actions of victims. What we can do is help. We can increase our awareness of this terrible issue so that we know the signs if a friend or loved one is ever a victim. We can offer assistance. If a victim is afraid to call the police, there are other resources available. The National Domestic Violence Hotline for example, may be reached at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has many resources. Their website is www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention.
Be a good friend. Don’t turn your back because you never know when you may need the same.
Barnett, O.W & LaViolette, A.D. (1993). It could happen to anyone: Why battered women stay. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Understanding intimate partner violence fact sheet. Washington, DC: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Follingstad, D., Runge, M., Ace, April, Buzan, Robert, & Helff, Cindy. (2001). Justifiability, sympathy level, and internal/external locus of the reasons battered women remain in abusive relationships. Violence and Victims, 16 (6), 621-644.
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. (2014). Domestic violence fact sheet. Colorado: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Note: While this article focuses primarily on female victims due to the fact that they represent the majority of domestic violence victims, the author acknowledges that some men also experience victimization at the hands of an intimate partner.