Women abuse, often referred to as battering, is the most common and least reported crime in the United States (“Newsletter of the Vermont Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women”, September, 1980). Control is at the center of violent behavior. Men use violence against women to exert and maintain control and power in the marital dyad. The fact that so many individual men feel entitled to express their frustrations or anger by being violent to so many individual women illustrates the power men continue to hold over women. Although in society there is clear evidence indicating that there are some women to are the victimizers of domestic violence, the research findings prove that it is in fact men who are the majority of the perpetrators. Thousands of daily acts of violence throughout the country create a climate of fear and powerlessness that limits women’s freedom of action and controls many of the movements in their lives. Another important fact to be noted yet is underreported is that race, class of women plays a crucial role in their vulnerability towards the victimization of domestic violence. People in positions of power (usually white, affluent men) dismiss violence done to women of color as insignificant (Griffin, S. 1979). Women of color, poor women, divorced women and lesbians, for example, are believed and respected less than white, financially stable, married, heterosexual women in court. Psychological and physical abuse accelerates when the more positive controlling actions stop working. Domestic violence has been around for a very long time. It is only recently that women are beginning to speak out and report incidences of domestic violence in the home. The only way to effect change in terms of domestic violence is for people to speak out. As long as women don’t talk about this behavior, it continues to happen (Chessler, S. Jewish News, October 2nd, 2014). FBI statistics indicate that every fifteen seconds, a woman is beaten by her husband or boyfriend. Nearly one-third of female homicide victims are killed by their husbands or boyfriends (The Boston Women's Health Book Collective, 1994). As one battered woman wrote on her husband’s violence, “I man be his excuse, but I have never been his reason.”
Battering takes on many forms. The majority of women who are battered are abused repeatedly by the same person. As time passes, these beatings often increase in frequency and severity. Abuse that will be focused on in this article are physical and psychological abuse. What are the differences? There are more likely obvious physical signs with physical abuse such as bruises, cuts and broken bones. These symptoms are more easily identified, and therefore, can be more credible when a women reports abuse to the authorities. There is not enough room in this article to elaborate (yet more discussion is warranted) to prove that many women are not taken seriously by police when reports of domestic violence are made. This leaves many women as well as their children to remain in harms way by the man of the house.
Psychological abuse is much harder to detect, especially when the abuser is using passive-aggressive strategies to undermine the power and self-esteem of the victim. This experience can leave a woman feeling ashamed, embarrassed, and loss of sense of self (Welwood, 2006.) A bruise on the body surface can heal, but the emotional devastation that comes along with both physical and psychological abuse leaves spiritual scarring that can last for a lifetime. Examples of this type of abuse are: when a controlling person uses an anger tactic to evoke a response in the victim, the victim then being the one to get the punishment for speaking up, and then the abuser shutting down the victim perpetuates the victim’s silence, as well as tolerance of repeated exposure to evocation. Other examples are: name calling, withholding (i.e. sexual, financial), blaming or accusing, judging, criticizing or disparaging, trivializing, threatening, undermining, ordering, forced isolation, or even stalking (Evans, 2002).
In order to provide compassion and understanding to your clients who are experiencing domestic violence, it is important to learn more about how the cycle of abuse occurs in the first place. For example, how do men learn violence at home? Many men who batter saw their fathers abuse their mothers and many women who are abused have grown up in families where make power was never questioned and physical punishment “in the name of love” was accepted. When our families teach us to accept male power in all its forms, the message is is difficult to defy. What makes the problem so complex is that the men who do the battering are the people with whom we have been so close to or intimate, perhaps father of our children. We may still be bound to love and loyalty. We remain in the home not only because the men won’t let us leave, but also because we hope that the episode will be the last one. We hope that things will get better, that or men will change. We make excuses for their behavior. We don’t leave home because, what will we do with the children? How will be live, and supports ourselves and our families without the primary breadwinner’s income that often times comes from the husband.
Where will we go? How safe are we after we leave? If we file a restraining order, are we more or less protected? The more we start to investigate all of the complex aspects of survival, we realize there are more questions than answers. To find meaning in these women’s plight, and let it not be in vain, it is our responsibility to continue to explore real solutions to these ongoing problems which are affecting women and children encountering domestic violence.
When addressing the topic of abuse, it is vital to better understand the magnitude of psychological damage it has on women and children. The severity and frequency, as well as the type of abuse (physical vs. psychological or combination of both) plays a big part in determining the toll domestic violence has on its victims. When a woman is exposed to repeated trauma such as battering, the list of negative consequences are endless. Some examples to mention are: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Major Depression, Situational Anxiety, powerlessness, inability to be focused, and low self-esteem to name a a few symptoms. The overall impact of abuse is exacerbated by whether or not the children are victims of the abuse from the father, possibly emotionally neglected by the abused mother, or are witnesses of the repetitive incidences of domestic violence. Any or all of the case scenarios are extremely detrimental to the physical, psychological and emotional well being of the family members affected by abuse.
When a woman seeks mental counseling to help her heal from the abuse, psychological testing is strongly indicated in order to thoroughly assess the woman’s mental condition. This would be an appropriate referral to a Ph.D. psychologist who is experienced with screening for identification of the woman’s emotional aftermath of the abuse. One example of a psychological test to measure the presence of strength of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality-2 (MMPI). A psychologist or clinical social worker can also evaluate the woman’s depth of depression and suicide potential, and treat the symptoms appropriately, taking the necessary precautions. Ongoing outpatient psychotherapy to help fight against the PTSD symptoms is also strongly recommended. In some extreme cases, a patient may need to be admitted for inpatient intensive psychotherapy if the patient appears to be at risk for self-harm.
These referrals are applicable to children affected by domestic violence as well. Please keep in mind that when making a referral for a child to seek counseling, selecting a clinician who specializes in treating children survivors of abuse is going to be what is best choice for the child in need of support services. An effective therapist will be able to assist your client in learning how coping skills, cognitive structuring, and exposure help build confidence, desensitize and overcome fears, and see one’s self, others, and the world in a less fearful and/or depressing way (Jongsma and Peterson, 2006).
When talking with your clients, try to empathize with their struggle to deal with the disturbing presence of such toxic abusers. Let them know to remain composed in the face of unreasonableness, which will help her client figure out what species of difficulty she’s dealing with. It is advantageous for your client to predict the specific emotional trap being set for her, which is her passport to getting her own power back. Maintaining one’s sense of self, as well as staying calm amidst the chaos are the goals to work towards (“The High Art of Handling Problem People”, Marano, June 2012).
What to Do:
- Defend and protect yourself, especially your head and stomach.
- Fight back only if you judge that it won’t make him hurt you more.
- Call for help. Scream or, if you can get away, run to the nearest home or person, say you are being hurt and that you need help.
- Call the police, or have someone else do it; the police have a responsibility to protect you.
- Call your local crisis hotline to find out about a battered women’s shelter in your area.
- Pack an emergency bag in your car, or at a trusted friend, family member or neighbor’s home. Pack daily living essentials such as toiletries, and changes of clothing for mom and children, as well as important documents such as contacts, and any kind of proof that abuse has taken place.
- Read book on the subject; many written by women provide good guidelines for building confidence.
- Strengthen your body with good nutrition and regular exercise, preferable with some combination of aerobics and weight training.
- Create a strong social network to serve as a buffer between you and your perpetrator, as well as giving you feedback on how you can empower yourself to get away from the abuse.
- Seek professional counseling from a qualified and trained mental health professional who has extensive experience working with women who have suffered from domestic violence.
Finally, to heal the emotional scars of abuse, we need to tell our stories to people who understand deeply what we have to experienced. Talking to others in counseling, or support groups for women with a history of domestic violence breaks the silence, helps us gain perspectives and know we are not alone, and eases the pain. Women who utilize these tools feel healthier and stronger. It gives them hope for a better future. As a society as a whole, we must not look at domestic abuse as a male to female, or female to male issue, but rather as a collective problem of humankind that must be talked about more openly, and brought out of the closet of the secrets of abuse. No woman is safe until we are all safe.
If you or someone you know relates to the content above, you can reach out to Rebecca Hayman by calling 248-459-9191.