Domestic Violence Awareness Month
“But he doesn’t hit me.”
I have heard that statement more often than I could count. Sitting in my office at Ancora, I mask my wincing response as my client tells me this. Domestic violence is so much more complex than physical abuse. I prepare myself to provide education.
My counseling career began at a domestic violence agency in California. I answered the crisis line, speaking to individuals who were considering leaving their partners. I also provided individual therapy to children and adults who were living in our shelter. I provided psychoeducation groups on domestic violence, providing information including statistics, myths, the warning signs of domestic violence, and how to get out.
The stories from the survivors have stuck with me.
Although I left the domestic violence field, this concern continued to present itself in my counseling sessions, both in community mental health and at Ancora. It may come out as part of a trauma narrative from childhood, a trigger for substance abuse, a reason for living on the streets, or an impact on mental health. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some sort of intimate partner violence (more studies need to be done regarding non-cis, trans, and queer communities). Domestic violence is pervasive in our communities.
In the process of trying to end domestic violence, it’s important to dispel some myths.
- As alluded above, domestic violence isn’t always physical abuse. Extreme jealousy, possessiveness, controlling behavior, demeaning or humiliating statements, and isolation can all be abuse, among other behaviors.
- Males are not always the perpetrators. Women can be the aggressors in the relationship. It’s less about gender and more about someone’s ability for violence and their preference for power and control over their partner.
- Domestic violence isn’t exclusive to heterosexual relationships, either. Gay, bisexual, poly, and kink relationships can all have domestic violence in them.
- ”They just need anger management.” Unlike someone with explosive anger, DV perpetrators are quite in control. They often calculate how and when to hit their victim to best perpetuate power and exert control as well as keep themselves safe, such as aiming blows to areas covered by clothing.
- It’s not easy to “just leave”. These relationships are complex. One example, if the perpetrator has taken all of your money and credit cards, hides your keys, and threatens either yourself or those you love (pets, children), there are a lot of reasons to stay. Be patient with loved ones going through this. Be patient with yourself. On average, it takes 7 attempts for someone to leave a DV relationship.
- Restraining orders are helpful, they create a paper trail, but they do not protect the victim if there is an active safety risk. One survivor once recalled a time that her abuser found her and laughed when she reminded him of the restraining order. It is, at the end of the day, paper. Not a shield. Not a bulletproof vest.
- You can “tell” when someone is an abuser or will be an abuser. False. While there are warning signs, often abusers are very charming people. They may even have periods of time where they act like the ideal mate, showering you with affection, attention, and gifts. This behavior is what brings someone into a relationship and often what makes them stay. It also complicates the reporting process. “But they seem so nice”, is also a common refrain.
There is help out there. One of many reason people stay in domestic violence relationships is due to fears of lack of resources and questions of where or who they would turn to. The control aspect of the relationship often leaves the victim estranged from friends and family. Here in Washington County, we have the Domestic Violence Resource Center, offering crisis services, resources, and shelter to individuals fleeing DV relationships.
Additional resources and education is below. Please note that each of these sites have a “quick exit” feature in the event someone is looking over your shoulder. And be aware that browser history can be a way of abusers tracking your online activity.
Be gentle with yourself.
Washington County Domestic Violence Resource Center: https://www.dvrc-or.org/
This is an individualized safety plan to help conceptualize how you can safely manage a DV relationship: https://ncadv.org/personalized-safety-plan A more in-depth one, focused on leaving, can be done with a worker at the DVRC or with Ancora clinicians.
Oregon Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence: https://www.ocadsv.org/
An article on Domestic Violence and Traumatic Brain Injury: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/05/30/613779769/domestic-violence-s-untold-damage-concussion-and-brain-injury
A reminder that domestic violence is a form of trauma: https://ancoratherapy.com/2018/08/22/ptsd-and-trauma/