October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which first began in 1981 and was started by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence as a Day of Unity to connect battered women’s advocates across the country. Domestic violence (also called intimate partner violence (IPV), domestic abuse, or relationship abuse) is defined as a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.

Who Is Affected by Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence does not discriminate. It affects millions. Anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender can be a victim of domestic violence. It can happen to people who are married, living together, or dating. It affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels.

The first step in recognizing victims of domestic violence is being aware of the issue. Then, we can be a people who sees them and provides a sanctuary of hope.

What Is Considered Domestic Violence?

Domestic abuse is taking control of another to the point that they think they cannot survive on their own. It’s intentionally causing another to feel less-than and unworthy. It’s the emotional abuse of insults and name calling. It’s isolating a person from their support system (i.e., family and friends).

Domestic violence includes behaviors that physically harm, provoke fear, prevent a partner from doing what they wish, or force them to behave in ways they do not want. It includes the use of physical and sexual violence, threats and intimidation, emotional abuse, and economic deprivation.

What Is the Impact of Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence has a great impact on its victims, both physically and emotionally. Also, domestic violence occurs more often than we would like to admit. Here are some ways it impacts our society and abuse victims.

The Impact by the Numbers

National statistics taken by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV):

  • On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. In one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.
  • 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of [some form of] physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime.
  • On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide.
  • Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime.

The Physical and Mental Impact

Physical, mental, and sexual and reproductive health effects have been linked with intimate partner violence, including HIV, STIs, unintended pregnancy, miscarriage, stillbirth, intrauterine hemorrhage, nutritional deficiency, abdominal pain and other gastrointestinal problems, neurological disorders, chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and noncommunicable diseases such as hypertension, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases.

Studies also suggest that there is a relationship between intimate partner violence and depression and suicidal behavior. Victims of domestic violence are also at higher risk for developing addictions to alcohol, tobacco, or drugs.

What Are Common Traits of Abusers?

We are inundated with stories about domestic violence on the nightly news. Anyone can be an abuser. They come from all groups, all cultures, all religions, all economic levels, and all backgrounds. It is important to note that the majority of abusers are only violent with their current or past intimate partners.

Although anyone can be an abuser, there is no typical, detectable personality of an abuser. However, they do often display common characteristics.

  • Abusers often deny the existence or minimize the seriousness of the violence and its effect on their victims and other family members.
  • Abusers objectify their victims and often see them as their property or sexual objects.
  • Abusers have low self-esteem and feel powerless and ineffective in the world. They may appear successful, but internally, they feel inadequate.
  • Abusers externalize the causes of their behavior. They blame their violence on circumstances such as stress, their partner’s behavior, a “bad day,” or the usage of alcohol and drugs.
  • Abusers may be pleasant and charming between periods of violence and are often seen as a “nice person” to others outside the relationship.

If you are wondering if you are in a relationship with an abuser, there are warning signs you might be able to detect in your relationship. Some warning signs include extreme jealousy and possessiveness, the need to control all aspects of your life, unpredictable behavior, the abuse of animals or children, and the placement of blame on others (especially you) when bad things happen. For more warning signs, check out Signs of Abuse by the NCADV.

What Are the Risks of Leaving for Domestic Violence Victims?

When talking about victims of domestic violence, many ask the question, “why don’t they just leave?” This question is hurtful to the victims because leaving is not always as easy as it seems. The average domestic violence survivor attempts to leave seven times before permanently and successfully ending the relationship.

While it is best for victims to do what they can to escape their abusers, this is not the case in all situations. Abusers repeatedly go to extremes to prevent the victim from leaving. In fact, leaving an abuser is the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence. One study by the U.S. Department of Justice found that either threats of separation by their partner or actual separations were most often the precipitating events that lead to the murder of victims of domestic violence.

How Can We Support Domestic Violence Victims?

Whether a victim is trying to leave or staying to survive, the most important thing you can do for a victim of domestic violence is to show up without judgment and condemnation and provide love and support. What they really need is someone to listen to them. Likely, they have been suffering in silence for a long time, and they need to feel heard.

In the beginning, the victim will need someone to sit with them in it. And then they will need someone to help them “fix it.” If you try to skip the listening stage and go straight to “fixing the problem,” they may shut you out. When listening, don’t call the abuser names or talk about how you don’t like them because the victim often loves the abuser and will feel the need to defend them, driving the victim away from safety and you into frustration. Instead, become the victim’s confidante. Listen to everything they tell you and assure them you will keep what they tell you private.

It is equally important to remind the victim of the risks associated with being in an abusive relationship and that you fear for their safety. It is also important to avoid telling the victim to leave because victims are afraid to leave. Instead, talk about a safety plan for when they decide it is time to leave. For more information about how to support domestic abuse victims, you can visit the NCADV website.

To those who have experienced domestic violence: Although your situation may feel hopeless, there is hope, and you deserve a happy, healthy life free of abuse.

Domestic violence plagues not just our nation but the world. This problem will not go away quickly or quietly. We can do our best to shed light on such darkness with hopes of giving a voice to those in their suffering.

If you’re reading this and your personal situation requires more immediate help than this blog allows, please call one of these emergency organizations: For anonymous, confidential help available 24/7, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.7233 (SAFE) or 1.800.787.3224 (TTY), National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.4673, or National Child Abuse Hotline at 1.800.222.4453. Children’s Advocacy Center of Collin County is an incredible local organization with an abundance of resources. They can be reached at 972.633.6600.