The recent video of Ray Rice hitting and knocking his then fiancé unconscious has reminded us all, hopefully, of the prevalence of domestic violence. We can't know everything about their relationship, but one wonders why a woman would choose to marry a man who had previously knocked her unconscious. Domestic violence is an ugly, destructive tangled web.
Families, where many would hope to find security and safety, can sometimes be very dangerous. Some research has found that one in four marriages experience at least one violent episode, most often against the wife. Children are frequently the victims of violent behavior, with millions of cases estimated each year (Burr, Day, & Bahr 1993). Such violence has multiple ramifications. The lives of the victims are threatened in these dangerous situations. In additional to physical harm, abusive relationships create tremendous emotional distress.
There are two aspects of domestic violence which magnify its danger. First, children who grow up in an abusive situation often become abusive themselves. These children become progressively aggressive and are at great risk of becoming perpetrators of murder, rape, assault, spouse abuse, and child abuse. The second aspect is that women in abusive relationships tend to remain with the abuser. Myth suggests these women enjoy being abused. The truth is that several factors contribute to their immobility. These include the following.
Fear of greater danger
Women often worry their abusive partner will hurt them worse or even kill them if they try to leave.
Lack of financial support
Many women don’t have the income or the skills to leave with their children and support themselves.
Pressure from religion
The sanctity of marriage upheld by many religions discourages some women from leaving.
Love for one’s spouse
While it may seem impossible for a woman to love her abuser, the love usually exists before the abuse begins, making it difficult to leave the situation.
A sense of duty and responsibility
Women often feel they are the ones who must save a relationship and provide support to their spouse, and it is difficult to forsake this role.
With these factors taken into consideration, what can a family do when abuse is present? Considering the destruction, both physical and emotional that occurs in abusive situations, it is extremely important you learn what resources are available to help in your efforts to escape domestic violence. The following ideas will help you as you work toward saving yourself and your children.
Some theories have encouraged the idea that humans need to be violent and that holding our aggression back will only cause it to build up and explode. In truth, acting violently becomes habitual. If people can learn strategies for rationally thinking about their anger and stress, they will be able to resolve their problems without lashing out.
By now you may have such a low self-esteem that you feel entirely responsible for your spouse’s behavior and abuse of you. Remember, it is NOT your fault. You did not cause your husband’s or wife’s anger. He has a problem with controlling his own actions and he uses you as an excuse to release feelings of aggression. Abuse often comes from those who have few coping skills, who feel out of control, and who lack self-esteem. You did not cause these characteristics.
Men who abuse their family members have many power issues. They enjoy the control they can have through their violent behavior. They are not going to change on their own. Many women believe that if they behave differently, their spouse will stop abusing them. This is not true. In fact, most violence escalates over time. If you are waiting for your spouse to see the error of his ways and stop abusing you, you will most likely be disappointed. Most men do not change their violent behavior at all, and those that do change do so because of the threat of jail or losing their wife through divorce.
Physical abuse by a loved one is one of the hardest experiences a person can go through. If you are being abused you most likely have many emotional, as well as physical problems to work through. You may feel hopeless at times and fear that you can't get through it. However, try to not give up hope. Find a good counselor to help you work through the issues you will face. A support system is very important in helping you to get through this tough time.
One suggestion for those who experience abuse is this: The first time your spouse abuses, give him or her an ultimatum. Demand he get help for his problem or you will leave. A person’s unwillingness to acknowledge a problem exists is only grounds for it to continue. However, if your spouse agrees to get counseling to learn anger management, you can trust your situation will most likely improve. If abuse happens a second time, don’t stick around. Remaining in such a relationship will encourage a cycle of violence and will endanger your life the lives of your children.
If you feel like you are stuck in your abusive relationship because of fear or economic reasons, for example, knowing that help is available to make your escape easier should provide comfort. Police departments are usually trained and educated to deal with domestic violence cases. Some have special officers employed specifically to help in domestic violence situations. Shelters are available in most communities which provide temporary housing, emotional support, and information regarding your legal rights and additional services available. To access a shelter, look in the front of your phone book under community assistance or community service numbers. A list of phone numbers for abuse, assault, and rape can be found there. The hospital or your doctor can also help you get in contact with social services. Let these services help you.
Silence on your part will never solve your problem of living in an abusive relationship. Find someone to whom you can turn, share your feelings, and describe your situation. Although you may be afraid to tell anyone, establishing a network of people who are willing to help you out will ease the strain of coping and leaving. Also, don’t ask others to promise not to tell any authorities. Your friends and family can be additional resources in getting you out of your dangerous situation and into a safe place.
You will need to make some tough decisions about your relationship with your husband. Do you want a divorce? Do you want your husband to try to change through counseling? The most important thing to consider as you make decisions is your safety. You need to take care of yourself and your children. Don't worry about hurting your husband. Do what you need to do to ensure your safety.
Spouse abuse is a crime that can be punished by jail. It is important to call the police so that legal action can be taken. However, it may be wise to wait until you are safely away from your husband before contacting the authorities. Calling the police will not change your husband's violent tendencies, and it may provoke future violent retributions.
Burr, W. R., R. D. Day, and K.S. Bahr. (1993). Family Science. Pacific Grove, California: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.