In it, that it was my fault…

In the beginning, I was so young and he was
attentive.  He said I was smart, funny,
pretty and he made me feel special. It was only after we were married that the
angry words, shaming and verbal tearing apart started.   Next, he
became easily angered and physically abusive. 
He would say I deserved it, that it was my fault… I would lie awake at
night crying silently.  Finally, one
night as he was choking me, I broke free and ran out of the apartment, got into
my car and left.   I decided to never
again live with that kind of violence and never again to be silent.    

Two words, one big
concept – domestic violence.    Domestic violence is any kind of behavior that
a person uses to control an intimate partner through fear and
intimidation.  It includes physical,
sexual, psychological, verbal and economic abuse.  Domestic
violence is an epidemic affecting individuals in every community, regardless of
age, economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or
nationality.  

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Younger, unmarried
women are at greatest risk of domestic violence.  According to a U.S. government survey, 53
percent of victims were abused by a current or former boyfriend or
girlfriend.  One- third of all victims
were abused by a spouse, while 14 percent said that the offender was an
ex-spouse.  Women ages 16 to 24 are
nearly three times as vulnerable to attacks by intimate partners as those in
other age groups; abuse victims between the ages of 35 and 49 run the highest
risk of being killed. 

Domestic violence in
the military is a well-kept secret.  Many
military families live on one income; the only source of financial security for
the family is the active duty service member. Due to concerns about promotion
and advancement, spouses are reluctant to confide in someone as it might ruin
the career of the military member causing more drama and abuse at home. 

Domestic violence
can manifest in many ways.  Physical and
sexual assaults, or threats to commit them, are the most apparent forms of domestic
violence. But regular uses of other abusive behaviors by the abuser, when
reinforced by one or more acts of physical violence, make up a larger scope of
abuse. Although physical assaults may occur only occasionally, they instill
fear of future violent attacks and allow the abuser to control the victims’
life and circumstances. A lack of physical violence doesn’t mean the abuser is
any less dangerous to the victim, nor does it mean the victim is any less
trapped. Emotional and psychological abuse can often be just as extreme as
physical violence.   

Violence
against women in the home has serious repercussions for children.  Over 50 percent of men who abuse their wives
also beat their children.  Children who
grow up in violent homes are more likely to develop alcohol and drug addictions
and to become abusers themselves.  The
stage is set for a cycle of violence that may continue from generation to
generation.

Some who suffer from domestic violence are also
victims of stalking, which includes following a person, making harassing phone
calls and vandalizing property.  Eight
percent of women in the United States have been stalked at some time in their
lives, and more than one million are stalked annually.  Stalking is a unique crime because stalkers
are obsessed with controlling their victims’ actions and feelings.  A victim can experience extreme stress, rage,
depression and an inability to trust anyone. 

Domestic violence is shrouded in silence.  People outside the family hesitate to
interfere even when they suspect abuse is occurring.  Many times, out of loyalty to the abuser and
to protect the image of the family, even extended family members deny that
abuse exists.  Yet abuse and assault are
no less serious when they occur within a family, you only have to pick up a
local newspaper to read about the loss of lives due to domestic violence. Even
when domestic violence is reported, sometimes there are tragic failures to
protect victims adequately or to punish perpetrators. 

Domestic violence is learned behavior.  Men who are abusive believe they have a right
to use violence; they have a right to use power and control in their intimate
relationships.  Abusive men come from all
socioeconomic classes, races, religions and occupations.  The abuser may be a “good provider” and a
respected member at his work, in his church and community.   While there is no one type, men who abuse
share some common characteristics.  They
tend to be extremely possessive and easily angered.  A man may fly into a rage because his spouse
calls her family or friends too often. 
Or because she didn’t iron his shirt the way he wants it to be
done.  Many try to isolate their partners
by limiting their contact with family and friends. 

Abusive men often blame their abusive behavior on
someone or something other than themselves. 
They deny the abuse is happening or minimize it.  Often abusive men view women as
inferior.  Their conversation and
language reveal their attitude toward a woman’s place in society.  Alcohol and drugs may be associated with
domestic violence, but they don’t cause it. 
They are two separate problems that must be treated.

So why do women stay with their abuser…fear. Some
fear they will lose their children or that they will not be able to provide for
themselves, let alone care for their children. 
When the violence first starts, many women believe their abuser when he apologizes
and promises it will never happen again. 
But then it does.  The women are
told they are at fault and if they acted differently the abuse would stop.  They are ashamed to admit that the abuse is
occurring. Some women may not view the criminal justice system as a source of
help.  Immigrant women often lack
familiarity with the language and legal systems of this country and may be threatened
with deportation by their abuser.  Women
living in rural communities or in areas where public transportation may be
inaccessible may have few resources available to them. Isolation imposed by
lack of transportation and lack of financial resources often make it difficult
for women to access information about domestic violence and assistance. 

Ultimately, abused women must make their own decision about staying or
leaving.  Some abused women run the risk
of being killed when they leave their abuser or seek help from the legal
system.  If a woman decides to leave, she
needs a safety plan, including the names and phone numbers of shelters and
programs.  The National Domestic Violence
24 Hour Hotline is a free and confidential resource for those in an abusive relationship or family or friends
who love and care about their health and safety.  Hotline services include: crisis intervention,
safety planning, information about domestic violence and referrals to local
service providers, direct connection to domestic violence resources available
in the caller’s area provided by a hotline advocate, including local military
Family Advocacy Programs and domestic abuse advocates and assistance in more
than 140 different languages.  The
toll-free hotline is available 24 hours a day and can be reached from anywhere
in the 50 U.S. states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Call
800-799-7233 or 800-787-3224 TTY for the Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing,
or visit www.thehotline.org.  If you or someone else is in immediate
danger, call 911.

I know it can be difficult to know when or how to reach out for help
regarding a partner’s controlling or abusive behavior.  Remember, speaking to someone about problems
in your relationship doesn’t require you to make any immediate or significant
decisions.  It is a small step toward a
better tomorrow, where you have the opportunity to feel safe and fulfilled,
either in your relationship or outside of it.

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