Recently, I have been moved by some very honest stories from women sharing their experiences of domestic violence in order to empower others and to heal themselves. These women have been harmed and shamed as victims of domestic violence (DV) and abuse. The toll that DV takes is immense, both for the victim and their children (who are also victims whether they are directly mistreated or not). Research shows that children with DV histories are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, attachment disorders, and other mental illness. In addition, witnessing domestic violence is traumatizing. Ninety-seven percent of cases of domestic violence are perpetrated by the male partner. In this article we will refer to the male as the primary perpetrator. This is not to minimize the same support and care that male victims of domestic violence deserve as well.
Here in Hawaii we experience high rates of domestic violence. Domestic violence and abuse is often normalized and called “cultural.” Just because a behavior becomes typical in its function, does not mean it is healthy. Domestic abuse is not a part of the rich culture of Hawaiian heritage.
Domestic abuse takes other forms in addition to physical violence. Here are some examples of domestic abuse:
• Threats of physical violence.
• Partner controls finances and does not provide equity in resources and decision making. This includes former partners who do not provide child support as a punishment to the mother.
• Verbal abuse: putting a woman down saying she’s not smart enough, good looking enough, that her body is not desirable, that she has gained weight, or lost weight.
• Forcing the partner into having sex constitutes as rape.
• Emotional or physical cheating: talking and texting with other women, meeting up with other women secretly, and physically cheating, using pornography and depriving your partner of sex.
• Gaslighting: instigating conflicts by often turning the tables and trying to make the partner feel like they are losing their mind.
The intention in this article is to debunk many misconceptions regarding domestic violence and abuse. When victims of domestic violence react outwardly it is a sign of distress. They are in fight or flight mode. They are not perpetrators deserving their partners control and aggression. Battered women often play the “if only” game, trying to get their abusive partner to show them love and affection the way it was in the “beginning.” These women are often struggling with domestic abuse histories as a child, and as adults can experience PTSD, anxiety, depression, adjustment disorders and other potentially triggered mental conditions. Perpetrators of domestic abuse more typically exhibit traits of “narcissists” and “sociopaths”, and it is also likely that they have domestic abuse histories themselves.
Immediacy of action is something that bystanders and witnesses fail to take. Often they make excuses saying that it is not their business, or they are afraid of retaliation. You can report anonymously. If you are a witness to domestic violence call 911. If you are a witness to child abuse call 911. Fact: Women get killed by current and former partners. Fact: Children have been killed by abusive parents or the abusive partner of their parent.
Here is a reality check for common misconceptions:
1. Don’t believe the calm guy who has his act together when you meet his spouse who appears to be a frantic mess. He may have his act down and has been toying with her for years.
2. Believe women and children when they say they are being abused.
3. Victims, don’t pretend you are staying for the kids, because it is actually hurting them. There is plenty of research to back this up.
4. Bystander, friends, and family, this is your business.
As women we need to stand together. We need to not doubt and betray one another. We need to teach each other our value, and teach our daughters and sons in perpetuity. As men we need to stand by women and not permiss other men to behave abusively. If it is your friend, or brother, don’t wink and let it go. Confront it man to man. Men need leadership from other men.
Friends and family reach out to our human service agencies and arm yourself with resources to offer in addition to your patience and emotional support. You cannot do it alone.
As a community we need to recognize the problem and have ZERO tolerance for violence and abuse. Recognizing the signs and making a difference starts with each individual being willing to take action and ending this culture of looking the other way. We are all in this together. As a community we can make change.
With October being Domestic Violence Awareness Month this is your invitation to start now.
*Recommended reading with true stories and research: Invincible: The 10 Lies You Learn Growing Up with Domestic Violence, and the Truths to Set You Free, by Brian Martin