According to the National Coalition against Domestic Violence, approximately three million children witness domestic violence each year, and it is the leading cause of injury to women in the United States. Domestic violence is a crime affecting not only the victims but society as well; therefore, enhanced knowledge, specialized training, and the stringent enforcement of laws is needed for the prevention and treatment of this abuse. The cost to both victims and society is enormous. Personally touched by this type of violence, I strongly believe that with a better understanding of this crime and how to recognize its effects, we can help put an end to this type of abuse and make the road to recovery a promising one. However, there are still those who feel that this is not an important issue, and these are the views we must change.
Imagine having to live every day of your life in fear. This is the reality for victims of domestic violence. In cases of domestic violence, the victims are often left powerless due to the fear or intimidation tactics which are brought on by their abuser. Because of the numerous myths associated with domestic violence, society often does not recognize it as an issue of importance. Instead, it is oftentimes perceived with ‘blame the victim’ attitudes. The most common misconception regarding this type of violence is that the victims are to blame for staying. In fact, it is the abuser who is to blame; the crime is being inflicted by the abuser, not the victim. Why then do they stay? Lack of financial support, low self-esteem, religion, fear, and nowhere to go are some of the biggest reasons. Aside from having nowhere to go, many women fear the consequences if they attempt to leave. Consequently, research has shown, as well as my own experiences, that leaving can be the most dangerous time for a woman. The National Coalition against Domestic Violence estimates that three to four million women are battered each year by their partner or ex-partner. Unfortunately, just as many children are witnessing this violence, and many children who witness abuse grow up to repeat the behavior as adults or become victims themselves. Growing up in an abusive environment, I watched my father hit my mother many times. I eventually left home at an early age to escape this life, only to find myself right back in it when I married someone who abused me as well. Another belief is that women deserve or provoke the behavior. In fact, nothing a woman does or does not do causes violence. It can be triggered by almost anything or even nothing at all. Some people think alcohol or drugs are the cause; on the contrary, this can be a contributing factor, but often it is just an excuse. Many abusers are sober during violent episodes. For instance, my ex-husband drank heavily; however, more times than not, he was sober when hit me over petty things such as meals not being made on time, children making too much noise, or because I was reading a book and not paying him any attention.
Domestic violence involves many forms of abuse, and often begins with threats and name-calling. Eventually, it leads to more physical abuse and the destruction of personal property. At first, there may be pushing and slapping; but it can escalate into more life-threatening assaults such as choking, punching, or using weapons. Both sexual and psychological abuse most often accompanies the physical abuse as well.
Domestic violence has many effects, both short-term and long-term. For the victims, women especially, there are physical injuries, miscarriages, and death. They also suffer from depression and other psychological distress, such as eating disorders and low self-worth. Children from violent homes may suffer poor health, low self-esteem, sleeping difficulties, and feelings of powerlessness. They may also experience developmental delays or stress-related physical ailments. My daughter suffered with poor digestion and the inability to sleep due to the stress levels she endured. Children can be manipulated emotionally by the abuser or physically injured as well. In homes of domestic violence, the children are at a higher risk of becoming abused themselves. According to statistics by the National Coalition against Domestic Violence, at least 50 percent of men who batter women also abuse their children. Unborn babies can be affected as well. Battering becomes frequent during pregnancy and pregnant women living in domestic violence are twice as likely to suffer from miscarriages. Assaults on pregnant women can also result in premature births, birth defects, and low-birth weight babies.
As for society, domestic violence makes no distinctions when it comes to class, race, ethnic, religion, or economic background. It makes no difference whether or not you are rich or poor, working or not working, black or white, etc. Domestic violence can also ‘spill over’ into the workplace. Absenteeism, increased health-care costs, higher turnover costs, and lower productivity are common problems facing businesses whose employees are suffering from domestic violence at home. In studies of workplace violence, at least 63 percent of reported workplace assaults ended in one homicide. There is also a high percentage of non-working women on welfare experiencing the effects of domestic violence, of which taxpayers are footing the bill.
Without a true understanding of domestic violence and the obstacles faced by victims, society cannot fight this issue effectively. People need to educate themselves on the realities of domestic violence and fight societal values that serve only to reinforce unjust, stereotypical beliefs. Domestic violence education needs to be implemented in our schools, healthcare facilities, and judicial system. Focusing on helping, rather than ignoring or blaming, the victims of domestic violence is the only way to stop the abuse and break the cycle.
Child and healthcare professionals, as well as law officials, often lack adequate training related to domestic violence. They are, therefore, unable to recognize, treat, and refer victims to the appropriate resources. To be effective, there needs to be specialized training for those individuals coming into contact with domestic violence cases. Physicians play a major role in the prevention, identification, and response of domestic violence situations. Many women do not report the incidents for fear of retribution from their abuser; others simply do not know where to turn for help. Recognizing this and providing these women with available resources would be a huge step. Healthcare services should be specifically trained to treat women and children of domestic violence, which would significantly reduce costs. Appropriate therapy should be implemented which will help victims deal with their emotions stemming from their experiences as well aid them with creating and maintaining healthier relationships that are free from this type of violence. Law officials, too, must receive specialized training for domestic violence cases. Putting the proper training and resources into action will help women develop the necessary tools that will eventually enable them to leave the abuse and eventually lead to a reduction in the number of domestic violence cases.
The judicial system has not been specifically designed to deal with domestic violence. While there have been some improvements in recent years, new laws that have been put into place may actually have negative effects. Although these laws have been set forth to protect, they are seldom enforced. As an example, protective orders are meant to serve as a deterrent to offenders by taking them to jail if violated. However, as in my own case, this does not often happen. I had a restraining order; but after numerous calls to police, no arrests were ever made until five months after my estranged husband broke into my home, assaulting me in the presence of our children. According to statistics, I’m not alone; the majority of women with protective orders still have complaints of abuse. These range from physical assaults, threats to kill or harm, and attempts to take the children. While calls to police due to violations in protection orders are high, arrests are low. When offenders do get arrested, they usually only receive probation or short-term sentences. My ex-husband only received two years of probation and was sentenced to only five months in jail for 3 counts of probation violations, 2 counts of violating a protective order, and 1 count of Assault on a Female. There needs to be tougher laws and harsher penalties for these offenders; and these must be enforced in order to send the message that domestic violence is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.
Breaking the cycle of domestic violence is important. Domestic violence is a crime that affects us all. Instead of blaming victims, people need to realize that it is the abuser who is at fault. Instead of asking why women stay, people need to ask what it is that helps them to get out. Providing resources and a place for battered women to turn is essential. Education and training is imperative; enforcing laws and incarcerating offenders with stiffer sentences is crucial. Domestic violence is a crime; and as a society, we must come together to stop the abuse. Until we, as a society, understand the reality of domestic violence, until we understand that this type of abuse affects us all, we will never be able to effectively fight it. Domestic violence can happen to anyone, perhaps even someone you know.