Have you been a victim of domestic violence? Many victims feel there is no way out. Friends and loved ones often feel despair because they don’t know what to do to help. Additionally, some abusers may not realize their behavior constitutes domestic violence. Therefore, knowing the causes of domestic violence and recognizing symptoms is important if the cycle is to ever be broken.
Domestic violence is defined as “violent or aggressive behavior within the home, typically involving the abuse of a current or former spouse, intimate partner, or child.” Any form of physical or sexual abuse and emotional control or manipulation can be categorized as domestic violence. While some types of domestic violence may occur absent a physical altercation, it is not uncommon that other forms of abuse are coupled with physical violence. The long-term effects of domestic violence may be present for months, or even years after the abuse has ended.
Warning Signs of Domestic Violence
Signs that someone is a victim of domestic violence are sometimes visible. For example, a black eye, busted lip, or broken bones. Other indicators may be less apparent.
Emotional symptoms may initially be less apparent than physical signs of domestic violence. The responses may be especially heightened in the presence of the abuser or when someone tries to address the issue of abuse with the victim. These symptoms may linger long after the physical injury has resolved. Some examples of emotional responses include:
- Altered sleep patterns. The victim may experience nightmares or insomnia.
- Depression. Someone who was once very outgoing and enjoyed participating in social events suddenly becomes withdrawn. Children may stop eating, cry when they are separated from familiar “safe people,” or cling to someone new to be away from their abuser.
- Sudden, unexplained changes in weight and/or eating patterns. Victims of domestic violence may be deprived of food as a form of punishment. Also, he or she may experience a loss of appetite due to the stress of the situation. Both of these instances can result in weight loss.
Do You Think You’re a Victim of Domestic Violence?
It is often difficult for victims of domestic violence to grasp the fact they are actually “victims.” It’s understandable; no one wants to be labeled as such. Nevertheless, knowing what behavior constitutes abuse and violence is the first step on the road to intervention.
If your spouse, intimate partner or parent does any of the following, these could be indications of domestic violence:
- Threatens to harm you or kill you
- Deprives you of clothes, food, or medical care
- Abandons you in a place you are not familiar with
- Attacks you with weapons
- Punches push, kicks or bites you, or pulls your hair
- Forces you to have unwanted sex
- Refuses to use a condom or practice birth control, even though you want protective measures
- Restricts your communication with friends or family
- Completely cuts off your relationships with others
- Controls your access to money
Victims of domestic violence often feel isolated. Whether it is due to a fear of rejection by others or retaliation from their abusers, they may not immediately seek help. Unfortunately, isolation may lead to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and in some cases, post-traumatic stress disorder.
According to Louise Howard, professor at King’s Institute of Psychiatry, in her article in Medical News Today, “The evidence suggests that there are two things happening: domestic violence can often lead to victims developing mental health problems and people with mental health problems are more likely to experience domestic violence.” This reflects how a cycle of abuse may be repeated. Violence may lead to a mental health disorder; then the mental health disorder may cause the victim to be a risk of re-victimization.
Risk Factors for Domestic Violence
While it may not be possible to predict every person who is a potential victim or abuser, some risk factors increase the chances of being affected. It may surprise you to know that the risk factors associated with potential victims and potential abusers are similar. This is because, without help, many victims causes to become abusers or are re-victimized later in life.
Common Risk Factors Related to Domestic Violence Include:
- Low self-esteem: There seems to be a link between low self-esteem and the risk of being both a victim and an abuser in domestic violence cases. Victims often believe no one wants them or that they don’t deserve to be loved. Therefore, they are more likely to try to endure abuse in hopes the abuser will change. Abusers, on the other hand, often attempt to mask their low self-esteem by degrading others. While it doesn’t make sense to people who are not affected, it makes perfect sense in the mind of both the abuser and the victim.
- Desire for power or control: Domestic violence often occurs in relationships where one person has a desire to control another. The abuser may try to control the victim’s social life, travel, and money.
- Low academic achievement: Individuals who have poor academic achievement often battle with self-esteem issues. Potential abusers often display aggressive behavior as a way of “distracting” others from what they view as a personal lack of achievement. Victims, on the other hand, may feel trapped because they think they are unable to provide for themselves of their children. Therefore, they may stay in an abusive relationship as a means of financial support.
- Previous history of being an abuse victim: Unfortunately, without intervention, the cycle of abuse is often difficult to break. Previous victims of domestic violence often tend to either be re-victimized or become abusers themselves. Victims of domestic violence often believe they “deserve” the abuse. This mindset leads them to be less likely to stand up for themselves. Victims who become abusers, on the other hand, often do so because they feel so much anger and frustration related to the experience of being a victim.
- Cultural beliefs/traditional viewpoints: It may seem odd to think that culture or traditions lend to the risk of domestic violence, but many cultures have deep-rooted beliefs that men are superior to women. In some instances, those men may resort to domestic violence to gain control of their spouse or children. Cultural traditions do not trump laws designed to protect victims.
- Mental illness: As mentioned above, the role of mental illness within the cycle of domestic violence is prevalent. Individuals who have been diagnosed with a mental illness, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, may go through times of highs and lows when they are unable to control their anger. These people may become aggressors and abuse others. This is especially true if they are not following a medication regimen. Some people who experience depression or other mood disorders are often more likely to be victimized.
- Substance abuse: People who abuse drugs or alcohol may fall victim to someone abusive. A victim’s need for acceptance or money to support their habit may cause them to be vulnerable to domestic abuse.
Being educated about who is at risk and what signs may indicate the presence of domestic violence will help decrease the chances of victimization.