From the Rihanna and Chris Brown situation, to the Ray Rice case, to the concerning screams heard coming from the neighbor’s house last week, there are a few things that are clear when it comes to domestic violence. It can happen to anyone, and victim blaming runs rampant in American society.
What is domestic violence?
Domestic violence is a pattern of controlling behaviors that a person in an intimate relationship may use to hold power over the other 1. This may include a combination of physical, emotional, mental and/or verbal abuse. Contrary to popular belief, this cycle of violence does not discriminate by gender, relationship status or sexual orientation. It can happen to dating, married, or separated couples, heterosexual or LGBTIQ* individuals, as well as males or females.
Domestic violence is perpetuated by a cycle of abuse. The first step in this cycle is the “Honeymoon stage,” where the relationship is romantic and loving. The abuser will make their partner feel special and cared for. The second step is the “Tension Building stage.” At this point in the cycle, the relationship has become rocky, and there has been minor abuse or “red flags.” The third step is the “Blow Up stage.” This is the point where the abuse is extreme and violent. The final step in the cycle is the return to the “Honeymoon stage,” where the abuser apologizes, showers the victim with kindness and promises that it will never happen again 2. This cycle sheds light upon the ever pondered question, “why don’t victims of domestic violence just leave?”
Asking why victims don’t leave their abusers is asking a loaded question. The answer is not simple, because relationships are not simple – especially ones accompanied by abuse. Not only does it take some time for individuals to realize that the abusive behavior has become chronic, it also takes victims time to get past the stage of denial that accompanies an unhealthy and abusive relationship. According to the Leslie Steiner Ted Talk, over 70% of domestic violence murders happen after the victim has left the relationship. Yet, this is not the only issue survivors must endure. Long term stalking, denial of financial resources, and manipulation of the family court system where the survivor and their family are forced by family court judges to spend unsupervised time with the abuser are among the vast list of consequences of leaving an abusive relationship 3. I’d also like to touch upon the fact that this question is labeled as “loaded” because it is clearly victim blaming.
The victim blaming issue
Victim blaming is the tendency to place responsibility upon the victim for the abuse that they have endured. Asking “why don’t they leave?” holds the implication that the victim had control over the abusive situation. Now knowing that domestic violence thrives on one person having power over another, it is clear that only the abuser has the power to prevent or stop the abuse. However, we still often see victim blaming shamefully practiced in our society, which brings us to the importance of understanding domestic violence.
Why is domestic violence awareness important?
Here at the Young Women’s Resource Center, we work with girls who have lived and been affected by the ever rampant cycles of domestic violence and the victim blaming that accompanies it. We want to stress that it is imperative to raise awareness. This abuse not only affects survivors but also their families, friends, communities and society as a whole. It can happen to anyone and statistics show that in the United States 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence or stalking in her lifetime 4. By educating the public about the red flags of abuse and how to get help 5, every individual has the potential to save a life or family. We challenge you to do your part this October, as it is Domestic Violence Awareness month, and please share this message and help end this dangerous and devastating cycle.1: The Healing Path: A Guide to Surviving Domestic Violence from Polk County Medical Society, 2010. 2: In Love and In Danger: A Teen’s Guide to Breaking Free of Abusive Relationships by Barrie Levy. Revised 2000. 3: Leslie Steiner Ted Talk. November 2012. 4: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. 5: National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233. Iowa Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-942-0333. *LGBTIQ refers to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer