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Domestic violence doesn't fit just one stereotype

5/12/2014

This is the second in a series about domestic violence.

Q: What other information about domestic violence is important to know?

A: Continuing with information from the Child Welfare Information Gateway publication from the Children's Bureau, the report examines the identity of domestic violence victims. There is no characteristic profile of victims. But there are common myths about the victims.

First is the myth poor, uneducated women are the victims of domestic violence. Researchers speculate victims who are underprivileged apply for services and therefore are better known because of data tracking. Women who have financial resources can pay for services and protect their identities with private-service providers. Domestic abuse encompasses all socioeconomic groups.

The second myth is victims provoke and therefore deserve their violent experiences. This myth is perpetrated by abusers who blame their victims and tell them they deserve the abuse. Many victims believe their abusers and keep trying to change their behavior. They stay in the relationships because they believe the violence is their fault.

Victims of domestic violence go from one abusive relationship to the next. Actually, a third of victims experience more than one violent relationship, but the majority do not. Those victims with childhood physical or sexual abuse are at greater risk of having numerous violent relationships as adults.

Domestic violence victims have low self-esteem and psychological disorders. In actuality, domestic violence victims experience decreases in self-esteem related to their abusive treatment by perpetrators. The effects of abuse and violence produce vulnerability in victims and make them more apt to stay in abusive relationships. The majority of victims do not enter abusive relationships with psychiatric disorders. However, victims often do develop post-traumatic stress disorders or depression in response to abuse and violence.

The fifth and final myth about victims is they are weak and always looking for help. Victims are diverse in personality and behavior, and they cannot be generalized into a common profile. The reasons some victims do not want help might be because they are not ready to leave, they might be frightened of their abusers, or they might have had bad past experiences trying to leave.

Leaving abusive or violent relationships is a process because of the complex factors involved. There are multiple issues that are barriers or risks to leaving. At the top of the list is fear because perpetrators threaten, harm or kill victims who leave. They stalk former victims, threaten to get sole custody, make child abuse allegations or kidnap children. Past failures of the legal, judicial and social service systems discourage victims from leaving. Support from communities and protection by the legal system is improving.

A second barrier is isolation, as most perpetrators seek to isolate their victims from friends or families who could offer support or help. As a consequence, victims often are unaware of resources available and persons who would be willing to help. Sometimes victims cooperate with the isolation because they are ashamed or afraid the perpetrators will harm others who try to help.

Financial resources are a significant obstacle if victims have limited funds. These boundaries include lack of education or job skills, which, in turn, produces limited finances for childcare, housing, transportation and health care. Victims have to choose between homelessness and unsafe living conditions, or returning to live with abusers.

Victims might feel guilt and shame about the domestic violence relationships. They also might believe they are at fault and they are responsible for changing perpetrators. Other victims might be seriously impaired. They might be mentally unstable, depressed, physically injured or suicidal. These conditions contribute to their staying. They become increasingly dependent on perpetrators for emotional and financial support.

Victims might have individual belief systems which cause them to stay. Believing divorce is unacceptable or the children need the perpetrators to stay are two examples. Victims also have high levels of hope that are unrealistic. Perpetrators have recurring periods of positive behavior coupled with innumerable promises never to be abusive again.

Communities with few resources make leaving domestic violent relationships difficult. Many times, these resources are not present for minorities or non-English speaking persons. Deficiencies include the need for translators and incorporating cultural values and norms into programs for victims.

Perpetrators also have no common profile for personality and background. However, the behavior patterns of perpetrators can be defined as continual patterns of control through coercion, with a variety of methods of intimidation, and physical and emotional abuse. Most perpetrators are not mentally ill, but mental disorders, if present, can influence the extent and nature of the domestic violence.

Behavioral patterns include a pattern of coercion to instill shame, fear and helplessness by changing the rules, using incessant intimidation and demands, and creating dependency. Perpetrators also have public and private behaviors that hide their abusive measures. Perpetrators also project blame either on the victims or on alcohol or stress.

Perpetrators claim loss of control over their anger, and therefore, they believe they can be excused because they can't control their anger. Only 5 percent to 10 percent have anger-control issues. The other perpetrators use deliberate tactics in which physical abuse is used to solidify their power. In addition, abusers minimize or deny their behavior:

The following behaviors, in terms of how many are present and how many are severe, are indicators of danger.

* Threats of homicide or suicide.

* Possession or access to weapons.

* Use of weapons to threaten or intimidate.

* Extreme jealousy or possessiveness of victim.

* Physical attacks, verbal threats, stalking during separation/divorce.

* Taking hostages or kidnapping.

* Sexual assault or rape.

* Prior abuse resulting in serious injuries.

* History of violence with previous families.

* Psychopathology or substance abuse.

Next week's article will discuss more information about domestic violence.

Judy Caprez is associate professor of social work at Fort Hays State University. Send your questions in care of the department of sociology and social work.