The National Coalition of Domestic Violence (NCADV) defines domestic violence as, “the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another.” Did you know that one in four women in the US experiences sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime?
Think about four of your favorite women. Statistically speaking, one of them has experienced a level of domestic violence. I am one in four. And, as a victim, I hope to shed some light on this very dark subject. In honor of October being Domestic Violence Awareness Month, there are a few things I want you to know about victims of domestic violence.
We may not realize the severity of what is happening.
First, domestic violence can be hard to recognize if you aren’t properly educated on the topic. This makes teenagers and young adults especially vulnerable. Second, it usually starts with small, isolated incidents, and gradually gets worse over a period of time. When this happens, it can be hard for victims of domestic violence to open their eyes to how bad things have gotten. Third, there can be a level of denial about the situation. “This kind of thing only happens in movies.” “But he loves me.” “I must be overreacting.” Or even, “I’m choosing to stay, so I can’t complain.”
Domestic violence is rarely what it’s made out to be in the media. It doesn’t always involve loud arguments or black eyes. My abuser rarely used force when hurting me. This is because there was a deep level of psychological manipulation that made me believe I was consenting to everything. This makes it difficult to get help because we rarely think we need it or deserve it.
Educate yourself on the dynamics of abuse and signs of abuse to help you recognize and prevent these types of situations in your life from escalating. Help educate those around you, including your children when they’re of an appropriate age. If you’re concerned about your privacy, use an incognito browser or clear your browsing history after you’ve done your research.
We are really good at hiding it.
Even after I realized I was in a dangerous situation, I did everything in my power to keep it a secret. I did not tell my parents or any of my close friends. Victims of domestic violence often pull back from those closest to them to make it easier to hide. I was afraid that if I told someone, he would get in trouble and he would find a way to take it out on me. I was also afraid that it would be swept under the rug and I would be deemed “dramatic.” He was always protecting his image and he trained me to do the same by continually filling me with guilt.
After I was able to get out of that situation I still did not tell anyone for years. Blocking out a lot of what happened to me, I moved on with my life. I suppressed my emotions (don’t be like me, by the way). I went on to have a family and a successful career. I’m a fully functioning adult who appears to have it all together. Most people would be in disbelief if I told them my story. To this day, there are only three people that know about my experience. One of them is my therapist, and it took me a full year of bi-weekly sessions to start to open up about it.
Healing is a journey, not a destination.
Twenty years later, my experience with domestic violence still affects the way I live my life. It likely always will. I’m grateful for therapy and my faith that has made it easier to navigate, but it hasn’t been without a lot of hard work.
I spent a lot of time being angry about my abuse, angry that it happened to me and that my life is forever changed because of it. I’ve had to learn to forgive myself for staying in the situation as long as I did and for not knowing any better (victims of domestic violence often blame themselves). I’ve had to forgive those around me who either didn’t notice what was happening or noticed and didn’t speak up.
I’ve had to learn how to control my fear and paranoia. I sometimes wonder if my abuser will pop back up into my life and endanger me and my family in some way. It’s the reason I’ve written this blog anonymously. I read article after article about ways to boost my confidence and how to ask for help. I’ve learned what my triggers are and can’t watch certain TV shows or movies.
The journey has been exhausting at times, but I try to remind myself of how far I’ve come. And although I still carry bouts of fear and guilt, an important part of my journey is sharing my experiences in the hopes of saving you or someone you know from becoming a victim of domestic violence.
What to do if you are a victim of domestic violence:
What I’m about to say is very important. I need you to read it, reread it, and then read it again. Read it over and over until you believe it.
Your life matters. Your safety is important. You deserve to have your needs and desires met. You are loved. You are not alone.
Educate yourself and get help. Visit thehotline.org for resources or to chat with someone online, call them at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or text START to 88788. Create a safety plan. Get help from law enforcement.
What to do if you know a victim of domestic violence:
Listen. You don’t have to say anything, just listen to whatever part of the story we want to share. You can ask questions but know we might not answer them. Just because we’re opening up to you about our experience doesn’t mean we’re comfortable sharing every detail. Don’t speculate or minimize our experience. Don’t think you can change our minds or convince us to leave. Hug us if we’re comfortable with physical touch. Seek professional help from a therapist or domestic violence organization to learn how you can provide support to the person in your life.