“The number of occurrences of domestic violence is staggering. At least one-in-four women are or will be victims of domestic violence in her lifetime. Statistics point to the fact that the overwhelming majority of domestic violence victims are women. There are male victims out there as well, who sometimes suffer from the added burden of feeling that it is unacceptable, or a personal failure, for a man to be the victim of domestic violence.”
The month of October has been designated Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The goal of this month is to raise public awareness about domestic violence and to educate communities and individuals on how to recognize, prevent, and respond to domestic violence.
This article is part two in a series on domestic violence. We began the series by defining domestic abuse, its widespread nature, and its threat to children, along with the frequency and duration of statistically documented cases of domestic abuse. In this article we will briefly discuss the victims and/or survivors of domestic abuse.
In our book, Is it My Fault?, Lindsey and I use the terms “victim” and “survivor” to refer to those suffering domestic abuse. Now is a good time to explain the distinctions among these terms. When the term “victim” is used, it signifies the cruelty and unfairness of domestic violence and puts the responsibility for the assault where it belongs: on the assailant. Likewise, the term “victim” is often associated with the early trauma following an experience of domestic violence, and emphasizes the fact that, frequently, a crime has been committed. This term is also used for emergency department responses.
The other term, “survivor”, is often the chosen word for those who do not want to be viewed as remaining under the abuser’s influence and control. Some victims do not prefer the term “survivor” because they do not feel like survivors. For this reason, this term can bring along with it a sense of shame, as if the victims of domestic violence have failed or done something wrong in the healing process. It should also be recognized that the unfortunate reality is that not all victims are survivors, as some victims of domestic abuse are killed.
Those whom have suffered domestic violence should be supported in whatever term they adopt for themselves.
Who are victims of domestic abuse?
The number of occurrences of domestic violence is staggering. At least one-in-four women are or will be victims of domestic violence in her lifetime. Statistics point to the fact that the overwhelming majority of domestic violence victims are women. There are male victims out there as well, who sometimes suffer from the added burden of feeling that it is unacceptable, or a personal failure, for a man to be the victim of domestic violence. Men who have been victimized should not be forgotten, though the number of female victims is disproportionately greater.
What kind of abuse do they suffer?
Lenore Walker, in her book The Battered Woman Syndrome, outlines what she calls the “Cycle of Violence”. On average, only about one-third of domestic violence victims can identify with this cycle. Clearly, not all domestic violence relationships fit the cycle and not everyone’s experiences are the same. However the “cycle” can be useful in describing key dimensions of the abusive relationship.
First, there is the tension phase. During the tension phase, the victim often feels like they are walking on eggshells. This stage may last for weeks or even months. It is a high-stress time when communication breaks down, and the victim senses a growing danger. Many times, the victim’s family denies, minimizes, and/or blames external factors for the growing instability in the relationship.
The second phase, which Walker calls the crisis phase, is easily recognizable. During this stage the abuser often “snaps”. This kind of crisis can last anywhere from two hours to 24 hours, or even span over several days. At this point the abuser becomes explosive, unpredictable, and often times violent. The victims are blamed for bringing this on themselves, and in order to survive they often accommodate the demands of the abuser. It is also true that victims may escape during the crisis phase, yet often return sometime during the next phase.
The third phase is called the calm phase. This stage is the “calm” that follows the outburst of stage two. Here, the abuser may be extremely remorseful, seek forgiveness, and promise to change. He may display kind and loving behavior as indicators that he has turned a new leaf. In response to such “repentance”, the victim’s family and children may serve as caretakers in order to keep the peace.
But it is a cycle, and therefore the victim eventually finds herself on the tension-crisis-calm rollercoaster all over again. In time the abuser begins to fantasize about abusing the victim again. In his mind he obsesses, thinking about what she’s done to wrong him and how he’ll make her pay. Then he makes a plan for turning the fantasy of abuse into reality. Once the abuser decides to act, he will set the victim up and put his plan in motion. When she fails in some action, behavior, or response (as she is bound to, since it’s a trap), he convinces himself that he is perfectly justified in punishing her.
Now the abuser excuses himself for his abusive behavior. Sometimes the abuse is physical: hitting, kicking, or hair-pulling. Other times, the abuser won’t ever lay a hand on the survivors–but they will be shamed, called names, humiliated, threatened, and manipulated.
If the abuse isn’t physical, that doesn’t mean it’s not abuse. Most abuse cases begin with emotional, verbal, and other nonphysical forms of abuse and then escalate to physical forms. The scars of emotional abuse are very real, they can run very deep, and they are not to be dismissed. In fact, emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse – sometimes even more so.
Regarding physical abuse: domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women, topping car accidents, muggings and rapes combined. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop reported that domestic violence is the greatest single cause of injury to American women. Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the United States, more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.