The Face of Domestic Violence
The Face of Domestic Violence – If you could change a life would you?
Domestic Violence is a hard subject for a lot of people to openly discuss. After all, it is not the mainstream subject people want to have in the forefront of their minds. It is the celebrity stories of Kansas City Chief player Jovan Belcher and most recently Baltimore Raven’s Ray Rice that brings DV to light. It becomes the talk of social media with posts of outrage and disbelief. Who’s fault it is, who should do something about it. People coming forward of their own stories and people wanting answers. And after the shock wears off it is back to business of just wanting to move on with our lives. I get it! But for the ones who are in these violent relationships the shock is an everyday occurrence that doesn’t end.
Hope House is one of the first companies that I freelanced for when I was going to school for Graphic Design. I have heard many stories, sat in on court cases and have seen the pain in their faces. I am an advocate for the moms and daughters, for the sisters, aunts, cousins and grand mothers. I am an advocate for someone you know.
So in my advocacy, I thought it would be a great start to speak with an expert in the field. Someone who has seen and counseled many women from abusive relationships. Someone who have seen women break free and go from survivor to thriver and then some, who lost the battle.
Rita holds a Master’s degree in Counseling and Guidance from UMKC and is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of Missouri. She began working at Hope House, Inc. a shelter for abused women and children as an outreach therapist in 1996. She is now the Vice President of Clinical Services where she oversees all clinical services at their Independence & Lee’s Summit facilities.
Working with victims of Domestic Violence ( DV ) can be very hard on the councilors in this specialized field. They can even experience secondary Post Traumatic Stress ( PTSD ). How long have you worked in this field and what has kept you there for so long?
I’ve worked with victims of Domestic Violence at Hope House since 1996. I very much like empowering women to really know themselves and love the self (their authentic self) they discover. Yes, it is difficult to listen to the tragedies in other’s lives day after day. Therapists know we have to care for ourselves, too, to avoid vicarious trauma. What has kept me here so long I guess are all the successes. Women get in touch with me from time to time to say what a difference Hope House made in their lives. Or they drop me a note to say how well they are doing. And, I am privileged to watch my clients recover and grow on their journeys. That’s reason enough for me!
There are many myths and misunderstandings about DV. In all of your experience, what are the top three and how do you think we can dispel these myths?
It is hard to pick the top three…….
- Domestic violence occurs only in low-income and/or minority families. In reality, Domestic Violence does not distinguish between social, economic, racial, or cultural groups. It can happen to anyone’s friend, sister, daughter, or neighbor. So far this year among our outreach clients who chose to share what their income was (217) over 40% made more than $20,000 a year, 22% made more than $35,000, and 8% made more than $75,000. Over 76% of Outreach clients were Caucasian.
- Domestic violence is only physical abuse. Family violence includes more than physical battering. It takes on many shapes and forms. Verbal, emotional, financial, and sexual abuse as well as confinement, destruction of property or pets, and threats to harm the victim or her children can devastate a person’s self-confidence, and have effects as damaging as physical abuse. All types of abuse are behaviors intended to maintain control over the victim.
- Victims must like the abuse or they would not stay in the relationship. Victims stay in abusive relationships for many reasons, none of which are because she enjoys it. This idea really frustrates me, especially after so many years of education about DV in the media.I think sometimes that people perpetuate the myths to protect themselves from the thought that DV could happen to them or their loved ones.
There are beliefs these days that ” Just as many men are abused as women”. Do you agree with this?
In a Special Report printed in April of 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that in all non-fatal domestic violence crimes in the United States from 2003-2012, the majority of domestic violence was committed against females (76%) compared to males (24%). These, of course, are those crimes that came to the attention of law enforcement.
Have you ever come across anybody men/women that are faking their abuse?
Actually, I don’t have a “fake abuse detector” tool. My experience tells me that DV victims, both female and male, have a tendency to minimize their abuse rather than exaggerate or invent it. I can imagine that there are people who need services who might report abuse in order to get those services. Once I had a male request services saying he was abused while at the same time a woman in our shelter services identified this man as her abuser. So it is possible. Considering the stigma placed on DV victims and the stressful community living reality of shelter, I find it hard to imagine many people faking abuse.
And now…for the most frequently asked question. Why do women stay and frequently go back to these abusive relationships?
Ah yes,… the $64,000 question: Why Does She Stay? I find it much more reasonable to ask “How do battered women ever manage to leave?” Or even better! “Why Do Men Batter Their Wives and Girlfriends?” In reality, victims stay in abusive relationships for many reasons: Frequently, victims face further physical danger if they attempt to leave. The abuser threatens violence or actually attacks, if they attempt to flee. Victims fear not only for their safety, but the safety of their children and friends. At least if she stays, the children are not alone with him unsupervised. Victims must evaluate the current lethality against the threats he has made “if you ever leave me…” They know all too well that the violence escalates when she shows any signs of independence. Many abusers kill victims when they attempt to leave. 70% of the women who die in these relationships die attempting to leave them or after leaving them. They honestly feel they have no options and no place to go. If they depend on the abuser for financial security, there may be few if any resources. Sometimes religious convictions are a factor. Furthermore, promises of change encourage victims to stay. Love is a forceful factor. Victims want the violence to end, not the relationship. Abusers often show remorse after violence, showering victims with gifts and attention. Unfortunately, remorse does not last — but the abuse does.
What are some of the similarities that you have found in victims of Domestic Violence?
Probably the greatest common factor I find in DV survivors is a loss of a sense of self. They have an external locus of control, meaning they are always looking at what is happening outside of them and how they can control that in order to be safe. This is why they also have in common that they try to fix the abuser or take care of the abuser to make things ok. They all want to know “WHY????” DV survivors are also great care-takers…taking care of everyone else but themselves. Their loss of a sense of self is accompanied by a great vulnerability to see themselves as “less than” or not as “OK” as others. And after a while they see themselves as the abuser wants them to see themselves.
What are some of the hardest things that women have to face when they break free of their abusers?
The hardest thing I believe survivors have to face is that they cannot fix this. They can’t just love him into goodness. For many, they have to face that their years and years of effort changed nothing. They have to grieve the losses…the loved one, the dream, their possessions, the growing old together on the porch, the years they have lost thinking it would change, their financial stability, sometimes their faith community and family members, sometimes, even their children.
What are some of the health problems that women develop from being in these relationships?
Of course, there are the obvious health problems that result from physical abuse. Some women have to deal with recovery from broken bones and lacerations, some even suffer brain injuries, or very high risk pregnancies due to the abuse. But, because of the stress and trauma so present in abusive relationships, women also face physical health issues such as auto immune diseases, diabetes, fibromyalgia and other illnesses that produce real physical pain.
What advise would you give to family members, friends or anyone who is helping the victim out of the abusive relationship?
Do not “SHOULD” on your friend or family member as she struggles! Support her. Offer her resources and information. Don’t waste your time trying to prove to her he is a jerk…she will only defend him even more. Keep the focus on her. She deserves to be safe and happy. Inform yourself about DV. Seek help and information from your local shelters.
You have seen many women from the beginning of their journey to when they have come out of “That deep dark hole”. Would you describe the transformation you see when they see the light at the end of the tunnel?
What books or website would you recommend to victims and their supporters to help them better understand what is happening to them?
One of the books that my clients have found very helpful is a book by Lundy Bancroft called, “Why Does He Do That?” Mr. Bancroft has worked with abusers for many years and has great insight into the “why’s” of the batterer. His website, www.lundybancroft.com is also a great resource. Local shelters have their own websites with helpful information. The Hope House website is www.hopehouse.net. I personally believe that it is much more helpful for women to begin to read things that will help them to find that authentic self than to try to figure out domestic violence. I suggest books like, “Fried: Why You Burn Out and How to Revive”, “Guilt is the Teacher, Love is the Lesson”, or any other book by Joan Borysenko. Also, “Energy Medicine for Women” or any other book by Donna Eden. “Women’s Bodies: Women’s Wisdom” or any book by Christiane Northrup. The reason for this is because I believe women have spent years focused outside of themselves in the why’s and how’s of DV. Recovery is a time to begin to focus inward.
Domestic Violence has been in the media for many years. There are sites with all the “Red flags,types of abuse, the control wheel, myths” but still there are the numbers of people who get into these dangerous relationships. It has always been an uphill battle.
I have met women who have gone to shelter, learned the red flags, learned the cycles, learned about different abusive personality types, went through support group and still….went back out and got into another abusive relationship.
So the truth of it is… why women attract these kinds of men in the first place. It is only after women have been in these relationships and have worked through the layers of the pain they have endured from their childhoods that they break the cycles. It started way, WAY before the abusive relationship. The things in their life that set them up for this kind of unhealthy relationship.
So……just how do we break these cycles? And what Rita had to say is this: ” The best place to start breaking the cycle, of course, is at birth with loving, bonding interactions between parents and children. If the parents don’t have the TOOLS then it needs to start in elementary schools. I think early childhood curriculum’s should include how to have healthy boundaries and an authentic love of “Self.”
And in closing I have to mention that a big trend in social media is to share uplifting posts, memes and life lessons. A way to be positive and uplifting. Nobody WANTS to think about and discuss “dark” subjects of Domestic Violence! And so…in our effort of sanity or avoiding bad memories, life pains and judgment… we avoid it. If we look the other way…it might possibly go away! We don’t know how to fix it and we feel helpless. It is how we look at all the scary things in this world.
What if I told you, that possibly you COULD change, uplift and encourage or even save a life. Would you do it? Send it out into the world with positive light instead of the darkness that surrounds it? Would you do it?
If you could possibly save a life….would you do it?