Domestic violence and abuse used to be a topic that was swept under the rug. During the past 20 years, there has been a slow, but steady increase in public awareness and concern about the problem. The issue has been around for a long time, but it hasn't been dealt with seriously until relatively recently. The victims of violence and abuse in the home are still predominantly women, but there is a significant number of male victims as well. Most of the remedial efforts, such as shelters, to help the victims have been oriented to women. In addition to there being more female victims, women often are more willing than men to come forward to seek help. It is still very hard for women to seek help in a domestic violence situation, but it is usually much harder for men to admit that they are victims and need help (or rescue) for domestic violence. The dynamics of the abuse suffered by men and women is similar. One or more of the following behaviors (among others) will usually be occurring:
- The victim is often physically assaulted by the abuser. There are often frequent threats about what the abuser will do to the victim if the victim doesn't do as the abuser wishes. Bullying and intimidation are common tools used by the abuser as well.
- The abuser often controls the finances, leaving the victim with no significant cash and no knowledge of the finances.
- The abuser frequently steals, hides or damages the property owned by, or wanted by, the victim, or threatens to do so. It becomes a way to control the other party and to show the power of the abuser.
- There is often a threat by the abuser to call the police on the victim, and that threat is sometimes carried out. Even worse, the victim is sometimes arrested and charged with domestic violence, which puts the victim in a deeper hole. Police look for visible blood, cuts and bruises and will usually arrest someone if they find such evidence.
- Many times, the abuser is able to convince the victim that she or he has not choice but to submit to the control of the abuser.
So, what can you do if you or a loved one is caught in such a situation? Here are some suggestions.
1. Think and plan before acting, unless there is an immediate threat to your safety. (In case of an immediate threat, get away fast any way you can.) Since an abuser usually does have a lot of control over a victim's life, he or she must think first, and then act. The victim should develop a plan to escape and to start over in life. Normally, such planning takes some time and help, so …
2. Find an ally. Get a friend or family member and confide in him or her. Even though your abusive spouse will probably tell you the opposite, there are many people who care about you. And many of them may have been suspicious of your situation. There will likely be a number of people who will help, if you reach out.
3. Get professional help. Your ally can help you arrange to meet with an attorney and maybe a counselor. The counselor will help you take back control over your life. The attorney can advise you on the best course of action in the court system.
4. Get away from the abuser. Work out a plan and then move out. Move quickly, once you start.
5. Don't get “buyer's remorse” over your decision to leave. It can be tough to move and doubts are inevitable, but keep in mind the big picture. Your health and safety, and maybe the kids' health and safety, are the most important and immediate concerns. Remember, your spouse won't change. Abusers are often incredibly skilled as manipulators, and they know what buttons to push. Don't feel sorry for the abuser. If you start to second-guess your decisions, talk to your ally and your professional helpers. Don't break down and go back. Your life may depend on it.
Men and women who are victims of domestic violence and abuse should not be embarrassed to seek help from friends and professionals. Victims need to act prudently, but they cannot afford to stay long in an abusive relationship. Please contact a professional to learn more about your options.