Your home should be a place of safety. Yet, in a month devoted to highlighting the pain and feelings of shame caused by domestic violence, for some it is the place of greatest danger. Each time the door closes, when the light goes out, when no one else is around to see – the person we once loved, still love, acts out physical, emotional and psychological violence in the place where we should fear no-one – never mind our most intimate partner.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, nearly 20 people per minute are abused by an intimate partner in the US. This is 10 million women and men. Despite common misconceptions, not all abuse victims are women. A quarter of all men have been victims of some form of violence from a partner in their lifetime and it is a third of all women.
Domestic violence does not have to be physical. Psychological and emotional violence is as damaging to a person’s sense of security and peace. Domestic violence does not have to be a punch to the face or a broken limb. It could be a sly pinch or a burn from a cigarette. It could be a push to the chest or being pinned to the bed. Any act against a person that is not consensual must be considered domestic violence.
You will have read in some chapters in my book how life is not as simple as we would hope. Love is not always gentle. Violence is not always borne from hate. Some people love violently. They need to possess; they need to dominate. If we grow up in a toxic environment, then love is a curse that damns us with insecurities. We can never truly believe a person will stay, love us purely, means us no harm. So, we destroy them before they can destroy us.
Then, there are households challenged by addiction, or by a relationship in free-fall, or by an intimate partner who experiences a mental breakdown. In the torrid war of emotions that erupt, often the first victim is sense. We are driven by a heat and by a fervor and our hands and fists lash out before our intellect engages.
It is easy to judge a man or a woman who commits domestic violence. It is a crime – and it should always be viewed as such. However, stop and think for a moment if that person sits coldly and plans to hit their loved one? Do they know they are emotionally abusing the person who is the center of their world? If you asked them, would they recognize what they are doing?
I wonder now if you are asking: why doesn’t the abused man or woman just leave? If the person stays after being beaten, surely they have some role in enabling the abuser. Yet, it is important to learn before you draw conclusions. Battered Woman’s Syndrome and Stockholm syndrome are powerful psychological factors in why women, or men, stay in abusive relationships. You begin to believe that you deserve no better. You are sold on the lie that you deserve the abuse you receive and maybe, just maybe, it is better the devil you know. Then, there is the most corrosive lie we tell ourselves – it is how our partner shows their love and we do not deserve any better.
The truth is, it is not our place to judge. It is our place to try to understand and try to find a way to help. So, where should we begin? How does our journey to challenge domestic violence begin?
First, we need to learn and acknowledge how difficult this is going to be. There are ten million people a year victim to abuse. This is the problem we face. Second, we need look to ourselves and we need to mentally check our life, the experiences of our loved ones, of our neighbors and our friends – are they safe? Then, we should begin to talk about domestic violence openly, and with honesty. From these beginnings, we may begin to find a way.