Domestic violence can happen to anyone. It is a burden that knows no economic, cultural, racial, class or gender distinctions, and the violence can range from physical, emotional, sexual and even financial abuse. The frequency and severity of domestic violence can vary drastically; however, the one recurring theme is the partner’s efforts to maintain power and control over the other through intimidation and violence.
WHY DO VICTIMS STAY?
Many people fail to understand why victims stay in abusive relationships and sadly, it is likely due to the lack of public awareness and education concerning the issue. Although the reasons are complex, there are some definite commonalities. The victim’s self-esteem gets so trampled on that they lose all sense of purpose and self-worth, and their ability to make decisions becomes severely compromised as a result. They question their ability to survive on their own and feel overwhelmed at the idea of starting over. Most leave with the clothes on their backs, and pennies in their pockets as they often don’t have access to finances. Once they do leave, they are gripped with the haunting dread of being found by their partner and fear for their life and their children’s lives. Victims often feel a sense of shame and guilt as they’ve been convinced that the abuse is always their fault. Their lives are controlled to the point where they have limited access to the outside world and other relationships becomes a threat to the abuser. This often leads the victim to a place of total isolation, hopelessness and paralyzed with fear.
WHAT ARE THE WARNING SIGNS?
To the untrained eye, spotting an abusive relationship can be a challenge. Although there are warning signs, most victims will do their best to not draw attention to themselves or their relationship as doing so could provoke their partner to anger. A few signs to watch for:
Physically: bruising, scratches, purple marks, and black eyes. Again, most victims will try to camouflage their wounds by wearing more make-up, clothing or sunglasses to hide the evidence. When asked, they will usually give some excuse or cover story because exposing the truth could put them at greater risk of violence.
Behaviorally: they startle easily, isolate and withdraw from activities and relationships. Individuals who were once outgoing, will become more quiet, distant and reserved. The victim may also seem “freer” and more talkative when their partner is not around.
Emotionally: could include anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and a meeker and timid demeanor.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
Don’t judge and be gentle in your approach. Let them know you are concerned for their safety and that they are not alone. Reassure them that it’s not their fault and that they deserve better. Check in with them but know that their partner is likely aware of all communication taking place, so be prudent and always ask if it’s a good time to talk. Make sure you aren’t the only person helping.
For support or to find out more on how to help, please contact one of the following resources:
Locally: Maison Interlude House www.minterludeh.ca or 1.800.461.1842
The Crisis Line at 613.632.1131 / 1.800.267.4101
Ontario Victim Services Support Line: 1.888.579.2888