Anyone who has ever been the victim of family violence understands full well the impact it can have on every area of his or her life as well as the lives of those around him/her. While the ‘victim’ is most often female, according to national statistics, men and boys are also victimized as family violence is not a respecter of age, gender or cultural factors. Family violence can be found in every socio-economic group around the country and within every ethnic and religious group. The figures are truly shocking and it is more rampant than you might imagine. If you or someone you know or love is being victimized by family violence, help is out there.
Some National Statistics
Oftentimes the victim has been so abused that he or she is the one who feels shame and remorse. It is most often the victim who is led to believe that they are to blame. For this reason, many cases go unreported which makes the following statistics even more staggering. According to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS), greater than 1.5 million incidences of family violence/abuse were reported through the National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS) over a five year period from 1996 to 2001. Keep in mind, those figures are now a decade old and new figures soon to be released are projected to be exponentially greater!
Of those incidents reported, the largest group at 29.6% was in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. A close second at 24.4% was in spousal violence with almost 80,000 cases of family violence a direct result of substance abuse. Then there almost 21,000 cases of elder abuse that were reported during that timeframe. Most victims were between the ages of 18 and 65 years of age. Keep in mind that these are only cases that were reported. It is estimated that fewer than 25% of family violence cases are ever reported!
The Broad Scope of Family Violence
One of the most common misconceptions about family violence is that it you need to be physically assaulted in order to be considered a victim of abuse. This is just not true. Family violence takes on many shapes that can range from verbal abuse to outright physical abuse and there are many levels in between. The Cleveland Clinic categorizes family violence into three broad categories of physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
Of course physical abuse encompasses slapping, punching, hitting, kicking and even burning or cutting while emotional abuse takes on the form of insults, threats, and harassment. Sexual abuse within a family would most often be incest or rape in the case of a non-biological family member (aunt, uncle, step-parent, etc.).
Wearing Down Your Defenses
Abuse isn’t usually something that just happens overnight. There is usually a ‘process’ in which the abuser wears down the defenses of his or her victim. These are often subconscious acts on the part of the abuser which makes it all the more difficult to treat because they are totally unaware, on a conscious level, of what they are doing to their victims until it is too late. Again, thanks to the Cleveland Clinic the ways in which a victim’s defenses are worn down can be broadly categorized as threats, isolation, verbal abuse and intimidation.
Threats are not always aimed at another person. Not only will the abuser threaten physical harm to the victim but may also threaten to commit suicide. Sometimes they will threaten to cut the financial support of the victim or threaten to harm children of the relationship. The victim will often be isolated from the outside world as the abuser may try to control when the victim leaves the home, who he/she may see and even whether or not that person can go to work. Verbal abuse takes the form of insults, name calling and mind games while intimidation may include displaying weapons or it could also entail throwing or smashing objects. Sometimes intimidation is accomplished with threatening looks, gestures or actions.
Recognize the Problem and Act on It
One of the first steps you will need to take if you are a victim of family violence is to recognize it for what it is and seek help. Remember that you are the victim here and it is not your fault that you are being abused. Although you may have been led to believe that you are worthless and the cause of all this ‘stress,’ you are not to blame. If you don’t know where to turn and have internet access, a quick internet search would yield several agencies both governmental and nonprofit that are ready, willing and able to help you get out of an abusive relationship. Many of these organizations provide counseling and/or housing to help you get to a place of safety and learn to cope with your life after abuse. Check out the resources listed on the NCJRS website to get a better idea of the types of help which are available.
It is suggested that you have a plan of action in place so that you can get out quickly once the opportunity presents itself. Have a bag packed and ready to go with clothing and other articles you will need for you and your children. Make sure you have copies of all important documents such as birth certificates, social security cards, health insurance cards, drivers license/photo ID, bank account information and any credit cards or other items you may need once you are out of the home. Don’t forget medications which you or your children may need, especially if any of those prescriptions are necessary to support life as in the case of diabetics or asthmatics.
Many churches and synagogues have pastoral counseling that can help you remove yourself from an abusive situation that is the result of family violence. Your local social services agency can also provide assistance and/or shelter for battered women and their children. There are ample resources which you can take advantage of once you recognize the problem for what it is and refuse to continue propagating the cycle. It may not be bad at the moment, but family violence runs in cycles and you can be sure it will get bad again. Get out while the getting’s good. You don’t have to be the victim of family violence – help is out there.