Written by Vanessa Murphy
Domestic abuse happens more often than you would think. Having safe effective resources to get help is incredibly crucial for victims, especially in the age of COVID-19.
How common is domestic abuse in relationships? Unfortunately, the numbers are devastatingly high. According to National Domestic Violence Hotline, one in three women in the U.S. experience some sort of domestic abuse, including physical violence, rape and/or stalking by an intimate partner. Men have chances that are nearly as high, with one in four in the U.S. experiencing the same types of abuse. These types of abuse can start as early as the teenage years. The National Domestic Violence Hotline also states that one in ten high school students has experienced physical abuse from their partner just this past year alone. Additionally, thanks to countless research studies, we have learned that the age of the victim does not matter; abuse can happen to anyone, at any age. Although no abusive relationship is the same, a few common red flags signify the start of an abusive relationship, as provided by The Mayo Clinic, including:
Calling you names or insulting you
Preventing or discouraging you from going to work or school or seeing family members or friends
Trying to control whether you can see a health care provider
Threatening you with violence or a weapon
Blaming you for his or her violent behavior or telling you that you deserve it.
The list goes on, but those are just some of the alarming signs that someone is falling victim to an abusive relationship. Over the course of an abusive relationship, the Mayo Clinic also states that these patterns can occur:
The abuser threatens violence
The abuser strikes
The abuser apologizes, promises to change or offers gifts
The cycle continues to repeat itself.
This type of behavior not only affects the victim, but the family and potential children of the victim as well.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline also states that one in ten high school students has experienced physical abuse from their partner just this past year alone.
Domestic abuse affects children in different ways. In the U.S., more than 15 million children live in homes in which domestic violence has occurred at least once. Some children can have short-term trauma due to experiencing or witnessing this type of abuse; however, others have long-term effects, such as experiencing their own problems when they start to have a relationship of their own. Depending on the age of the child, some of the short-term effects vary. If the child is preschool age or younger, some of the developing signs can include: difficulties staying asleep or falling asleep, signs of hiding or stuttering and signs of severe separation anxiety. If the child is elementary school-age, they may blame themselves for the abuse that their parents are experiencing, which will hinder the child’s self-esteem. Teenagers may start to act in negative ways such as skipping school or starting to fight more with family members. They can also start to develop low self-esteem and have difficulties making friends or start bullying others.
Different long-term effects can arise, but children that have witnessed domestic abuse have a greater chance of repeating this cycle in adulthood by either falling victim to an abusive relationship or becoming the abuser themselves. The Office on Women’s Health claims, “a boy who sees his mother being abused is 10 times more likely to abuse his female partner as an adult. A girl who grows up in a home where her father abuses her mother is more than six times as likely to be sexually abused than a girl who grows up in a non-abusive home.” Not only does this affect a child’s future in regards to abuse, but it can affect their mental and physical health over time as well.
In addition to the child’s mental and physical health taking a toll, so does the victim’s. The victim can face a span of effects that are physical, mental and emotional throughout the abuse and after. Some physical effects include bruises, red or purple marks at the neck, sprained or broken wrists, muscle tension, involuntary shaking, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, chronic fatigue, and more. Women can even develop menstrual cycle or fertility issues over the course of the abuse. The mental effects of this abuse vary from individual to individual, but some of the more common ones include PTSD, depression, severe anxiety, alcohol or drug abuse, and more. The emotional effects can include feeling unworthy, inability to trust, hopelessness, apprehensiveness, discouraged feelings about the future, and more. Every individual reacts differently to the recovery process, therefore, healing takes time for everyone. As a result of the victim feeling helpless in these situations, most do not know how to seek help or if it is the “right” thing to do when children are involved.
Creating a safety plan to be able to ensure the safety of the victim and their potential children is a critical part of leaving the abuser. Preparing to leave can take time to fully execute the plan, especially when the abuser monitors the usage of the victim’s phone, computer, email and GPS devices. Research suggests that clearing the search history after using a device can help protect the safety of the individual.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline has a number (1-800-799-7233), available for 24-hour support. They also offer assistance in creating a safety plan for when the individual is ready to leave.
As the pandemic arrived in spring 2020 and continues to affect us, concerns have arisen about issues like domestic abuse worsening. As lockdowns in the US lasted for weeks, starting in March through April, some states kept their lockdowns longer or returned to locking down as case numbers worsened. In a piece from TIME magazine, writer Melissa Godin states, “for people who are experiencing domestic violence, mandatory lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19 have trapped them in their homes with their abusers, isolated from the people and the resources that could help them.” COVID-19 has amplified the feeling of being trapped with an abuser. Godin mentions that domestic violence is about control and power, but with COVID-19 presenting unpredictable times, it intensifies issues like this. While most individuals escape from the violence by going out to see family or friends and going to work, they are now trapped at home, causing further stress for the victim. Many safety plans, such as shelters, may close doors to individuals who have been exposed to the virus or if the shelters feel that the number of people in the shelter is too high. Currently, The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers an online chat system, making it more accommodating to victims that are looking for resources to lean on during these times.
With such tough and unforeseeable times due to the COVID-19 pandemic, victims of abuse are under intense pressure due to the constant unease of living with an abuser, especially at a time when we are all stuck at home. Involvement in these types of situations can take a serious toll on children. For the sake of the victim and others involved, putting their physical, mental and emotional health first is an important factor in helping the abused. However, luckily, victims have means of seeking help, even in the midst of a pandemic. If you find yourself in a situation like this, create a safety plan and keep a list of resources (like the ones mentioned above) on hand at all times.