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Domestic Violence: Saying Sorry Doesn't Make it Right


"The violence began within the first week of our marriage, where he pressed his hands against my mouth and nose attempting to smother me. After this incident, my ex husband would become violent almost nightly often for no apparent reason. One of his favorite assaults was to strangle me with my back against the wall, my feet dangling a foot or so above the floor. He would get right into my face and scream, 'What makes you think I won't kill you and then kill myself?' He would keep me up all night, often lecturing me endlessly and if I got sleepy he would attack me, often times choking me. I was in a constant state of exhaustion, sleeping an average of two hours a night.

His violence was controlled and directed at certain parts of my body so that the injuries were not visible to co-workers and friends. Before getting married we dated for three years, with no instances of violence."

So writes Karen, a domestic violence survivor from California. Think this is rare? Think again. A July 2000 report from the Department of Justice reported that there are 4.8 million attacks against women each year and 2.9 million attacks of domestic violence against men. Do you think this could never happen to you, or someone you know? The American Medical Association estimates that one in four women will be victimized by domestic violence in her lifetime, and that 30% of Americans know someone who suffers from domestic violence. Most importantly, it is estimated that only one fifth of all rapes and one quarter of all physical assaults are reported - the actual numbers may therefore be much higher.

What is Domestic Violence?

True or False: Domestic violence refers to the physical or sexual assault of women.

If you answered False to this question, you're right. Domestic violence actually refers to the assault of both men and women. Incidences of domestic violence include those between married couples, as well as abuse of elders by family members, abuse between roommates, abuse between dating couples and those in lesbian and gay relationships.

Domestic violence can also be much more than physical or sexual abuse. It can be emotional, including name calling, public humiliation, and making the person feel guilty. Offenders may withhold approval, appreciation or affection from victims. Abuse can involve social isolation, controlling what the other does, where they go and who they see. Domestic violence can include economic abuse; the abuser may make the other ask for money, or prevent him or her from getting a job. Abuse can also involve forcing the other to witness the abuse of a child or pet, or forbidding the victim from making decisions or interacting with a child.

Domestic violence is a crime that knows no barriers, be it class, economic status, or race. While women are five times more likely to be abused than men, the number of reported cases for both men and women is staggering. Men and women of all races suffer of domestic violence, with white women being the most frequent victims. And sadly, more than half of all abused women have young children living with them, who in turn are more likely to be abused or to become abusive in the future.

How Do You Know If You're Being Abused?

The Metro Nashville Police Department lists these questions to consider in your life, or the lives of people you know:

  • Does your partner blame everyone else, especially you, for his or her mistakes?
  • Prevent you from seeing your family or friends?
  • Curse you, say mean things, mock you or humiliate you?
  • Intimidate or threaten you?
  • Prevent you from going out, or from getting a job?
  • Force you to have sex, or make you uncomfortable about sex?
  • Restrain, hit, punch or slap you?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be in an abusive relationship.

The Law and Domestic Violence

So how is the law dealing with domestic violence? In the last decade, the law has stopped ignoring domestic crimes and started helping victims. One important step in decreasing domestic violence against women was the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAMA). VAMA increased the number of shelters for battered women, created new hot lines, improved the ease of obtaining restraining orders, and called for mandatory arrests in cases of domestic violence. VAMA also increased the amount of money available for the prevention of domestic violence, and the Department of Justice created the Violence Against Women Office to address these needs. In 2000, President Clinton signed the Violence Against Women Act of 2000, giving more money to address domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Additionally, the law and courts are increasingly beginning to address domestic violence against men and for same-sex relationships.

Of her experience escaping domestic violence, Karen described, "…He became violent one morning and began to choke me and then threw me to the floor. He then proceeded to literally walk on me. A light bulb went off in my head that he was actually walking on me like I was a rug. I thought, he's financially, psychologically, emotionally and now physically walking all over me. This was the final straw."

Karen walked out. She went to a priest at her church, who directed her to a woman's shelter. She talked to her coworkers and her boss, all of who offered her support, ranging from shelter to clothing. She also got a restraining order against her husband, and after time was able to get away from her abusive relationship.

Are Things Changing?

The Department of Justice reports that attacks and threats of violence against women declined 21% percent during the mid-1990s. Additionally, both men and women are increasingly reporting incidences that do occur, with an estimated 59% of all women and 46% of all men now reporting domestic violence.

The number of intimate partner homicides has also declined since 1976 for every race and gender group but white women. Homicides of black women fell 45%, and the number of men murdered by an intimate partner dropped 60% from 1976 through 1998.

What Can You Do?

Think you can't make a difference? Karen writes, "It was the combination of many people over time that helped me to leave. Each person's statement and action contributed to my ability to leave. I remember the first co-worker in Nashville who asked me if my fat lip was caused by my ex husband. He may of felt that it didn't do any good, or that he was wrong to ask. But by asking that question, it planted a seed in my mind of what was happening to me wasn't right."

There are now many more sources for help than there were a decade ago. The most important thing you can do is to fight back against domestic violence in your own life or in the lives of people you know. There is no excuse for such violence; there is no excuse for not speaking up. No one deserves to suffer this abuse, no matter what his or her spouse, significant other, family member or roommate tells him or her, no matter how many apologies or excuses are given. There are many sources of help, from online sites to telephone numbers. The Department of Justice also operates a National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE, and you can find hot line numbers within your state at the family violence web site.

Other ways to get involve include bringing speakers from shelters and domestic violence prevention groups into your school, church, or other organization. As is often the case in life, knowledge can be your best weapon. You can also contact your local representative and keep yourself informed on how he/she votes on domestic violence. Do you know how your congressman stands on issues related to domestic violence? Your president? For millions of Americans each year, it matters. Speak up and make a difference.


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