Twenty-five% of violent crime occurs in or near the victim’s home, and domestic violence destroys millions of families each year.
I want to say up front that both men and women are both victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse. For that reason, unless I’m talking about a specific case, I will always refer to those involved in domestic abuse as “victim” and “perpetrator.” But I will note that in the vast majority of cases, women are victims and men are perpetrators. That’s not my opinion—it’s statistical fact.
As a police officer, I was often called to the scene of domes tic violence. It’s a call most cops dread because right, wrong, good, and bad aren’t always well defined. It’s not uncommon in some domestic disputes for a police officer to get into a scuffle with a male perpetrator, only to have the woman turn and attack the police officer for fighting with her man. Domestic violence laws have helped cops make decisions about when to make arrests. But often, they end up leaving a situation because no laws were broken. The people were in conflict—perhaps extreme conflict—but without violence. The anger may have been defused, but only temporarily.
There are people who fight. I know people who throw things at each other who’ve been married for twenty years, and it’s not to be confused with domestic abuse. Yes, it’s violent, but are they really trying to injure each other, or are they just truly making a lot of noise? It’s often difficult to assess a situation, even from a police point of view. Still, these cases shouldn’t be confused with systematic domestic abuse, in which the abuser methodically breaks down the mental and physical well-being of the victim. In such cases, police are usually called only when the victim is in the process of fighting back against the abuser. Rarely is the call made after the victim has been beaten. The systematic violence reduces victims to not calling for help at that point because they feel guilty, intimidated, and , most of all, hopeless. These are sometimes the worst cases. A victim who does call has taken the first step in defiance of the abuser.
As you can see, the cases aren’t always black and white, and the shades of gray can be many. But one thing is certain: Different forms of violence in the home aren't exclusive crimes. Their victims come from all walks of life, religions, cultures, income levels, all ages, and from both genders. The victims share certain things in common: feelings of guilt, shame, fear, helplessness, isolation, and a tendency to keep their experiences to themselves. The worst part is that many victims convince themselves—often for great periods of time—that they absolutely aren't being abused. Likewise, many perpetrators don’t admit that they are committing violence against loved ones.
Personal security in cases of domestic violence means protecting yourself and any children involved from the perpetrator of the violence. This also means being honest about whether or not you are a victim or a perpetrator.
Quiz: Are You a Victim of Abuse?
Does the person you love:
1. Monitor your comings and goings in great detail? (“Where did you go? How long could it have taken you to pick up a loaf of bread?”)
2. Constantly accuse you of being unfaithful?
3. Isolate you from family, friends, and people in general?
4. Discourage you from working, joining organizations, attending school, or leaving the house?
5. Belittle or humiliate you routinely?
6. Become violent or angry using alcohol or drugs?
7. Control all finances and force you to account in detail for what you spend?
8. Destroy personal property or sentimental items?
9. Hit, punch, slap, kick, or bite you or the children, or threaten to harm you?
10. Use or threaten to use a weapon against you?
11. Control your behavior with threats, such as physical harm, or taking the children from you?
12. Force you to have sex against your will?
Quiz: Are You a Perpetrator of Abuse?
Do you mistreat someone you love by:
1. Monitoring their comings and goings in great detail?
2. Making constant accusations of unfaithfulness?
3. Isolating the person from family, friends, and people in general?
4. Discouraging the person from working, joining organizations, attending school, or leaving the house?
5. Routinely belittling or humiliating them?
6. Becoming violent or angry when using alcohol or drugs?
7. Controlling all finances and forcing them to account in detail for what is spent?
8. Destroying their personal property or sentimental items?
9. Hitting, punching, slapping, kicking, or biting them?
10. Using or threatening to use a weapon against them?
11. Controlling their behavior with threats, including physical harm, or taking the children from them?
12. Forcing the person to have sex against their will?
If you believe you are a victim of domestic violence, it’s important for you to admit that fact. It’s the first step toward escaping your situation. Those who feel trapped in domestic abuse often can’t escape because they feel helpless. They need empowerment and encouragement to make a plan to escape.
Not everyone can take time to plan, however. If you believe you must escape a domestic violence situation immediately, you should do one or all of the following:
1. Call the police. Assault by anyone, even a family member, is a crime. Most police officers can refer you to agencies and personnel who can help you.
2. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233.
3. Leave the home immediately and go to a trusted friend or relative, a local fire station, police station, or hospital emergency room.
If you have time make a plan for escaping a violent or abusive situation, I suggest you try these:
Top Ten Tips for Escaping an Abusive Situation
1. Confide in someone. Remember that abusers isolate victims from others to keep domestic violence a hidden crime. Breaking the isolation is empowering, and the support of others will help you carry out your escape plan. Confide in a friend, neighbor, or family member, either living nearby or in another location.
2. Plan how you’ll leave. If by car, make sure you have a key when you need it by hiding a spare somewhere safe. Or hide enough money for other transportation, and prepare phone numbers to call when you’re ready—for instance, cab fare and phone numbers of cab companies.
3. Plan where you’ll go. This is your safe place. Can you stay with friends or relatives you trust and who support your decision? (Anybody who tells you to stay in a dangerous situation isn't supporting you.) If not, discreetly find local abuse shelters. Call the National Domestic Abuse Hot- line or a local hot line for information. When making calls to plan where you’ll go, remember that your phone bill may show long-distance calls or local charged calls, thus giving your abuser clues to locate you later.
4. Get some money. If you have access to checking accounts, take everything you can the day you leave. Don’t use ATM cards or credit cards after that, because you’ll leave clues for your abuser to find you. If the abuser controls the finances completely, you can still get cash, but it will be difficult and you may get only small amounts at a time. Some suggestions:
• Siphon off some of the grocery money.
• Get change from clothing pockets; check the floor and seats in the car—check everywhere.
• Swap products for refund cash. E.g., buy boxed cereal and keep the expensive box. When you run out, buy the same cereal, but after the abuser checks your receipts, return it and buy much cheaper cereal in a bag to refill the first box. Save the cash difference. Other items you can do this with include shampoo and toiletries, peanut butter, toilet tissue and other paper products, even aspirin and other over-the-counter medicines. Use your imagination.
5. The day you go, take jewelry and other valuables you can pawn for cash, including wedding rings, silver service, and wedding dresses. (It might even make you feel better!)
6. If you don’t have your own checking account but have a joint account, take a few checks from the back of the book. They’re less likely to be found missing.
7. Collect important papers such as birth certificates for you and your children, passports, and anything else you need, and keep them in an envelope in a safe place. Your driver’s license and Social Security card should be carried in your wallet at all times.
8. Plan the escape day. E.g., you might have a trip to the Laundromat or a shopping day. Leave and go to your planned safe place instead.
9. Shortly before you leave, either don’t pay bills or don’t mail the envelopes. Keep that money for yourself for your escape.
10. Don’t leave clues behind for your abuser to use. Take your address book containing all your friends’ addresses and phone numbers. Take or destroy notes, letters, envelopes, phone bills, or anything that might have addresses and phone numbers.
The best solution to this problem is to prevent violence and abuse in the first place. That means managing conflict in a reasonable way that can lead to solutions to problems, not leaving things to simmer and boil up again and again. When under duress, you have trouble seeing yourself as others see you. As a police officer, I’ve intervened in enough situations to know that when things have escalated to the point of abuse, it’s time for those involved to seek professional help. Here are some suggestions:
1. Consider professional counseling. Individual or couples therapy with a psychologist or other licensed mental health counselor is the place to start.
2. Call your local domestic abuse hot line, which is generally listed in the government pages of your phone book. Other agencies to contact might include your state or local family services agency.
3. Join a support group. Professionals and agencies often sponsor such groups. You might also check your church or a local domestic abuse shelter for advice.
If you find yourself trapped and unable to make plans because you’re frozen in fear, don’t forget that you can call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 800-799-7233. You don’t have to go through this situation atone.