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Domestic violence comes in many guises

  • 2010-01-28
  • By Ella Karapetyan

VICTIM AND AGGRESSOR: Psychologists say that children who grow up surrounded by domestic violence often resort to violent behavior into their adulthood.

TALLINN - Domestic violence occurs in every culture, country and age group. It affects people from all socioeconomic, educational and religious backgrounds and takes place among same sex as well as in heterosexual relationships. Modern attention to domestic violence began in the women’s movement of the 1970s, particularly within feminism and women’s rights.
Domestic abuse is also known as spousal abuse, child abuse or intimate partner violence. The term ‘intimate partner violence’ (IPV) is often used synonymously with domestic abuse/domestic violence. Family violence is a broader definition, often used to include child abuse, elder abuse, and other violent acts between family members.

Domestic violence and abuse can happen to anyone, yet the problem is often overlooked, excused, or denied. This is especially true when the abuse is psychological, rather than physical. Emotional abuse is often minimized, yet it can leave deep and lasting scars. Domestic violence is a huge problem behind closed doors.
There are many different theories as to the causes of domestic violence. These include psychological theories that consider personality traits and mental characteristics of the offender, as well as social theories which consider external factors in the offender’s environment, such as family structure, stress and social learning. As with many phenomena regarding human experience, no single approach appears to cover all cases.

Psychologists say that one of the great tragedies of domestic violence is that children who grow up in homes where it occurs are far more likely than others to resort to the behavior themselves, continuing the cycle of violence into the next generation.
Nearly 90 percent of batterers saw violence in the household as children, and many were victims of it themselves. Psychologists claim that noticing and acknowledging the warning signs and symptoms of domestic violence and abuse is the first step to ending it.

Signs of an abusive relationship

Specialists say that there are many signs of an abusive relationship, but the most telling sign is fear of your partner. If you feel like you have to walk on eggshells around your partner - constantly watching what you say and do in order to avoid a blow-up - chances are your relationship is unhealthy and abusive. Other signs that you may be in an abusive relationship include a partner who belittles you or tries to control you, and feelings of self-loathing, helplessness, and desperation.

Physical violence is just one form of domestic abuse

When people think of domestic abuse, they often picture battered women who have been physically assaulted. But not all domestic abuse involves violence. Just because you’re not battered and bruised doesn’t mean you’re not being abused. Domestic abuse takes many forms, including psychological, emotional, and sexual abuse. These types of abuse are less obvious than physical abuse, but that doesn’t mean they’re not damaging. In fact, these types of domestic abuse can be even more harmful because they are so often overlooked - even by the person being abused.

Emotional or psychological abuse

The aim of emotional or psychological abuse is to chip away at your feelings of self-worth and independence. If you’re the victim of emotional abuse, you may feel that there is no way out of the relationship, or that without your abusive partner you have nothing.
Emotional abuse includes verbal abuse such as yelling, name-calling, blaming and shaming. Isolation, intimidation, and controlling behavior also fall under emotional abuse. Additionally, abusers who use emotional or psychological abuse often throw in threats of physical violence.

You may think that physical abuse is far worse than emotional abuse, since physical violence can send you to the hospital and leave you with scars. But, the scars of emotional abuse are very real, and they run deep. In fact, emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse - sometimes even more so. Furthermore, emotional abuse usually worsens over time, often escalating to physical battery.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is common in abusive relationships. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, between one-third and one-half of all battered women are raped by their partners at least once during their relationship. Any situation in which you are forced to participate in unwanted, unsafe or degrading sexual activity is sexual abuse.
Forced sex, even by a spouse or intimate partner with whom you also have consensual sex, is an act of aggression and violence. Furthermore, women whose partners abuse them physically and sexually are at a higher risk of being seriously injured or killed.

Understanding domestic violence and abuse

However, women are not the only victims of domestic violence and abuse. Men also suffer from domestic abuse - especially verbal and emotional abuse - and may be even more ashamed to seek help.
Domestic violence and abuse are used for one purpose and one purpose only: to gain and maintain total control over you. An abuser doesn’t “play fair.” Abusers use fear, guilt, shame, and intimidation to wear you down and keep you under their thumb. Your abuser may also threaten you, hurt you, or hurt those around you.

Domestic violence and abuse do not discriminate. It happens among heterosexual couples and in same-sex partnerships. It occurs within all age ranges, ethnic backgrounds, and financial levels. And while women are more commonly victimized, men are also abused - especially verbally and emotionally.

Recognizing abuse is the first step to getting help. Domestic abuse often escalates from threats and verbal abuse to physical violence and even murder. And while physical injury may be the most obvious danger, the emotional and psychological consequences of domestic abuse are also severe. No one deserves this kind of pain - and your first step to breaking free is recognizing that your situation is abusive. Once you acknowledge the reality of the abusive situation, then you can get the help you need.

According to a recent study, almost half of Estonians have fallen victim to domestic violence, ranging from verbal abuse to sexual assault and beatings. The national statistics office said its research found that 49 percent of Estonians, both women and men, aged 15-74 have suffered some form of either physical or emotional abuse at some point.
“The results indicate that abuse by an intimate partner is a far bigger problem in Estonia than previously thought,” said statistics office expert Merle Paats. According to Paats, 48 percent of the surveyed said that physical and emotional violence went hand in hand, while 31 percent said they had faced purely emotional abuse and 21 percent only physical. The study also found that among women 7 percent said they had been sexually assaulted by their partner.

Domestic violence was a largely taboo subject when Estonia was part of the Soviet Union and in the years immediately after independence in 1991. But the issue has been spotlighted in recent years following cases involving public figures. “There are no comparative studies on abuse by an intimate partner available so far for all European Union member states,” Paats noted, adding that moves were under way to research the problem in a standard fashion across the 27-nation bloc.

Types of domestic abuse are:

•    Dominance – Abusive individuals need to feel in charge of the relationship. They will make decisions for you and the family, tell you what to do, and expect you to obey without question. Your abuser may treat you like a servant, child, or even as his possession.
•    Humiliation – An abuser will do everything they can to make you feel bad about yourself or defective in some way. After all, if you believe you’re worthless and that no one else will want you, you’re less likely to leave. Insults, name-calling, shaming, and public put-downs are all weapons of abuse designed to erode your self-esteem and make you feel powerless.
•    Isolation – In order to increase your dependence on them, an abusive partner will cut you off from the outside world. They may keep you from seeing family or friends, or even prevent you from going to work or school. You may have to ask permission to do anything, go anywhere, or see anyone.
•    Threats – Abusers commonly use threats to keep their partners from leaving or to scare them into dropping charges. Your abuser may threaten to hurt or kill you, your children, other family members, or even pets. They may also threaten to commit suicide, file false charges against you, or report you to child services.
•    Intimidation – Your abuser may use a variety of intimidation tactics designed to scare you into submission. Such tactics include making threatening looks or gestures, smashing things in front of you, destroying property, hurting your pets, or putting weapons on display. The clear message is that if you don’t obey, there will be violent consequences.
•    Denial and blame – Abusers are very good at making excuses for the inexcusable. They will blame their abusive and violent behavior on a bad childhood, a bad day, and even on the victims of their abuse. Your abusive partner may minimize the abuse or deny that it occurred. They will commonly shift the responsibility on to you: Somehow, their violent and abusive behavior is your fault.