Surviving the effects of domestic violence

Many people tend to think about domestic abuse as an isolated problem between a couple. However, it may be more accurate to view domestic violence as a human rights issue, which has the power to impact entire communities and generations of children.

When a once loving relationship becomes dangerous, everyone who cares about the victim and abuser becomes tainted, including extended family and neighbors.

Abusers frequently isolate their victims in an effort to gain more control. They may set high expectations – a list of chores that must be done by a certain time, or a table that must be arranged a certain way. However, those expectations are distractions from the real problem, according to Lynn Bies, Wise Options program manager.

“Victims start to think they can prevent the abuse if they can only stay ahead of the game and meet their abuser’s demands. But domestic violence always escalates. The abuser continues to heighten that bar and raise their expectations,” Bies said.

Factors: Poor economy, rising rents

The poor economy, coupled with the increasing rental prices in the area, have added yet another layer of complications for those hoping to leave an abusive relationship. Because many abusers isolate their victims, the abused individual may not work or have access to their own vehicle or cellphone.

For those with children, the decision to leave can be even more challenging.

“With the rent prices around here, many women cannot afford to rent a place by themselves. If they have children – especially if the abuser isn’t hurting their children – many women will stay so that their kids have a roof over their heads and enough to eat,” Bies said.

Many parents believe that domestic abuse can be hidden from children. For example, many victims justify their decision to stay with their abuser as long as the violence against them takes place while the children are in another room, or after they are asleep.

Abuse becomes norm for children

However, children often see, hear and understand much more than adults realize. Those who study domestic violence have termed the abused parent the the primary victim; children in the home are referred to as a “secondary victim.” Even when children themselves are not physically abused, domestic violence takes a variety of tolls on the psychological and emotional development of children and teens.

According to a study published by the American Academy of Clinical Physicians, children who witness violence toward a loved one are more likely to engage in risky, aggressive or delinquent behavior. Teens in homes with domestic violence are more at risk for substance abuse and school truancy.

There also is a strong correlation between spousal abuse and child abuse. Due to the isolating and controlling nature of a home ruled by domestic violence, victimized parents may not even be aware of the abuse inflicted upon their own children.

“It really is a problem that affects the whole family,” Bies said.

“When someone uses anger and violence to control their behavior, it changes how everyone around them acts. Victims start to feel like they’re walking on egg shells; that if they can just do everything right, the violence will end,” she added.

Bies explained that the only way to end the cycle of domestic violence, which often is a learned behavior, is to leave the situation. She recognized how terrifying that could be for a single parent with few options.

Yet, Bies believes most people are much stronger than they recognize.

“People tend to think that victims of domestic violence are weak. I don’t believe that. These people have developed survival skills to live in chaos. These are very tough individuals,” she said.