The War Zone at Home: Domestic Violence

The War Zone at Home: Domestic Violence

Between the years of 2000 and 2013, 6,613 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. During the same period of time in the U.S., 11,766 women were killed due to domestic or intimate partner violence.

                   Domestic or intimate partner violence is one of the most common and neglected issues in our society, and it cuts across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines. We are constantly flooded with images and news stories of celebrities assaulting their wives or girlfriends. This is not an issue that can be eliminated quickly or easily. However, being aware of the facts about domestic and intimate partner violence can prepare us as a society to believe and support survivors, and prevent it from happening in the future. 

Here are the facts you need to know. 

Abuse is Common:

According to the CDC:

●     1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime.

●     More than 1/3of women murdered in America are murdered by their male partners. 2% of men are murdered by their female partners. 

●     According to the WHO, 70% of women worldwide will experience physical or sexual abuse by a partner in their lifetime.  

Abuse Affects Men Too:

Though it is less common, men can also be victims of domestic violence. Because most violence is directed towards women, and most female perpetrators typically utilize low levels of violence, such as slapping or verbal abuse, male survivors who experience severe abuse find themselves stigmatized for having suffered something that has been labeled as a women’s issue. As a result, many men do not report and struggle to access services. 


Abuse is not just physical:

“He never hit me.”

Any therapist who supports survivors of domestic violence has heard this phrase. Breaking down where abuse starts can be difficult and confusing. Abuse is so much bigger than physical assault. Domestic violence is a system of behaviors that erodes a person’s self concept until the abuse feels normal and even deserved.

Far too many women and men do not realize that domestic violence includes so much more than physical abuse.  Although the presence of physical abuse increases the likelihood that the abuse will be lethal, domestic violence also takes the following forms:


Domestic violence normally starts with seemingly benign control issues such as:

●     Having strong opinions about what you wear or how much makeup you put on.

●     Being “protective” and needing to know your location or track your phone.

●     Being “concerned” about your health and putting you on diet or exercise regimen.

●     Wanting to make sure your car is fine, and tracking the miles on your odometer.

●     Calling or texting regularly to “check on you,” and becoming upset if you do not reply.

●     Forcing or encouraging dependency by subtly making the victim believe that they are incapable of performing certain tasks or surviving on their own


Another red flag in relationships is someone who subtly and persistently isolates your from your support system. Your intimate partner doesn’t haveto LOVE your mom, but if they don’t like your mom, your dad, your friends, or  your coworkers, and/ortries to get you to move far away from them, it’s time to take a second look. 

Emotional Abuse or Intimidation:

Emotional and verbal abuse are methods of intimidation used to erode the victim’s self-confidence. Insults, name calling, threatening rejection, public humiliation; hurting or alienatingchildren, pets or treasured objects, are all forms of verbal or emotional abuse. 

Sexual Abuse:

Sexual abuse in an intimate or married relationship includes manipulating, coercing or physically forcing a person to have sex or undergo sexual contact against their consent, or while they are incapacitated (drunk, drugged, asleep, sick or unable to respond or defend themselves.)

Sexual abuse is also used as a punishment for upsetting the abuser, or as a form of control to shame the victim into staying in the relationship.

This abuse can also take the form of demanding that the partner participates in sex acts, has sex with others, watch or participate in making pornographic material, or puts up with affairs by their partner. 

Financial or Economic Abuse:

Financial or economic abuse makes it financially impossible for the victim to leave the abuser. This can include not allowing the victim to work or jeopardizing the victim’s job, having secret accounts, withholding or confiscating paychecks, giving allowances and controlling how money is spent, or forcing or coercing the woman into getting pregnant to prevent a divorce from being finalized or to keep her more financially dependent on her partner. 

Religious or Spiritual Abuse:

Religious or spiritual abuse is not just reserved for faith leaders and clergy. It’s subtle and difficult to spot, but it is deeply psychologically damaging. Spiritual abuseis using religious texts or beliefs to minimize or rationalize abusive behaviors (such as physical, financial, emotional or sexual abuse/marital rape).


Abuse is Cyclical:


Part of the reason that abuse is tricky for victims to identify is that it comes and goes in waves. If things were all bad all the time it would be a whole lot easier to see what was going on.  In an abusive relationship, the highs and lows are extreme.  To quote Eminem and Rihanna, “When it’s good, it’s great...when it’s bad it’s awful.”

There is a distinct cycle to domestic violence that is made up of  three stages. 

1. The Tension Building Stage

Stress and tension builds over work, finances, the kids, or other common stressors. The victim seeks to appease and control the tension in the relationship, but this does not stop the abuser. Verbal abuse begins.

2. Distinct Battering Episode

As tension peaks, the physical abuse begins. The abuse is triggered by the batterer’s emotional state or by an external event, and is not the victim’s fault. The start of the battering episode is unpredictable and outside of the victim’s control.

3. The Honeymoon Phase

The abuser is ashamed of his or her behavior, expresses remorse, and tries to minimize the abuse. This can mean blaming the victim or denying that it happened. The abuser will genuinely attempt to convince the victim that it will never happen again. The abuser will shower the victim with loving and contrite behavior, making the victim feel safe, secure, happy, and relieved that leaving the abuser is not necessary.  This is normally followed by time of calm that can last anywhere from a few days to a few years before the cycle starts again.

Abuse Survivors Face a Culture that Blames Victims:

Harm reduction methods that empower women to keep themselves out of or leave violent relationships are absolutely vital, but the blame of abuse should fall solidly on the shoulders of the perpetrator. Unfortunately, survivors are often blamed for being in the relationship in the first place, and asked “Why didn’t you just leave if it was so bad?”

Women are actually the most likely to be murdered by an intimate partner during or shortly after an attempt to leave the relationship. Exiting a violent relationship is difficult and risky. Further, the psychological toll that the abuse takes, leave the survivor feeling dependent on the relationship. Family and community pressure to forgive abusers also plays a role in convincing the victim that the abuse is their fault or just their burden to bear in life. The average domestic violence survivor attempts to leave seven times before permanently and successfully ending the relationship.

No matter what. Please keep in mind that no amount of violence is warranted in any relationship, regardless of whether or not the victim was unfaithful, unkind, or unreasonable. 

A person who resorts to violence in a relationship will likely be violent again.

Look Past the Perfect Family Photo:

People affected by domestic violence can be found right in the middle of your blue ribbon school zone, book clubs, church gatherings, PTA meetings, and work Christmas parties. We all need to become a community with eyes to see them, who are willing to ask if they’re really ok; to be people who are willing to look past the glowing family photos, the minivan, or perfectly coordinated yoga gear. Let’s be people who believe survivors and are able to help.


Written by:

Alyssa Williamson, MA LPC Intern 

under Lynn McCracken, MS LPC-S LMFT-S

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Ly Tran