Domestic violence has been defined as the chronic abuse of power between persons who share a household, usually a family. The abuse may be emotional, mental or physical and done through intentional threats, intimidation and/or physical violence (Newton 2001). Oftentimes, the abuser is the husband and the victim is the wife. Or else, the abuser is a parent or parents, and the victims, the children; the ex-husband and the ex-wife; boyfriend-girlfriend; older sibling-younger siblings; a son or daughter, and a parent. The list goes on (Newton).
The police and welfare figures are always smaller than the actual, because domestic violence is very difficult to report and harder to investigate (Commonwealth Fund Survey 1998). Nevertheless, available figures say that there are anywhere from 960,000 to 3.9 million incidents of violence inflicted by present or former spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend or another on a particular household victim each year – usually a woman. More clearly, the Bureau of Justice Statistics state that a woman is beaten every 15 seconds in America, making domestic violence the leading cause of injury to women aged 15 to 44.
The assault on women right in their very homes is, therefore, more numerous and frequent than car accidents, muggings and rapes together (Peace at Home 1995). What more can be more glaring than the fact that about 31% of American women have reported that they have been physically or sexually abused by their husband or boyfriend in at least once in their lives. And neither is this a secret, because approximately 30% Americans said they know a woman who has been abused physically by her husband or boyfriend. Women are also much likelier to be victimized by men than otherwise, and 21% of those men are related to these women – a husband, lover, father, or brother. It should also be easy to believe that women are 7-14 times subjected to violence than men (Commonwealth Fund Survey).
Many seem to know little about domestic violence. It involves more than temporary, infrequent or isolated cases of battering or beating: It may not happen that often, but it is a conscious form of control or establishing control and fear in a relationship (Peace at Home 1995) by the same person. Nor is it common only among poor families or households, because domestic violence is a common phenomenon to women of all cultures, races, occupations, socio-economic levels and ages.
The abuser is not poor, jobless or un-educated: a third of those accused of woman battering and counseled are respectable and professional men – some of them are doctors, psychologists, lawyers, ministers, government officials and business leaders. There is no single group of persons exempted (Peace at Home).
Domestic violence, when physical, is not a slight or simple or non-serious push, smacking, slapping or punch (Peace at Home 1995). About 22-35% of domestically battered women who are taken to or visit hospitals or clinics sustain severe injuries, owing to violence by someone in their own homes, often their husbands or boyfriends. Otherwise, the result is murder or homicide, as statistics show that 26% of recent female murders are attributed to their husbands or boyfriends. Furthermore, 3 out of 4 reported rape cases or 76% happened since they were 18 years old and committed by a husband, lover or a date, and 18% experienced complete or attempted rape some time in their lives (Peace at Home).
Domestic violence also involves being stalked, as reported by 78% of the women, and during which they are physically assaulted at 80% or raped at 30% by the partner (Peace at Home 1995). High school girls at 8% attest to having been forcibly assaulted by their dates, and 40% other girls say that they know teen-age girls, aged 14 to 17 who have been beaten or assaulted by their boyfriends. Husbands, ex-husbands or lovers who abuse women also abuse their children.
A recent national survey reveals that 50% of more 2,000 interviewed families have the men-of-the house who frequently beat both the wife/woman and the children. Most of these children are below 12. And, most unfortunately, these victims find it extremely difficult to leave their abuser – 75% of them face the fatal risk of getting killed by their victimizer if they attempt to escape (Peace at Home).
Domestic violence does not respect color or race. White women are as vulnerable and as frequent victims as blacks. Hispanic and non-Hispanic women also have about the same rate per 1,000 persons, according to reports (US Department of Justice 1994). Those aged 20 to 34 are most frequently assaulted by intimates at 16 per 1,000 persons; so are those with less than a college education at 5 per 1,000, with family incomes less than $9,999 at 11 per 1,000; and those divorced or separated at 16 per 1,000. The figures are similar with women living in central cities, suburban and rural areas (US Department of Justice).
The National Crime Victimization Survey says that 1 in 5 domestically abused women reports having been assaulted in a series of 3 or more in the last 6 months prior to reporting (US Department of Justice 1994). It goes through a cycle that becomes a pattern in many cases. Tension first builds up and there are criticisms, yelling, swearing, gestures or anger, coercion and threats by both parties. Then physical or sexual violence follows and so do more threats. When things cool off and the sense of guilt or fear comes upon the abuser, apologies, blaming, promises to change and gifts also follow (US Department of Justice).
Why is a violent relationship difficult to end? The cycle of love, hope and fear keeps it strong. The victim loves her partner and she reminds herself or she is reminded about his good points and that he is not all that bad. Then she hopes that he will change and assures herself that the relationship did not start this way nor did he intend it to be. And there too is the fear of his threat that he will her, her family or himself (Walker 1979).
Domestic violence can also be in the form of emotional abuse and nonetheless be injurious. Emotional abuse happens when a powerful person in the household, usually the husband or lover continuously puts the women or children down, accuses her or them as stupid, useless, bad, unfaithful or any other degrading quality (Walker 1979).
It may not constitute criminal behavior but often leads to criminal abuse. There are many examples of emotional abuse: insulting, making someone feel bad about himself or herself, making him or her think he or she is crazy, humiliating, asserting male privilege, making all the big decisions, defining the roles of the household members, using economic power to control, preventing any member from getting or keeping a job, luring a partner to ask for money, giving an allowance, taking someone’s money, refusing access to family income, controlling the family through coercion or threats, threatening to hurt someone, threatening to leave or commit suicide, threatening to report someone in the family to the authorities, forcing or intimidating to drop charges, coercing to perform illegal acts, controlling through intimidation, causing fear through gestures or acts, smashing things, displaying weapons, controlling through the children, using the children to transmit messages, controlling others through isolation, threatening to take the children away, controlling what someone in the family does or says, limiting a member’s outside involvement, showing jealousy to justify his actions, controlling through denying or minimizing, denying the abuse, projecting the abuse to the partner or making light of the abuse (Walker).
Many or most cases of domestic violence are not reported immediately to the authorities because the victim thinks that it is a private or family affair, a minor incident or she fears revenge from the abuser (US Department of Justice 1994). But the victim who reports the incidents does so to punish her offender or to prevent the abuse from happening again to her and to someone else. The NCVS shows that police respond promptly to calls within 5 minutes in 36% of the domestic cases and report on it regardless of the relationship. However, the police take the report more if the offender is an outsider at 77% than if he were an intimate at 67-70%.
The police are also more open to searching for evidence in the scene of the crime if the offender is an outsider than when an intimate or cohabitor in the household. Police say that they have written policies concerning domestic violence spread out in local agencies and sheriffs’ departments, as well as special units to deal with this growing phenomenon. This policy requires the police to obtain an arrest warrant from a judge beforehand, showing probable cause, although some warrant-less probable cause arrests are allowed or authorized in 47 states and the District of Columbia (US Department of Justice).
It has been observed, though, that women charged with murdering their mates receive higher penalties than men in the same situation (US Department of Justice 1994). For example, FBI statistics show that few men are charged with first-or-second-degree murder of their wives or mistresses. But women murderers of their own partners are meter stiffer and longer prison sentence.
Moreover, a woman senator once reported that 90% of domestic abusers are never prosecuted, while the abuses would have been considered punishable felonies if the accused were an outsider. And 2/3 of domestic violence reported to the police are considered misdemeanors or lesser crimes only, while 2/3 are considered felonies when a stranger does them. The typical domestic abuser is a male at 60% and over 30 years old at 77%. Half of those who killed the spouse they abused have previous criminal records. Most of them are also convicted or they pleaded guilty. (US Department of Justice).
Domestic violence or murder in the urban areas happens mostly during the day and at home. The abuser says in 23% of the cases that the victim provoked the incident with the use of a deadly or non-lethal weapon or by hitting or pushing. Half of the abusers accused and convicted – as well as the victims — are also on alcohol at the time the offense is committed. And 62% of these defendants are arrested on the day of the crime itself (US Department of Justice 1994). These male offenders are mostly motivated by possessiveness, the cycle of abuse and arguments.
While few women kill men, those who do are mostly battered wives or girlfriends (90%). Possessiveness, arguments and abuse are also the most frequent motives of women who kill their partners at home. They say that their real motive is self-defense. Prison figures show that more than 2,000 women inmates are there because they defended themselves against their abusers. These women commit 17% of all homicides and mostly in Houston and Philadelphia.
They say that feeling trapped in an abusive relationship offers them no other option but to strike out at their abusers for the sake of survival, and survival for them means only killing that person, because of the lack of state laws that protect them. Many of women who claim self-defense come forward and give themselves up to authorities. They are followed by those women who are repeatedly abused before they were forced to kill their abuser. Figures show that most of these women admit to their murders of the significant other (US Department of Justice).
Victims of domestic violence can and should receive support so that they can leave the abusive relationship and stay out of it safely (Metro Nashville Police Department 2007). When in immediate danger, a victim can call 911 right away. If the threat is not immediate, just the same she must reconsider the situation as a present danger to her and her children. She should: keep important numbers nearby, such as the (police, friends and a local shelter; learn how to get out of the house safely; find safer exits at home; think of tricks to get out of the house (taking a pet for a walk, going to the grocery or putting out the trash); people whom to contact for help; keeping change for phone calls or obtaining a cell phone; opening own bank account or credit card; and taking the children out safely.
The victims must check these items when planning to escape: the children (when it is safe), money, keys, extra clothes, medicines, important documents, birth certificates, school and medical records, driver’s license, car registration, passports and green cards, lease or rental agreement, insurance, address books, bankbooks or credit cards, pictures, jewelry and children’s items.
Once out of the house, the victim should think about keeping a cell phone, her safety, changing the locks, telling friends and neighbors about her escape, a safety plan in her place of work, avoiding the same stores and businesses known by the abuser and reviewing the safety plan often enough (Metro Nashville Police Department).
Anyone who knows such a victim or potential victim should know how to approach and encourage her to save herself and her children (Metro Nashville Police Department 2007). Talk to her with understanding and without blaming. Make her feel that she is not alone in her situation, and encourage her to have the strength to survive and trust those whom she can trust to help. Make her feel that it can be difficult or frightening to do something about her situation, but assure her that she does not deserve the treatment and that nothing will make the situation stop unless she leaves (Metro Nashville Police Department).
She should be told that effective help is available. Show her a list of shelter homes. Express support and listen (Metro Nashville Police Department 2007). Let her express her anger and hurt, but allow her to make her own decision. Ask her, though, if she has suffered physical injury and accompany her to a hospital and to report the abuse to the police – if she chooses these. Inform her that there is help for her and the children, such as social services, emergency shelter, counseling services and legal assistance. Tell her that legal protection and laws are now observed and enforced in many states. Join her to the district, probate or superior court to obtain protective or temporary restraining orders (TROs) to inhibit the abuser (Metro Nashville Police Department).
Domestic violence cases are now a special category of civil harassment (Metro Nashville Police Department 2007). Civil harassment applies to annoyances, harassments, injuries and threats and it does not have to fulfill the relationship test for domestic violence. Domestic violence can be more harmful to the offender.
In such cases, the offended party can obtain a temporary or lengthy TRO to prevent or stop the accused from contacting, attacking, striking, threatening, calling or otherwise disturbing the offended party or complainant; to force the abuser to move from the residence; or stay at least 100 yards away from the complainant or protected person, her residence and place of work; to participate in abuser/batterer treatment counseling and later to certify to the court as having completed the treatment or program; and to prevent him from purchasing a firearm. Children and other members of the family may be given the same protection (Metro Nashville Police Department).
Very often, domestic violence is considered both a crime – subject to criminal penalty – and a civil liability – subject to restraint and an award of money as damages (US Department of Justice 1994). The observed pattern is for a victim to call the police, file charges, but later reconcile with the abuser and drop the charges. But more often than not, the cycle repeats itself. This is why domestic violence is now considered a crime in some local communities and states by city and district lawyers, even if charges are not filed by the victim or even when she does not help. This means that the police or a third party can file the case and it can progress.
This is because domestic violence is considered a crime against the community and against the state, as it represents harm against that community. Today, local governments are trying their best to inform and assure people that local authorities will not longer tolerate such kind of abuses and that they will be prosecuted with or without information, cooperation or assistance from the victim (US Department of Justice).
A TRO is a victim’s first source of relief. A TRO is a court order restraining a person and protecting a victim from the accused’s activities (US Department of Justice 1994). It is usually issued after the so-called “ex parte” appearance of the complainant and which does not require the presence of the offender. It orders the offender to stop performing certain acts and to stay away from specific places. It becomes effective when served to the restrained person. But along with a TRO is an Order to Show Cause hearing schedule where both parties shall have the chance to explain their sides as to whether a permanent TRO should be issued.
The TRO is in effect from the time it is issued till the scheduled hearing on the Order to Show Cause, usually within 15 to 20 days. A TRO can remain in effect for some time, even several years and can be extended upon application by the protected person, so much so that it actually becomes permanent. Violation of a TRO constitutes contempt of court, for which the offender can be taken into custody immediate and taken to jail. Furthermore, he can be charged for a misdemeanor or a felony, sentenced to a jail term and ordered to pay a fine (US Department of Justice).
In cases of domestic violence, a woman must immediately try to get away from the abuser, seek the help of a neighbor or a friend, request police assistance and then go to court and/or make radical plans for herself (Peace at Home 1995). She should never try to solve her problem alone, because the usual victim is vulnerable and usual abuser is aggressive and controlling. Most importantly, the victim should never feel embarrassed to seek help out of personal shame attached to domestic violence. She must remember that it is not her fault and that domestic violence respects no one of any class (Peace at Home).
- Commonwealth Fund (2007). Commonwealth Fund Surveys of 1998. The Commonwealth Fund. Retrieved May 23, 2007 from http://www.commonwealthfund.org/usr_doc/menwomensurvey_chartbook.pdf?section=4056
- Metro Nashville Police Department (2007). Personalized Safety Plan, a Domestic Violence handbook. Creative Communications Group
- Newton, C J. (2001). Domestic Violence: an Overview. Mental Help Journal. Retrieved May 23, 2007 from http://www.therapistfinder.net/Domestic-Violence
- Peace at Home. (1995). Domestic Violence: the Facts. a Handbook to STOP Violence.