The Dynamics of Domestic Violence: What everyone must know
by Rebecca Hieronymi
Several years ago, long before I became an advocate at Crisis Services, I was a victim of domestic violence. I didn’t know about resources for survivors and it seemed like no one wanted to talk about it, domestic violence was swept under the rug and only spoken about in secret. After I started at CSNA I had the opportunity to attend a conference where Retired Lieutenant Steve Searcy spoke openly about his time on the force and experience with domestic violence calls. His words resonated with me and inspired me to continue with my work as an advocate. Education is just one step in ending and preventing domestic violence, so I would like to share some of what he taught us and hope that it helps you or someone you know.
The first thing to know is that domestic violence can happen to anyone, anywhere. There is no standard profile of a victim or an offender, though many offenders do have some common traits (low self-esteem, abuse of drugs or alcohol, using violence to solve problems, etc.) Domestic violence is a crime and it’s done behind closed doors because the offender knows it is wrong. Up to 1500 women are killed by their partners annually and the CDC reports that ER visits for victims is more than for muggings, rapes, and traffic accidents combined. Domestic violence isn’t just physical, it is any method used to establish and maintain power and control over another person. It can be manipulation, emotional abuse, isolation, economic abuse, threats, sexual abuse, and physical abuse.
Manipulation is often the 1st red flag, followed by emotional abuse and isolation. The offender’s goal is to chisel away at the victim’s self-worth and limit their ability to get help. The offender may threaten to end the relationship, keep the kids away, harm or destroy valuables, harm the victim, loved ones, pets, or even themselves. Again, these are tactics used to maintain power and control.
Why and how does this happen? It is never the victim’s fault. We should not be asking the victim why they stayed, but rather why did the offender use fear tactics to hold the victim hostage in the relationship. The verbal and physical reign of terror can be slowly progressive; isolation is the main ingredient. The victim becomes hopeless and worried that they won’t be believed or that they will be blamed. The offender may take control of the finances, become socially obnoxious so other people refuse to associate with them (further isolating the victim), and most of all they blame it on the victim (“It’s all your fault”).
The cycle of violence can make it even more difficult to see the abuse clearly. The offender isn’t “always bad.” In fact, they may go weeks or months without incident and things seem back to normal. But tensions start building, the victim starts walking on eggshells, trying to anticipate the offender’s needs and keep them from getting triggered, then the abusive incident occurs (abuser becomes violent and irrational), followed by the “sorry I hit you” phase, and then the cycle repeats.
Most women leave 6-7 times before they are able to break their ties to the abuser. The most dangerous time for her is during and right after she leaves. So, what should you say if your friend or family member can’t leave today? “I am concerned for your safety. I’m here for you. Let’s make a safety plan.”
Remember, there are people who care, who believe, and can help. Crisis Services of North Alabama offers free and confidential services to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. Having a safe, non-judgmental place to unpack your feelings can make a difference in your healing. We also offer a 24/7 HELPline (256.716.1000) where you can speak with a trained crisis counselor or you may reach our Jackson County office at 256.574.5826. October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, please visit our website at csna.org or Facebook page for information about events in your area.