Thanks to awesome LF posters like story I finally got off my ass and started doing some volunteer work in my area. I chose a domestic violence shelter network because I’ve been reading books on social justice lately and I decided that’s where I wanted to help.
I called up the volunteer director and she told me they needed people to help at one of the resale shops (kind of like Goodwill) in the area whose profits all go towards supporting the shelters since they can never rely on funding from the state government. The work at the resale shop menial labor but the people are all very nice and I actually find myself having fun there and it’s nice to know that I’m doing something that helps a good cause.
In the process of volunteering they asked me to fill out a couple forms. Standard stuff like contact information and a confidentiality thing saying I won’t divulge the locations of the shelters to anyone and stuff like that. One of the forms asked if I’d be interested in further education about domestic violence which would allow me to help volunteer in other ways and I checked the Yes box. This lead to me signing up for an 8 week training class on domestic violence.
I’ve only had 2 weeks of training so far but I’ve learned a lot and I thought I’d make an effort thread to share this stuff with anyone who wanted to learn some stuff about how shitty our society is (like there’s not enough of that in LF) and how we can help. I’m not going to cover every single little thing I learn in the classes but I’m going to dump the major stuff that sticks in my head in here and answer any questions that I can.
Anyway let’s begin. The class starts at the very heart of the problem. What is domestic violence? Where does violence come from? Why are we such a violent society?
What is Domestic Violence?
Domestic Violence is a pattern of coercive control that one person exerts over another. Battering is a behavior that physically harms, arouses fear, prevents the victim from doing what they wish or forces the victim to behave in ways they do not wish to.
Domestic Violence involves a continuum of behaviors ranging from degrading remarks to cruel jokes, economic exploitation, punches and kicks, false imprisonment, sexual abuse, suffocating actions, maiming assaults and homicide.
Unchecked, domestic violence usually increases in frequency and severity. Many victims suffer all forms of abuse. Verbal and emotional abuse may be more subtle than physical harm, but this does not mean that it is less destructive to victims.
In what relationships is domestic violence found?
Abuse is such a common problem that one out of every four relationships is marked by the need of one person to gain power and control over another. This statistic is the same in both heterosexual and same-sex relationships. Domestic violence can be practiced by almost anyone.
* Current or former spouses
* Persons related by blood or marriage
* Current or former dating partners
* Current or former same-sex partners
* Those sharing a blood relationship through a child
* Current of former roommates
* Personal care attendants and those in patient/client relationships
America Is A Violent Country
The first thing we had to learn was where all this violence comes from. We watched the video below which is an HBO documentary. It is VERY . They literally show people being murdered and some of this stuff is really hard to watch, especially the lynching stuff and the child abuse stuff.
The whole thing is only like an hour long so I recommend watching it if you can handle the more heart-wrenching parts.
Violence Is Learned
The next thing we covered is that violence, like all other human behavior, is learned. An overwhelming majority of abusers have been abused as children or grew up around violence and abuse. When people grow up in environments where their parents are physically violent with each other and so are the parents in neighboring households, people grow up thinking that violence is a normal part of human behavior. Once they grow up and get into relationships of their own, they often have no other frame of reference for how to treat their partners.
Why Do Abusers Do These Things?
We haven’t really thoroughly covered this yet but we’ve touched on it. Mostly it’s about control. Abusers, for whatever reason (there are many and every abuser is different, although there are patterns and similarities) need control. They need to control their victims and every aspect of the victim’s life. That control makes them comfortable. I’ll post more about this as I learn but “control” is the basic thing you need to know.
Types of Violence and Abuse
* The Power And Control Wheel
This chart shows you the kinds of behavior abusers use to get and keep control over their partners. Battering is never an accident. It is an intentional act used to gain control over the other person. Physical abuse is only one part of a whole series of behaviors an abuser uses against his/her partner. Violence is never an isolated behavior. There are other forms of abuse, which are shown in the Power and Control Wheel.
* Psychological Abuse
Domestic Violence isn’t always physical. Most of the time abuse starts out psychological. It may start out as something seemingly harmless like the occasional “You’re stupid“ or “You’re wearing that to the party?” or “You’re getting fat I want you to lose weight”. It may escalate to things like “I don’t want you to try for that promotion at work” or even “I want you to quit your job”. It can escalate even further into things like “I don’t think you should talk to your friends anymore” or “I don’t like the ideas your mother puts into your head. I want you to stop calling her”. In many cases this eventually leads to the victim being totally isolated from outside influences and only allowed to go out of the home with the abuser’s permission or in the company of the abuser. I think you can imagine how damaging that is even without physical abuse.
Abusers will also do things like making the victim go grocery shopping, giving the victim a fixed amount of money, and auditing the receipt and the change (which they would not let the victim keep) when the victim returned, going down every single item on the list to make sure that nothing additional was purchased, nothing was forgotten, and that the victim did not have a way to take any money of their own away from the shopping trip. The reward for a good job was that the victim was not beaten.
There is another method of psychological abuse that I had never heard of before. It’s called gaslighting and it genuinely shocked and stunned me to hear about it. It is essentially the act of making someone think they are slowly going crazy over time. There are 2 examples that I was given:
1 – A woman had an antique vase that belonged to her grandmother displayed on a stand in a hallway for many years. She cherished the vase very much. One morning she woke up and the vase was gone from the stand. She looked all over the house and could not find it. She asked her children if they had seen it or done anything with it. The kids said they had not. When the woman’s husband got home from work, she asked him if he knew anything about what happened to the vase. He replied “What vase?” The woman, confused, said “You know, my grandmother’s vase that I had on the stand in the hallway.” The husband replied “There’s never been a vase on that stand in the hallway.”
2 – A husband says before work one morning that he would like to have a steak and a baked potato for dinner that night. The wife goes to the store during the day and gets the things she needs and has the steak and potato cooked up for the husband when he gets home. She serves him his dinner. He looks at the plate for a few seconds and then throws it on the floor. The wife, surprised and confused, asks “What’s wrong?” The husband replies “I asked you to make pork chops for dinner.” The wife, now even more confused, says “No you asked me for a steak and potato this morning, remember?” The husband replies sternly “No I asked for pork chops.”
In both of these instances, the lie is then perpetuated and piled upon other lies to make the wife think that she is losing her mind or going crazy. If she doesn’t trust her own brain then she will be much easier to control.
Another thing that abusers do often is to throw things or destroy property. In most instances of property destruction the things destroyed are things that have personal or emotional value to the victim. An abuser can be sitting across the room from their partner while playing with their new phone or laptop or something and get into an argument. Instead of just throwing or smashing the most convenient thing (their phone or laptop), they will get up, go find something that belongs to the victim and throw it or break it instead.
* Chemical Dependency
Sometimes abusers will get their victims addicted to one or more controlled substances, then create a situation such that the abuser is the sole source for the victim’s drug fixes.
* Physical Violence
In cases where physical abuse is involved, the first time is always a shock to both the victim and the abuser, with the abuser almost always very quickly apologizing profusely and promising that it will never happen again. But once an abuser has physically abused the victim at least one time, future violence becomes easier to do.
The frequency of physical violence varies among relationships. In some relationships it can be a year or more between incidents. In the most extreme cases the violence is daily.
The severity of the violence can vary between instances as well. Sometimes it might be a slap in the face, another time the victim could be beaten or even tortured to the point of hospitalization or even death.
Common Misconceptions About Domestic Violence
* Victims can just leave whenever they want
Wrong. Victims of domestic violence are often so isolated and so psychologically damaged that the idea of leaving can seem impossible to them. Abusers will repeatedly tell their victims that they are ugly or worthless and stupid and that nobody else but the abuser will ever love them. Abusers tell the victim that they are too stupid or worthless or cowardly to leave. Abusers also threaten to hurt or kill the children or the pets or the victim’s parents. Abusers often threaten to kill their victim if they leave as well. Add to this the fact that if you repeat a lie enough times people will start to believe it, and you’ve got a totally dominated and isolated human being. Further add to this the fact that abusers often do make good on their threats to hurt or kill children or pets and you’ve a terrorized prisoner on your hands.
If and when a victim does choose to leave, it is often a spur-of-the-moment decision with no planning involved. As a result, they often do not have a means of providing for themselves or their children once they leave and often get stuck in a situation where they have no choice but to go back to their abusers simply out of the need for food and/or shelter.
There are other, more specific factors involved. Most of the time the abuser puts themselves in a position where they are in sole control of all money and resources. Most of the time the bank accounts and insurance policies are solely in the name of the abuser. Even if the victim manages to escape with the child or children, if one of those children needs regular medications like insulin, the mother is screwed if she doesn’t have a way to provide those things on a regular basis.
Another thing to consider is that some people grow up in environments where violence is common. If a person grows up in a household where their parents argue a lot and physically abuse each other, and they go to their friends’ and neighbors’ houses and see the same things going on, they grow up thinking that violent behavior is perfectly normal. They do not have any other frame of reference to work from. If they grow up and get into an abusive relationship they often don’t realize that there is an alternative. Some people are literally never exposed to the idea that relationships between people are somewhere in the middle of what they experience and what they see idealized on TV and in movies.
* Domestic Violence Only Occurs in Poor and Working-Class Households
Wrong. Domestic violence happens everywhere. It is true that domestic violence occurs more frequently in poor and working-class households, but it can and does occur everywhere. The shelter I volunteer at is currently servicing a woman whose husband is a millionaire. They live in a huge mansion. People from all races, classes, faiths, and sexual orientations experience domestic violence.
* Abusers Just Have Anger Management Issues
Wrong. Domestic abusers do not get angry and beat up the cop that pulls them over and gives them a speeding ticket. They are polite to the officer, take the ticket, and then go home and take it out on the victim. They do not get angry at their boss at work and beat that person up. They take their abuse at work out on their victim at home. There are of course abusers who do have anger management issues but for most abusers this is not the case.
* Abusers have a mental disease
Wrong. Domestic Violence is a social problem created by a violent society combined with gender privilege and in some cases class disparity (among other factors). Our society still thinks of women as lesser human beings and in many cases they are still considered property and/or trophies to be owned. This isn’t necessarily a conscious thing. TV, movies, music videos, magazines, and pretty much all other forms of media depict the relationships between men and women in way in which the woman is “won” by the man. Women are still primarily focused on as obtainable sex objects to be on display for other men to be jealous of like a sports car. Add in our rampant materialism and “fuck you got mine” culture and some men will do just about anything to obtain and keep a woman under their thumb.
Domestic violence is the #1 cause of injury to women in America.
35% of all women admitted to emergency rooms at hospitals are there due to domestic violence. These are only the ones who admit to it.
1 in 4 women is likely to experience some form of domestic violence during her lifetime.
There are currently more animal shelters in America than there are domestic violence shelters.
Patterns of Abuse
It is really amazing at how eerily similar many of the stories that victims tell are. Most stories start out with a partner who is described as romantic and sweet and thoughtful and nearly perfect. Gifts are given, favors are done, selfless acts are performed, sweet things are said. I’m not sure whether these are predatory patterns or not but almost every story I’ve seen and read from victims describes this behavior.
Jealously often manifests itself very early in the relationship. In our society, women are often socialized to think of this as an expression of passionate love and devotion and protection. Unfortunately this can lead to them not noticing or even ignoring when the jealously escalates or when the controlling behavior (“I don’t want you talking to any other guys”) begins.
Often, the controlling behavior escalates as the rate that the relationship escalates. Declaration of a steady relationship, the beginning of a sexual relationship, moving in together, getting married, having children; all these things typically have an effect on the frequency and intensity of controlling behavior or abuse.
The first time a woman is physically attacked, it is usually while she is pregnant. The reason for this is that the abuser knows (consciously or subconsciously) that another person is coming into the world who will take the victim’s attention away from the abuser. The abuser will no longer be the primary person in the victim’s life. Abusers who attack their pregnant spouses often end up neglecting the children once they are born, further abusing the woman by leaving her as the sole caretaker of the child in addition to her normal role as a domestic slave.
Victims almost always hide the negative aspects of their relationship in public. There are many reasons for this. Sometimes the victims feel shame, sometimes it’s denial, often it’s a fear that if the victim tells anyone, they will be subject to more abuse or violence in the future, most likely worse than the abuse they are currently receiving. Victims often do not want to call the police because they know that if the police are not able to make an arrest or otherwise force the abuser to stop attacking them, they will receive even more retaliatory abuse after the police leave.
What You Can Do To Help
Domestic violence is almost always a very private matter and very few victims confide in their friends and family members for many reasons. They may be ashamed, they may not think anyone will believe them (this is very common), they may also be physically isolated from others such that they have no-one to talk to at all.
If someone confides in you that they are a victim of domestic abuse, the single most important thing you must do is believe them. Many victims do try and reach out to people but oftentimes they receive the same kind of responses: “He/she would never do that!”, “He/she is such a nice person!”, “You always seem so happy together!”, “Maybe there are problems but you’re probably exaggerating them”, “You just need to try harder.” and on and on and on. Do not say any of these things or anything like them to the victim.
The second most important thing you need to do is let them know that they are not alone. An almost universal side effect of domestic violence is a feeling of total isolation. It is crucial that you let them know that they are not alone and that they can rely on you for help and support.
It takes an immense amount of courage for a victim to reach out to someone for help so you must be as positive and supportive as you possibly can. Let them know that they can trust you and that you have their backs. Also let them know that there are literally hundreds of thousands of victims going through the same thing right now.
It may seem scary to get involved in another person’s relationship, but if you can provide any kind of temporary support to the victim (especially directing them to a shelter in your area or even just giving them a phone number to call (see below)), you may end up saving that person’s life. Every single day women are murdered during incidents of domestic violence. Every single day.
Do not tell them to leave. Victims are ordered around by their abusers all day every day. If you keep telling them to leave without giving them the tools they need to be confident in their decisions, they will most likely withdraw from you and continue to feel oppressed. You must be encouraging and helpful but do not pressure them to do anything.
The primary tool we volunteers are told to use is education. You cannot force someone to leave an abusive relationship. It must be their choice. To help them make the right choice they need information, support, and empowerment. They need resources to help them plan their escape and they need the moral support to work up the courage to do so. More information on this will be available in a later post.
You must be patient. It takes most victims multiple tries to leave their relationship permanently. Our teacher’s niece has been in an abusive relationship for at least 7 years and still has not left despite all efforts to help her do so. She is basically cut off from the outside world and any contact with her is very brief. This is done intentionally by her abuser so that he can prevent her from getting the courage and help she needs to escape.
As mentioned above, there are still more animal shelters in America than there are domestic violence shelters. This ratio is improving but more still needs to be done. If you have the means, donate to your local shelters in any way you can. Volunteer, donate clothing and housewares, donate money, go to charity events sponsored by the shelters, whatever you can do.
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, here are some excellent resources you can use to help yourself or a friend or loved one out of trouble:
Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) and 800-787-3224 (TTY). Spanish and more than 170 other languages are available.
Help for Abused Women. This is an excellent compilation of what to do if you are in an abusive situation. It isn’t just a list of numbers to call or places to go, it’s a wealth of information about what to do if you’re planning on leaving an abusive relationship, or some things to consider if you are going to stay in the relationship. It points out a lot of things that most victims don’t ever think of or are not exposed to for various reasons. This is an awesome resource and I highly recommend using it or passing it on to someone you know who is experiencing abuse.
Teens can call the National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline at 1-866-331-9474 and 1-866-331-8453 (TTY).
Getting started for me was easy. I just did a google search for “domestic violence shelters near [city] [state]” and followed links. Find the number for the volunteer director and give that person a call. If they don’t call you back within a couple days, follow up! Call them every day until they respond. There is never a lack of need for volunteers at shelters or the other places that support them.
RAINN has a volunteer network for their online hotline.
That’s it for now. I’m sure I left out a few things but I will add them as I remember them or I will answer any questions you have to the best of my ability. Thanks for reading and I look forward to sharing more of my learning experiences with you all. I have class every Saturday morning so hopefully I can get a good weekly effortpost ready for Monday mornings.
The second effortpost from this past Saturday is still in the works and I’ll post it some time this week.