Part of personal safety for women is recognizing the warning signs to avoid domestic abuse, or intimate partner violence, against herself or her children.
You think you are immune. You are a DIVA, an independent and strong woman, no way you would ever stand for being abused by your intimate partner, right? But trust me, abuse happens to all kinds of people, and sometimes it can be difficult at first to realize what is happening.
The Facts about Intimate Partner Violence
Abuse comes in many forms, from emotional and psychological abuse to physical and sexual abuse, and in the computer age, we can now add digital abuse to the list. These kinds of Intimate Partner violence, as they are called, involve a systematic pattern of controlling behaviors used by one partner to gain power over the other partner.
The patterns are often subtle and at first, and may be explained away or rationalized. Abusers pick their victims carefully and may initiate the relationship when you are in a vulnerable spot – maybe recently broken up or bereaved, maybe just after you lose a job and are undergoing a financial crisis. They may seem like a savior, but they always have a different agenda.
It may begin with a bit of jealousy or pressure to curtail your activities with friends. Money is often used to control victims, as is guilt, and shaming. The abuser carefully undermines your sense of self-worth and limits your self-sufficiency as much as possible. They work to make you believe you are unworthy of being treated with respect. It happens slowly, it’s a slippery slope, and many women find themselves sliding to the bottom before they realize exactly what has happened.
All too often, abuse ends in death. Nearly 33% of women killed in the workplace between 2003-2008 were killed by a current or former intimate partner, according to the National Domestic Abuse Hotline. Almost one out of five or 16.3% of murder victims in the U.S. were killed by an intimate partner, according to a US Department of Justice report.
And even if you think that you can endure the abuse, for whatever reason, consider this: people who have witnessed abusive behavior as children are 3-4 times more likely to become abusers themselves and/or experience intimate partner abuse themselves. This means that if you have children and they witness the abuse, they are highly likely to become either victim or abusers themselves. Even worse is the fact that nationally, 50% of batterers who abuse their intimate partners also abuse their children. If he’s abusing you, he will eventually get around to your children. No mother wants that for her babies.
Spotting the Potential for domestic abuse
So how do you avoid an abusive situation entirely? There is no magic bullet because every situation is different, but here are some red flags to look out for early on in the relationship.
Any kind of behavior designed to control your activities, what you wear, how you spend money, who you talk to. Your partner has no right to dictate to you how you should behave. This doesn’t mean you can do anything you want anytime you want and that any partner should be ok with that. Healthy relationships include negotiations of behaviors that may bother one of the partners, but this should be a discussion, not a demand with threats of anger or violence if the demand isn’t met. Your man has no right to tell you what to wear. He might ask that you not wear a particular garment when you are out with him, and you may choose to honor the request; he may ask that you dress appropriately for a particular event, but again, this should be a request. Many abusers take control of the finances or choose victims with precarious financial situations so that they can regulate their partner’s access to money and all the freedoms that represents.
Jealousy is technically a controlling behavior, but it is such a big flag, that I decided to give it attention on its own. If your partner, or even a guy you are just dating, shows the slightest signs of jealousy, take a hike! This is the clearest, earliest, and perhaps most indicative sign of the potential for abuse. Do NOT enter into a relationship with a jealous person. It will always end badly. They will never trust you and most often, their behavior will escalate to emotional abuse, minimally. A twinge of jealousy is normal for anyone but whenever a man wants to control who you see or communicate with or begins accusing you of seeing other men or looking or even thinking about other men, you are heading straight for disaster. Get off the train before it even leaves the station.
40%-50% of reported domestic violence incidents involve substance abuse, according to a 2014 article published by the American Society of Addiction Medicine. More than one in five male abusers admitted to using substances before the most recent and extreme acts of violence, highlighting that drugs and alcohol may exacerbate violent tendencies. Not all substance abusers are also perpetrators of domestic violence, but drugs and alcohol play a major role in intimate partner violence, so if your man drinks too much or uses drugs, think twice, because things can go bad fast when he is using.
Early Intense Attraction or Obsession
If the guy you have gone on a couple of dates with becomes obsessed with you, this is a red flag to a potentially unhealthy relationship. To be clear, not everyone who becomes obsessed with someone will turn into an abuser, but many do. But as flattering as this intensity can be at first, it is definitely a precursor to other controlling behavior, and you should probably keep moving before this guy turns into a stalker.
The bottom line, Ladies, is pay attention and trust your instincts! If anyone makes you feel unsafe in any way, do not tolerate them in your life. If he lies, blames every problem on someone else, tries to tell you what to do and who to do it with, or tries to tell you what to wear, you may well be getting involved with a very bad situation. Get out early and get out fast. There are lots of great guys out there who will treat you like the DIVA you are.
If you are concerned about a particular partner or about a pattern in your own behavior, consider visiting a relationship advisor to help you stay on the right path. If you think you may be in an abusive relationship already, get help! Talk to someone, sneak out when he’s gone, get the kids out immediately. You do not ever have to put up with abuse. Ever.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline https://www.thehotline.org/
Homicide Trends in the United States, 1980-2008. Nov., 2011. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
20 Shocking Domestic Violence Statistics that Remind Us It’s an Epidemic, by Alanna Vagianos, Huffington Post, 2014, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/domestic-violence-statistics_n_5959776