The bruises beyond the skin: Society’s misunderstanding of domestic violence

Domestic violence is an issue that grips the lives of people all over the globe, and is largely a problem in the United States. Domestic violence is statistically gender based—about 85% of domestic violence victims are women with men making up the other 15%.

The American Bar Association reported that approximately 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are physically assaulted by an intimate partner every year in the U.S. But even with the prevalence of domestic violence, there are still large misconceptions in society about domestic abuse.

Carly Corpolongo-Davis, a licensed social worker and the volunteer and intern coordinator at SafeHouse Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., said, “I think the majority of society doesn’t have a solid understanding of what domestic violence is really about.”

How does society view domestic violence and treat victims and batterers of domestic violence relationships? Does American society really understand the dynamics of domestic violence?

Many times, victims of domestic violence are criticized for not leaving their batterers or for going back to them after abuse occurs. An example of this is the widely publicized abuse of Rihanna at the hands of Chris Brown. Rihanna has received a lot of backlash for going back to the man who physically assaulted her in 2009. But what many people do not understand is that abuse often goes much further than just physical abuse, it is the emotional abuse a victim experiences that keeps them with their abusive partner.

Batterers use emotional abuse as a means to gain control over their partner, and the emotional abuse is essentially a form of brainwashing. A batterer’s goal is to achieve ultimate power and control over his partner and he will work to achieve this in many ways which may include:

  • Threats to hurt the victim or themselves
  • Economic abuse such as taking the victim’s money or preventing her from having a job or access to finances
  • Using intimidation by smashing things, abusing pets, or displaying weapons
  • Using isolation by controlling where she goes and who she talks to
  • Putting blame on the victim by denying the abuse or making her feel responsible for it
  • Using emotional abuse by putting the victim down, calling her names, humiliating her, and playing mind games
  • Using their children by having them relay messages or threatening to take them away
  • Using male privilege by making the major decisions and treating the victim like a servant

The power and control wheel of domestic violence.

All of these tactics are used to gain control over the victim and ultimately, keep the victim in the cycle of abuse. The threats make a victim afraid to leave, the economic abuse keeps a victim from accessing the finances necessary to leave, isolation prevents a victim from reaching people and resources she needs to get away, and emotional abuse wears down the victim’s self-esteem.

Davis said that people respond stronger to animal abuse than they do to domestic abuse because they don’t believe an adult could be an innocent person in that situation. This is when it becomes important for society to understand all the dynamics of domestic violence beyond just the physical abuse. By understanding the economic and emotional factors of abuse, people will begin to realize it is possible for one human being to bring another to a state where they feel entirely helpless.

In this video, a doctor named David Hawkins describes emotional abuse:

Not only must society stop blaming victims for the abuse they endure, but it also must begin holding batterers accountable. A disturbing account of society’s too-forgiving attitude toward batterers can be seen in posts women made on Twitter and Facebook following a performance by Chris Brown at the Grammys. The essence of these posts was that the women were such big fans of Chris Brown, they wouldn’t mind being beaten by him.

The posts by these women go beyond just being tasteless—they show that these girls truly do not understand the danger of domestic violence.

It appears the justice system is also forgiving of batterers. It was reported by the National Institute of Justice that less than half of domestic violence arrests resulted in convictions. Davis said she believes the lack of convictions is due to a belief that since most assailants are only hurting their partner, they are not seen as a danger to society as a whole.

When it comes to society’s view of domestic violence, Davis said: “I’d like to think that it’s changing. I think it is changing more towards rape and sexual assault than it is domestic violence.”

Davis says she thinks there is still a large misconception on why women don’t leave and a readiness for people to assume there is something wrong with the survivor.

A change in society’s overall attitude toward domestic violence could result in an American cultural that holds batterers accountable and supports victims instead of judging them. Domestic violence happens everywhere and it is happening in your hometown, probably even in your neighborhood. Changing the country’s attitude toward domestic violence means creating a support system for victims, and a judicial system that takes actions to prevent batterers from continuously abusing their victims.

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