Domestic violence, how can we control it?

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Domestic violence is a serious threat for many women. Domestic violence occurs between people in an intimate relationship. Domestic violence can take many forms, including emotional, sexual and physical abuse and threats of abuse. Men are sometimes abused by partners, but domestic violence is most often directed toward women. Domestic violence can happen in heterosexual or same-sex relationships. Abusive relationships always involve an imbalance of power and control. An abuser uses intimidating, hurtful words and behaviours to control his or her partner. It might not be easy to identify domestic violence at first. While some relationships are clearly abusive from the outset, abuse often starts subtly and gets worse over time. You might be experiencing domestic violence if you're in a relationship with someone who:

  • Calls you names, insults you or puts you down

  • Prevents or discourages you from going to work or seeing family members or friends

  • Tries to control how you spend money, where you go, what medicines you take or what you wear

  • Acts jealous or possessive or constantly accuses you of being unfaithful

  • Gets angry when drinking alcohol or using drugs

  • Threatens you with violence or a weapon

  • Hits, kicks, shoves, slaps, chokes or otherwise hurts you, your children or your pets

  • Forces you to have sex or engage in sexual acts against your will

If you're in an abusive situation, you might recognize this pattern: Your abuser threatens violence, strikes and sometime apologizes, promises to change and offers gifts. The longer you stay in an abusive relationship, the greater the physical and emotional toll. You might become depressed and anxious, or begin to doubt your ability to take care of yourself. You might feel helpless or paralyzed. You may also wonder if the abuse is your fault — a common point of confusion among survivors of domestic abuse that may make it more difficult to seek help.

You may not be ready to seek help because you believe you're at least partially to blame for the abuse in the relationship. Reasons may include:

  • Your partner blames you for the violence in your relationship. Abusive partners rarely take responsibility for their actions.

  • Your partner only exhibits abusive behaviour with you. Abusers are often concerned with outward appearances, and may appear charming and stable to those outside of your relationship. This may cause you to believe that his or her actions can only be explained by something you've done.

  • Therapists and doctors who see you alone or with your partner haven't detected a problem. If you haven't told your doctor or other health care providers about the abuse, they may only take note of unhealthy patterns in your thinking or behaviour, which can lead to a misdiagnosis. For example, survivors of intimate partner violence may develop symptoms that resemble personality disorders. Exposure to intimate partner violence also increases your risk of mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

If health care providers focus on your symptoms, this may worsen your fear that you are responsible for the abuse in your relationship.

  • You have acted out verbally or physically against your abuser, yelling, pushing or hitting him or her during conflicts. You may worry that you are abusive, but it's much more likely that you acted in self-defence or intense emotional distress. Your abuser may use such incidents to manipulate you, describing them as proof that you are the abusive partner.

If you're having trouble identifying what's happening, take a step back and look at larger patterns in your relationship. Then, review the signs of domestic violence. In an abusive relationship, the person who routinely uses these behaviours is the abuser. The person on the receiving end is being abused.

Still, the only way to break the cycle of domestic violence is to take action. Start by telling someone about the abuse, whether it's a friend, loved one, health care provider or other close contact. You can also call a national domestic violence hotline. These are free services and full of expert guidance that can help you.

An abuser can use technology to monitor your telephone and online communication and to track your location. If you're concerned for your safety, seek help. To maintain your privacy:

  • Use phones cautiously. Your abuser might intercept calls and listen to your conversations. He or she might use caller ID, check your cell phone or search your phone billing records to see your call and texting history.

  • Remove GPS devices from your vehicle. Your abuser might use a GPS device to pinpoint your location.

  • Clear your viewing history. Follow your browser's instructions to clear any record of websites or graphics you've viewed.

In an emergency, call 911 — or your local emergency number or law enforcement agency. The following resources also can help:

  • Someone you trust. Turn to a friend, loved one, neighbour, co-worker, or religious or spiritual adviser for support.

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: Call the hotline for crisis intervention and referrals to resources, such as women's shelters.

  • A counselling or mental health centre. Counselling and support groups for women in abusive relationships are available in most communities.

  • A local court. Your district court can help you obtain a restraining order that legally mandates the abuser to stay away from you or face arrest. Local advocates might be available to help guide you through the process.

It can be hard to recognize or admit that you're in an abusive relationship — but help is available. Remember, no one deserves to be abused.

-Sangeeta Paul