October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

In response to Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Amanda Rice guest blogs about abuse toward women. (Keep in mind that men can be the recipient of abuse also).

As Amanda points out, abuse takes on many forms.

Outsiders or secondary abusers are those pretending that abuse didn’t/doesn’t happen, minimizing, denying, or excusing abuse heaps more trauma upon the victims. Perhaps the most hideous secondary abuse is blaming the victims

The first step in stopping abuse–both primary and secondary abusers–is to become aware. Read on as Amanda helps us understand:

I have heard the voices of women. I often wonder why more people are not in jail. Had the woman been a neighbor, store clerk or almost anyone else, there would be serious consequences. Domestic violence/intimate partner abuse is another story. I recently went to a seminar presented by Aequitas, they are an information highway on violence against women for prosecuting attorneys, even they seemed frustrated by the lack of action; they stated that often a perpetrator can get a higher sentencing for intimidating the witness than they normally do by causing harm. I am hopeful this will change; I am hopeful this will change soon. Until then individuals and their loved ones are their own best advocate for finding help and safety.

Abuse against women is a serious reality. Abuse is physical, sexual, psychological/emotional, financial, spiritual, and even stalking. The frequency and severity can vary dramatically and it affects individuals in every community, regardless of age, economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or nationality. Abuse can result in injury, trauma, and in severe cases, even death. The physical, emotional, and psychological consequences of abuse can affect generations.

Identifying abuse in your own relationship can be difficult, after all he seems so sincere with “I’m sorry”, “it will never happen again”, “it’s just all this stress”. Abuse often starts subtly, an angry outburst, accusations, a slow wedge between you and your friends and family, and blame “it’s your fault”, “If you would just……”, when, in reality, we control our own behaviors and can’t make others abuse us.

Identifying abuse in friends and family can sometimes be just as difficult and there is often an excuse to any questions, “I fell”, “He’s just been under a lot of stress”. Signs you may notice could be injuries such as bruises, mood changes or irritability, weight loss or weight gain, lower self-esteem, uninterested in activities once enjoyed, having difficulty making decisions without consulting their partner, spending less time with friends and family and being defensive if confronted about any of these signs. Many victims defend their abuser for many reasons.

There are many reasons women may stay in an abusive relationship. “Gas Lighting” is one of those reasons. Gas Lighting is psychological abuse where the perpetrator may say things like:

“You’re crazy – that never happened.”

“It’s all in your head.”

“You said……”

“You did……”

Gas lighting leaves women second-guessing themselves believing they are being too sensitive, are not good enough, and are often left feeling confused and hopeless. The abuser has diminished her belief in herself and her capacity for growth, making her more reliant on him.

A common misconception is that the abuse will end if the woman would “just leave”. In many situations, leaving a partner may not end the danger faced while in the relationship. In fact, abusers can become more dangerous after the woman leaves, this is called separation violence. Other situations that may keep a woman in the relationship are economic dependence, fear of physical or emotional harm to self or children, fear of losing custody of the children because the abuser threatens to take the children if they try to leave, social isolation or lack of support, and lack of information regarding resources.

Another reason she may choose to stay in the relationship is because of her commitment to keep the family together. A woman’s cultural background may play a role in staying. In some culture’s women are sometimes held responsible for the well-being of the entire family; they might see it as their “duty” to give their partner a chance to change.

What can you do if you are a victim of abuse? There are ways you can find support. Get a list of possible resources from different places, programs and organizations. Have essential documents available when you go to an appointment: birth certificates, picture ID, driver’s license, passport, and utility bills (to show residency). Make your calls from a safe place where you can engage in a conversation. Seek Counseling.

If someone you love is being abused, it can be difficult to know what to do. Offer support by acknowledging that they are in a very difficult and scary situation, be supportive and listen. Let them know that the abuse is not their fault and that they are not alone. Do not be judgmental, do not criticize their decisions to stay or try to guilt them for staying. If they end the relationship, continue to be supportive of them. Assist them in finding available support and resources. Offer to go with them to appointments or watch the children while they go. Though the relationship was abusive, your friend or family member may still feel sad, lonely, or isolated, they will need care and support during this time.

Amanda is a Professional Counselor at Rice Counseling Services, part of the Upside Counseling Group. She also volunteers at the Women’s Center of Greater Lansing where she designed and facilitates a group program for survivor parents of domestic violence. Amanda graduated from Central Michigan University with a Master in Professional Counseling and continues studying domestic violence, trauma, neuro-counseling and strength based advocacy.

See more at http://www.ricecounselingservices.com or visit her Facebook Page at http://www.facebook.com/Ricecounselingservices


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