Domestic violence knows no boundaries: cultural, socio-economic, religious, level of education, gender or age. It can occur in any relationship and to anyone, but especially to women. In fact, roughly 25 percent of women will become a victim at one time or another during her lifetime.
Abuse is defined as any act used to gain power and control over another person, which can take on many forms. It can include physical, sexual, emotional, economic, coercion, threats, isolation and/or intimidation.
Domestic violence is abuse that occurs within interpersonal relationships and has become one of the top public health issues facing women in the United States. It is a leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 14 and 44 in this country.
There are risk factors that may increase the likelihood that a person becomes a victim to domestic violence. These can include: history of violence or abuse in a past relationship, physical or mental disability, unemployment, poor living situation, substance abuse, unplanned pregnancy, recently separated or divorced, social isolation and witnessed abuse as a child.
Men are not immune to victimization in relationships, but the patterns are different. "In many American surveys, roughly equal numbers of men and women report ever experiencing a violent act by their partner," said Keera Allendorf, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "However, women experience more severe and more frequent violence than men."
Marital status and the amount of time couples have been together seem to play a role as well. "Cohabiters have greater violence than married people," reported Allendorf. "And there is a higher risk for violence earlier on in a relationship than later."
Some victims report that they have difficulty recognizing the signs of domestic violence, especially if the abuse is not physical in nature. One woman reported to a worker at a local domestic violence crisis center, "Everyone has disagreements." But domestic violence is not a disagreement; it is a pattern of behavior used by one partner to exercise power and control over the other. Oftentimes, the behavior may begin subtly and then quickly escalate in intensity and frequency over time.
There are serious and harmful long-term effects associated with domestic violence. Victims may experience physical injuries which range from bruises and broken bones to head injuries and internal bleeding. Women who are victims of sexual violence may contract sexually transmitted diseases and experience unwanted pregnancies. Studies show that pregnant women who are physically and emotionally abused are at higher risk for low-birth-weight infants, pre-term labor and miscarriage.
Not just physical, domestic violence takes an emotional toll as well. Women who are in abusive relationships are more likely to be depressed, anxious, experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), engage in substance abuse and attempt suicide. One study revealed that female victims of domestic violence have a 40% increased risk of developing postpartum depression.
Domestic violence touches the lives of thousands of people each year. In order to take meaningful steps to lower the number of victims, we need to make sure that people realize that domestic violence is not a private matter.