Stand up Against Domestic Violence
Miranda had on dark glasses when her mom called her downstairs to say hi to her guests. She appeared sullen and was not her usual happy self. Her mom appeared anxious and unhappy about the situation but did not say anything. Dad appeared to be his usual jovial self. One guest speculated quietly that mom was being abused by dad, and wondered if Miranda had somehow gotten involved and borne the brunt of dad’s anger. None of the guests uttered a word to the family. Why do we as a society turn a blind eye when we know that there is physical or verbal abuse in the home?
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, and we all need to decide not to look away when we know a friend or family member is being abused. How can one recognize violence in the home? How does one stand up against domestic violence?
1. Recognize the signs of abuse
Years ago, a colleague frequently came to work with bruises. The stories varied from “I fell” to “My dog scratched me” to “I was sleepy and accidentally walked into the bathroom door.” This lady was an excellent physician and very supportive of her patients. It was several months before anyone recognized she was a victim of physical and verbal abuse. No one expected someone like her would be a victim of abuse. It is very important to recognize domestic abuse has no boundaries. It happens to the educated and uneducated and rich and poor alike. Recognizing the signs of abuse starts the conversation. Other signs someone is being abused is unexplained absences from work, or someone constantly being put down by their partner. Teens who are being abused may attempt to hide their injuries behind make up or glasses. Parents have to pay particular attention to recognize the signs of abuse. The key here is to pay attention since the signs of domestic abuse can be subtle and easy to miss.
2. Realize some characteristics of Abusers
Unfortunately, most abusers appear to be very nice, loving and caring people. There are often no distinguishing characteristics for people who are abusers. Paying attention can help parents recognize when their children are being abused. In most instances, kids who are being abused are sworn to secrecy with threats like “I will harm your family” or “this is our little secret.” If your child never wants to be left alone with a particular adult find out why? I once had a patient who was being abused by her uncle. She cried at bedtime, which was unusual at age 13 years and never wanted to be left alone with him. Unfortunately it took her getting pregnant a year later before the family realized they had missed all the signs.
Teens may have partners who come across as very loving but very possessive. They do not want to let the other person out of their sight. Sometimes they have violent fits of rage when they see their partner talking to someone else. This is definitely not normal and if your teen is in such a relationship, you definitely need to have a conversation with them about what is going on. Other abusers isolate their victims and guilt them into not spending time with other friends. Once that happens, this person has no one to talk to whey they are being abused and often times think the problem is with them. Sometimes total financial dependence on another person leads to verbal abuse. There is stress in the home and the dependent person is sometimes belittled and made to feel inferior. This leads to further loss of self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness, which often times worsen the abuse.
3. How do you help people in abusive homes?
Pay attention to subtle signs of abuse and be willing to speak up, no matter how many times the victim denies it or tries to push you away. Be supportive and reassure them that you are there for them. Victims of abuse are often afraid to speak up. Empathize with them whilst at the same time gently explaining to them that they don’t have to live this way. If they don’t want to talk about it, respect their decision at that moment, but don’t give up. With time they will learn to trust you and open up. Familiarize yourself with resources for victims of abuse and be willing to support them through the process of getting away from their abuser and restarting their life. Help victims realize that though it is a daunting process to restart their life it is not impossible to create a better more fulfilling life for themselves. Help them realize children brought up in abusive relationships are more likely to become abusers themselves or even victims of abuse. All in all there is never a good reason to remain in an abusive relationship.
Parents must have the courage to talk to their teens if they are in abusive relationships and help them recognize the abuse. Often times, the most difficult thing is getting the victim to admit the abuse. Encourage counseling for all victims of abuse. In the case of sexual and physical abuse, encourage families to be honest and bring criminal charges against the perpetrator. Families should never sweep the abuse under the rug and pretend it didn’t happen. This practice often leads to significant emotional pain in the victims and closure becomes difficult. Sometimes having the courage to ask questions and offer support is the catalyst victims need to stand up for themselves and heal.
Domestic violence is real and we all need to stand up against it. Pay attention and recognize victims of abuse and engage them in conversation. Reassure them all is not lost and the abuse is not their fault. HEli them find courage to seek help and restart their lives. Encourage counseling for all family members and appropriate consequences for the perpetrator. Standing up against domestic violence brings hope and healing and ultimately saves lives.