Domestic violence is a public health threat that affects us all

EmotionWellnessEach year since 1981, October has been the month dedicated to promote awareness and prevention of domestic violence. However, we need to keep our focus on the impact of domestic violence in families. Domestic violence has been defined as a “pattern of coercive and assaultive behaviors that can include physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, psychological attacks and economic coercion that adults or adolescents use against their intimate partner.”

Domestic violence, a public health issue, cuts across every segment of society and occurs in all age, racial, ethnic, socio-economic, sexual orientation, and religious groups. According to Safe Horizon, a domestic abuse advocacy organization, domestic violence is a social, economic, and health concern that impacts an estimated 35 percent of the world population.

As a result, many communities across the country are developing strategies to stop the violence and provide safe solutions for victims. Safe Horizon also presents the following statistics about prevalence and severity of domestic violence:

Statistically, 85-90 percent of victims are women, and over 20 percent of women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience domestic violence. Every day two to three women are killed during a domestic violence event with their partner or former partner.

Sometimes risk of homicide can occur when the victim is trying to escape their abuser. Some of the risk factors for intimate partner homicide are listed below. This list is not complete, but the more of the risk factors you have, the greater the risk of fatality.

• Threats or thoughts of homicide and suicide

• Possession or acces to weapons

• Use of weapons in a threatening or intimidating manner

• Extreme jealousy or obsession with the victim

• Physical attacks, verbal threats, and stalking during a separation or divorce

• Kidnapping or hostage taking

• Sexual assault or rape

• Prior abusive incidents that resulted in serious injury

• History of violence with  previous partners and children

• Mental illness or substance abuse

The perpetrator’s primary goal is to achieve power and control over their intimate partner. To achieve this, perpetrators often plan and utilize a pattern of intimidation and force aimed at creating fear, shame, dependency and helplessness in the victim.

Abusers may appear very cordial and well-mannered when in the public eye, but their personality changes once he is at home. Often, the perpetrator tries to blame the victim for the violence. Both the perpetrator and the victim may minimize and cover up the impact of the violence.

Some perpetrators of violence may even systematically eliminate all of the supportive friends and family of the victim to establish greater control. Abusers likely possess some positive qualities, but their abusive behavior is unacceptable.

According to Childwelfare.org, 80 to 90 percent of children living in homes where there is domestic violence are aware of the violence. Three to four million children between the ages of 3-17 are often the silent victims of domestic violence each year.

Witnessing can mean seeing or hearing actual incidents of domestic abuse. Children may hear threats or fighting noises from another room. Children may also witness the aftermath of physical abuse such as blood, bruises, tears, torn clothing, and broken items.

The emotional responses of children who witness domestic violence may include fear, guilt, shame, sleep disturbances, sadness, depression, hopelessness and anger (at both the abuser for the violence and at the mother for being unable to prevent the violence). Stomachaches, headaches, and bedwetting may occur as a result of the abuse.

Children may also feel tension and fearfulness when the abuser enters the home. Finally, in violent households, children are at risk for experiencing physical, emotional, sexual and verbal abuse and can be injured while trying to intervene on behalf of their mother.

The behavioral responses of children who witness domestic violence may include acting out, withdrawal, or aggression towards others. The children may exhibit signs of anxiety and have a short attention span, which may result in poor school performance and attendance. They may experience developmental delays in speech, motor or cognitive skills.

They can also become self-injurious, for example engaging in cutting or scratching themselves. The website www.childwelfare.org suggests that children who are raised in abusive homes may learn that violence is an effective way to resolve conflicts and problems and go on to exhibit violence when they reach adulthood.

A variety of sources indicates that nearly three out of four (74 percent) of Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence. Domestic violence is indeed a public health issue that impacts the well-being of us all.

Call the Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or your medical or mental health provider if you. For those interested in medical, dental, mental health or chemical health assistance, call 612-543-2500.

Deirdre Annice Golden, Ph.D., LP, is director of Behavioral Health for NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center Behavioral Health Clinic, 1313 Penn Ave. N. She welcomes reader responses to Deirdre.Golden@co.hennepin.mn.us, or call 612-543-2705.