We use the terms “family violence” and “abusive relationships” interchangeably. Often violent or abusive behaviour is called “battering;’ which is defined as “assaultive behaviour between adults in an intimate, sexual, usually cohabitating relationship.”
Assaultive behaviour can take many forms. All forms of abusive behaviour are ways in which one human being is trying to control or have power over another. These behaviours can include but are not limited to:
Emotional or psychological abuse:
put-downs, constant criticism; breaking down partner’s belief system (cultural or religious); making partner watch children or pets be abused and not allowing partner to intervene.
denying the partner access to or the opportunity to keep friends, social contacts, outside interests; jealousy; making family contact difficult.
threats to hurt or kill children, pets, friends; destruction of property; controlling partner’s talk; making partner account for every minute, every action; threats to hurt anyone who helps her; threats to prove partner is an unfit mother; threats of suicide; controlling with fear.
allowing partner no money of her own or no opportunity to improve her earning capacity; forcing partner to hand over every penny, whether or not she earns money; forcing partner to account for every cent.
pushing, shoving, slapping, punching, kicking, breaking bones, knifing, shooting or use of other weapons, locking out of one’s home, abandoning in an unsafe place, murder.
forced unwanted sex; demanding that partner wear more (or less) provocative clothing; forced sex with objects, friends, animals; insisting that partner act out pornographic fantasies, denial of partner’s sexuality.
PROFILE OF A VIOLENT RELATIONSHIP
If we’re going to help those in violent relationships, we need to understand their situations. But sometimes we shy away from stories of violence between husbands and wives, because the stories may seem so extreme or shocking, or so far from our own experience. It may be hard to imagine how a loving relationship could deteriorate to the point of violence.
And yet, as we come to understand abusive relationships, we may see that the sources of violence are not so far from any of us. Violent incidents do not occur in a vacuum. Though each abusive relationship is unique, common patterns do occur.
The following example is a composite of many stories. We tell this story to illustrate how a violent relationship can happen:
She could be a teenager in an oppressive home situation or an independent woman developing a career. She may be attracted to him because he seems strong, exciting or romantic. He may be attracted to her because she seems fragile and in need of protection, or because she seems glamorous and independent. They may have a strong sexual attraction.
He may be jealous or possessive of her. She may find this flattering, believing his jealousy is a sign he really loves her.
Though either or both of them may seem confident, it’s likely that inside they are unsure of themselves. They may have low self-esteem. Either or both of them may have experienced violence as a child. Almost certainly, being together fills a need for each of them.
At some point, they become a “couple”‘ Whether legally married or living together, they take on the traditional roles of husband and wife. He expects her to be “a good wife” who accommodates his needs and cares for him. She wants to be “a good wife” – one who pleases her husband.
Though she may be assertive in some situations, in her relationship with him she slips into a more passive role, perhaps appreciating that she now has someone to care about her. They may both believe, though they may not be aware of it, that the wife is responsible for the happiness of the household.
He is dependent on her for emotional support, to create a loving environment, to make him feel masculine. She is dependent on him to take charge, to be the dominant one, to make her feel feminine. She may become financially dependent on him.
They meet each other’s needs for a while. Their mutual dependence draws them together and they want to be happy with their relationship.
Things begin to go sour. There may be an outside source of pressure – trouble at work or financial pressure. He may begin to drink heavily. Often, the couple’s first pregnancy changes the tone of their relationship. She has a harder time anticipating what he wants. He feels cheated: a man’s home is his castle and the castle is not measuring up. He may believe that you have to keep wives in line. He begins to attack her verbally – with insults, put-downs, name
She may begin to feel inadequate, like she’s failed him in some way. Emotionally, she begins to feel she’s walking on a tightrope. She tries harder to be “a good wife.”
He may begin to check on her, to control where she goes and who she sees. The mind games begin – or escalate.
She is hurt and confused. She tries harder still to please him -maybe making special meals, maybe wearing different clothes or make up. The harder she tries, the less he respects her. The more he blames her, the more she blames herself. He is not pleased, so there must be something wrong with her. As he becomes more critical and more oppressive, she may become more passive and less sure of herself. Or, she may try fighting back – also becoming critical and verbally abusive.
He responds by increasing the abuse, exercising more control and intimidation. She feels more guilty and inadequate. Her confidence is shattered.
Sometimes, not always, she becomes less able to handle other situations in her life, such as a job or dealing with the couple’s children. Her bottled up feelings of guilt and shame, her sense of feeling powerless and inadequate, may transfer themselves to other circumstances.
The tension escalates. This pattern may continue for months or years. However long it lasts, it is devastating to her emotional health.
4. THE FIRST INCIDENT OF PHYSICAL VIOLENCE
During an argument, he hits her. They are both shocked. He begs forgiveness and promises it will never happen again. He doesn’t know what got into him – pressure at work, or maybe a little too much to drink.
She agrees with him. Surely if he loved her he wouldn’t hit her. He didn’t mean it. Not really. They both want to believe it was an accident – a one-time thing.
He is kind and loving, more loving than he has been for months. Once again they experience tenderness and passion, more intense in the wake of their violent emotions. The magic is back. They do not discuss the incident. They do not want to believe it happened, so it didn’t. Why take a chance on spoiling their fragile harmony? The intensity of their emotion and their mutual denial draw them closer, making them even more dependent on one another. But a barrier has been broken.
5. IT HAPPENS AGAIN … AND AGAIN
Their emotional closeness begins to deteriorate. Tension begins to build again. The insults and accusations start; she tries harder to anticipate his moods and reactions.
“They both maintain their cloak of shame and silence.” Another explosive incident. This time they are not so shocked when he attacks her.
Again he is contrite and loving. He says what she wants to hear. She wants and needs it to be true, so she believes him. Again, they feel closer for a while – another “honeymoon” stage of tenderness and loving, entrapping them further.
The cycle repeats itself more frequently; tension build-up, violent explosion and the honeymoon. At this point, she probably doesn’t consider herself an abused woman.
The reality hurts too much to admit, so she denies it. Instead, she feels guilty, tries to accommodate him (she can’t), tries to make the honeymoon last (it doesn’t). In between his physical attacks, the emotional battering continues. They both make excuses for him: he’s had an unhappy child-hood, he’s under pressure these days, it’s only when he’s drinking. They both maintain their cloak of shame and silence. They don’t want anyone to know what goes on behind their closed doors. She’s been told (or learned by trying) that she’d better not tell anyone what’s happening.
Ironically the worse the situation gets, the more they are both cut off from other people, and the more dependent they are on each other.
6. THE PATTERN IS SET
The cycle continues: tension build up, violent explosion, honeymoon.
The violent incidents become more serious and more frequent and the honeymoons are shorter.
By now, their tenderness and affection happen only briefly during the honeymoon periods, if at all. Once the tenderness made her believe he cared about her, now it may feel like another violation. And though he once kept her with promises “It will never happen again”, now he may use threats “I’ll kidnap the children.”
Her anxiety and guilt turn to more fear.
She doesn’t know when the next attack will happen, or why. Her self-esteem drops lower still. She blames herself because she can’t control the situation. She feels helpless and powerless, ashamed and humiliated. “She knows with certainty there will be an explosion sooner or later.”
She begins to believe maybe she deserves the assaults. And he continues to blame her, too – with insults, name-calling and put-downs. Maybe if she could be a better wife he wouldn’t be so angry. But sometimes he is good to her; he really is a good man; he really does love her. Maybe this time the emotional closeness will last.
And then one day she thinks, “He doesn’t hit me because he’s drunk, he drinks for an excuse to hit me.” Sometimes when he walks in the door she knows it’s going to be a bad night. As a survival tactic, she may provoke fights, unconsciously wanting to speed up the cycle so they can get the violence over with. He accuses her of pushing him to violence. Sometimes she does – as a way to end the unbearable tension for a while. The physical abuse may be easier to tolerate than the emotional and verbal abuse that comes before.
She knows with certainty there will be an explosion sooner or later. If it’s sooner, maybe it won’t be so violent.
Outsiders may feel that one or the other of them causes the violence. In reality, they are both locked into the cycle of violence.
7. COMING AND GOING
Something breaks the cloak of silence. Perhaps she needs medical attention, or neighbours call the police, or she is afraid for the children and talks to someone. Their violence becomes public.
Now begins the most frustrating stage for those who are trying to help. Outsiders do not understand how powerful the cycle of violence is, or how strong the couple’s bond to one another.
Outsiders may think she’s a bad wife – if she changed, the abuse would stop. Or, outsiders may see that he hurts her and she goes back to him. Trying to help the couple may seem futile.
“They are trapped in their violent relationships.”
She cannot leave because she needs to believe in the times he is good to her; because she fears his threats; because she does not see any options.
By now, she is a pulverised human being. She may drink or take pills to blot out the ,pain. She feels worthless, unlovable, humiliated. She does not believe she could make it on her own, or that she can escape the campaign of terror.
In their pain, one or both of the adults may inflict the same kinds of emotional or physical degradation on their children that they inflict on each other. She fears that if an outsider finds out about the abuse, the children will be taken away.
“They are trapped in their violent relationships.”
What is less obvious is that, even though he may blame her, beneath his aggressive exterior the abuser feels worthless and unlovable too. He cannot imagine being without her. He needs her emotional support, yet is good to her only when he fears losing her. She knows he only has her to talk to. She understands him -she senses his loneliness and sadness under all the bluster.
Some moments she hates and fears him. Other moments she feels sorry for how vulnerable he is. He does everything in his power to drive her away – verbal attacks, beating her, sexual assault, hitting the children, and then everything in his power to get her back – “I’ll go for counselling, I’ll quit drinking, you have no right to break up our family, I need you, you’d starve without me, I’ll never hit you again, I’ll find you and kill you.” Outsiders find it hard to understand that their need for each other is as powerful as their need to break away. They are trapped in their violent relationship. He is compelled to drive her away and win her back; she must leave and return. Most likely, they will advance and retreat several times before they can change the cycle of violence.
But each time she leaves and returns, there is more danger. The next incident is likely to be more violent and outside helpers more likely to have given up on both of them.
8. CAN THE CYCLE BE BROKEN?
There are three ways the cycle of violence can be broken:
He learns to stop being abusive.
One of them dies.
· He learns to stop being abusive. This can happen if he is willing to recognise that his behaviour is abusive, if he can find the right kind of help, if he really wants to change his behaviour, if he fears losing his family or being in trouble with the law, if there is enough attraction and motivation left between the partners.
Once the cycle has become established, abusers almost never stop their abusive behaviour without external pressure or help.
· She leaves. This will happen if she comes to believe the abuse will never end; if she is more terrified of staying than leaving; if she realizes the harm being done to her children and herself; if she finds sufficient outside support to make it on her own.
· One of them dies. Sometimes the abuse escalates to a fatal level.
Between 1974 and 1987, 40 percent of all homicide cases in Canada involved family members and 37 percent were cases in which men killed their wives or common-law partners.
Unfortunately, some women become so desperate that they see killing their partners or themselves as their only way out. No one knows how many suicides can be attributed to desperation as a result of wife abuse.
C. A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
Wife abuse is not new. It is centuries old:
In 2500 B.C. if a wife talked back to her husband, he could engrave her name on a brick and use the brick to hit her.
Wife beating and wife killing were rights of Greek and Roman men.
In the middle ages, church and state accepted that a wife was the property of her husband. Wives could be bought and sold, and they could be burned at the stake for scolding, nagging or talking back to their husbands.
In the eighteenth century, a British court ruled that a husband could beat his wife, so long as the stick he used was no thicker than his thumb.
In the nineteenth century, a judge stated, “If no permanent injury has been inflicted … by the husband, it is better to draw the curtain, shut out the public gaze and leave the parties to forget and forgive ”
Even in the twentieth century, the judge’s instruction to “draw the curtain” has been followed by many who could change.
But attitudes are changing, and the changed attitudes are being reflected in our laws:
In 1968, for the first time in Canada, a spouse could be granted a divorce because of cruelty.
In 1983, for the first time in Canada, a husband could be charged with sexually assaulting his wife.
Also in 1983, police forces across the country were instructed to lay charges of assault against offenders in cases of “domestic dispute” when there was evidence an assault had taken place. Previously, it had been the victim’s responsibility to lay charges.
In 1990, Alberta’s Solicitor General reinforced the instruction that police should lay assault charges against wife abusers.
In the past few decades Canadians, including Albertans, have expressed increasing concern about wife abuse. Alberta was the first province to have a women’s emergency shelter, developed by volunteers. There are now numerous community groups working in various ways to reduce family violence in Alberta.
As well, public officials are expressing their concern. For example, the issue has been discussed in the Alberta Legislature many times during the last few years.
In 1990, the Federal, Provincial and Territorial Ministers
Responsible for the Status of Women made a declaration outlining the seriousness of violence against women and supporting efforts to achieve a society free from violence.
These expressions of concern are encouraging. It means our society and our province will no longer tolerate the abuse of women by their partners.
As one Alberta M.L.A. said in the legislature, “No civilised society can allow some of its members to beat other weaker members without consequence!’
D. SOME FIGURES
Though there is room for encouragement, we have a way to go.
Wife abuse is still unfortunately common.
Battered But Not Beaten: Preventing Wife Abuse in Canada, published in 1987, estimates that:
1 in 8 Canadian women living with a male partner experiences some kind of abuse.
Statistics Canada (1986) estimates that 578,000 Alberta women are legally married or living with a male partner. This means:
There are I potentially more than women in Alberta.
In 1990, over 200 women’s shelters operated in Canada, 15 of them in Alberta. More shelters, short-term refuges and second-stage housing facilities are being developed.
Alberta records show more than 3,000 women and 4,000 children use Alberta’s women’s shelters every year. Almost 90 percent of women using shelters bring children with them.
Professionals who work with family violence realize that more treatment programs are needed for men. Some batterers in Alberta do receive treatment, but more programs are required.
E. SOME FACTS
Wife abuse is a fact of life in families across Canada. Women are kicked, punched, beaten, burned, threatened, knifed and shot, not by strangers, but by the men they live with. In every neighbourhood, women are emotionally and physically abused by their husbands and lovers.
Some other facts:
· Wife abuse is common in rural areas as well as in cities.
Unfortunately for rural women, it is much more difficult for them to escape their situations because there may be no place to go, or no way to get there.
Most men who abuse their wives grew up believing that a man should be the head of the household, that his needs and wants are most important and that he should be the ultimate authority in the family.
They believe they are responsible for their wives and children; that they own them and therefore have the right – even the duty – to control them. If control cannot be achieved by will or words, violence is used. Somewhere they learned that violence is appropriate and that it works for them. It ends arguments and allows them to have their way. They may have learned this as children watching their fathers abuse their mothers, or they may have learned while growing up that being male means being aggressive. These basic beliefs are usually combined with some or all of the following characteristics.
· Limited awareness of feelings and how to express them
Most unpleasant feelings are experienced or interpreted as anger. The men have not learned to recognise, acknowledge or express such feelings as sadness, fear or disappointment.
They believe violence is a natural way to express their anger. Some seem to know no other way to behave when they are angry, although they are selective about where and on whom they vent their anger. Some say their behaviour is beyond their control. Others seem to know exactly what they are doing and are careful to hit their victims where the bruises and lacerations will not show.
· Deny responsibility
Many of the men do not believe the problem is theirs. They blame overwork or stress or alcohol or drugs. They may deny -even to themselves – that the violence happened. Intoxication is a factor in many violent incidents. It doesn’t “cause” violence, but it can lower inhibitions making it easier to be abusive. It can also contribute to making the violence worse.
Often, arresting, charging and prosecuting offenders is necessary to make them realise that society holds them responsible for their actions.
Almost never will an abuser take responsibility for his actions without some kind of external pressure, such as the possibility of jail, or losing his family completely.
(“I’m only doing this because I want my wife to come home.”) Even then, an abuser may be in treatment for a lengthy period of time before he begins to really understand the process and wants to continue treatment for his own sake.
Some abusers never do see the benefit to themselves.
· Sense of well-being is vulnerable
Some men strike out when the image of masculinity they want to portray feels threatened. Some are very emotionally dependent on their partners and therefore are possessive and jealous. They use violence or the threat of violence to control and contain their partners.
· Lack of empathy
Some men seem unable or unwilling to understand the effects their abuse has on their partners. They are preoccupied with concern for themselves. Perhaps this comes from a difficulty identifying their own emotions.
Sometimes the abuse they are inflicting is measured in terms of abuse that has been inflicted on them. An act of violence may not register as “abuse” in comparison to what they themselves have seen or experienced.
· Jekyll and Hyde
Friends of an abuser often describe him as quiet, a good provider, a good neighbour and family man. Researchers have observed that the initial impressions of abusers can be misleading.
Abusers may seem socially skilled, friendly and able to communicate well. They may seem to feel guilty and remorseful about their behaviour. Over time, however, the feelings of inadequacy, frustration, dependence, denial, and the need to control, will begin to surface. This contrast helps partially to explain why women stay with abusive husbands. They want to believe in the positive “Dr. Jekyll” and downplay the abusive “Mr. Hyde”
· “Explosive” and “Controlled” violence
Though many different circumstances surround abuse, research suggests that many abusers fit into one of two main categories: “Explosive” and “Controlled”
“Explosive” abusers tend to blow up in situations where they feel unable to cope. This type of violence is influenced by lack of communication and control skills, and a limited knowledge of other ways to handle conflict. The “explosive” abuser may be a “panic in a comer” person whose violence is a form of “lashing out”
The other category of abuser, the “controlled” abuser, has intellectual and social skills, and his violence is not impulsive. His aggression is directed at a particular victim, to achieve a specific result to intimidate and control the victim. Some researchers say that purely “explosive” aggression is rare. The husband who severely hurts his wife in the heat of an argument probably did mean to hurt her.
Supposedly “out of control” violence or abuse seldom happens in front of witnesses only in private which suggests the timing, at least, is not out of control.
There is a concern that if we suggest that abusive behaviour is “out of control;’ we relieve the abuser of his responsibility for the behaviour.
F. HOW VIOLENCE AFFECTS WOMEN
Unlike abusive men, who often have specific characteristics, abused women do not fall into particular personality categories before the abuse begins.
Being in an abusive situation, however, tends to trigger similar response patterns in the victims of abuse. Some women leave. But the climate of shame, uncertainty and fear (“a war zone”) make an abused woman less likely to take assertive action to value and protect herself, particularly if the woman comes from a family or cultural background that supports the idea of men being dominant.
1. “VICTIM” CHARACTERISTICS ARE A RESULT, NOT A CAUSE OF ABUSE
After prolonged abuse, women often develop some or all of the following characteristics:
· Internalize blame
She may believe that the abuse is her fault and believe her partner when he calls her ugly, stupid or incompetent. She may believe that she would not be abused if she were a better person or performed her role better.
· Tendency to minimise the seriousness of the abuse
She may play down the seriousness of the abuse to herself and others because of shame, because she feels responsible for her husband’s actions or simply to help herself survive. She may not be ready to deal with the reality of her situation or she may not realise that she does not have to live with violence. She may see no way out.
In some relationships the abuse is continuous. In most, however, it happens now and then. There may be long periods of time without violence when the man is a loving partner. These good times give her hope that the violence will not recur. It is this hope, mixed with the pain from the abuse, that results in confusion about what to do.
Some women’s lives are filled with fear. Every day they try to read their partner’s mood and anticipate his wants in order to ward off violence.
Some men threaten to hurt their partners even more if they leave or to hurt anyone who offers to help. In reality, many men do follow through on these threats. The women have learned to believe that the abuser will follow through and so women become immobilized by fear.
To numb the pain and despair, some women resort to the use of alcohol or drugs, some of which may be prescribed by professionals from whom the women seek help.
2. WHY DO WOMEN STAY?
To those outside the relationship, it may be hard to understand why women don’t just leave an abusive situation, or why, if they do leave, they often go back to their abusive partner.
The situation is rarely simple. Besides the factors already mentioned (fear, confusion, blaming herself), several other forces may conspire to make it extremely difficult for a woman to leave.
· Lack of alternatives
After prolonged abuse, women may have had their self-esteem and their personal support networks destroyed. This, combined with a lack of understanding and support from family and community members, leaves women with few real alternatives.
Leaving their partners, particularly if they are financially dependent on them and have children, can take more personal and material resources than abused women have available to them.
· Background of abuse
Girls growing up in violent homes are more likely than other girls to have abusive relationships as adults.If submission of women has been part of her family or cultural background, a woman may be more likely to stay. She may believe that as a wife, her husband has the right to dominate her and demand that she meet his needs.
· Social pressure
A woman may believe it is her duty to remain in order to keep the family together. Friends, relatives or children may influence her to stay.
Although they want the violence to stop, abused women may want the relationship to continue. Their hope of better times keeps them in the relationship.
As one abused woman said, “Just when I’d be ready to leave, he would do something nice, and then I would think things might really change.”
Two Canadian researchers, propose a theory to explain the strong attachment abused women feel for their abusive partners.
The researchers say reasons such as those listed above do not adequately explain why women stay in violent relationships.
For example, two-thirds of women in abusive relationships did not grow up in a violent home. Sometimes women stay in abusive relationships even when they are financially independent (i.e., have alternatives) or are in common law relationships (i.e., little social pressure to preserve the family).
The researchers observe that abused women are not the only people who form strong emotional attachments under conditions of mistreatment.
For example, hostages have felt “bonded” to their captors; cult members are loyal to leaders who mistreat them.
The researchers use the term “traumatic bonding” to describe strong emotional ties between two persons where one person intimidates and abuses the other at irregular intervals.
These relationships have two common features:
· Power imbalance – the abused person perceives herself to be dominated by the other;
· Intermittent abuse – the dominant person periodically mistreats the submissive person. But in between mistreatment are times of normal and pleasant behaviour.
Such intermittent mistreatment has been found to produce strong emotional bonding in both people and animals.
The victim becomes convinced that her well-being is bound up with the well-being of the abuser and therefore she must look after him.
These two conditions are present in domestic violence and may help explain why abused partners choose to stay in an abusive situation.
3. STAGES IN THE ABUSED WOMAN’S EXPERIENCE
Frances Woods has identified stages a battered woman goes through, as she lives within the cycle of violence over a period of time. She may need different kinds of help at different stages:
An abused woman’s most common response to early abuse incidents is to deny there is a problem. Denial is a common human response to any traumatic experience. She may simply not be able to believe the incident happened.
If she grew up with violence, a woman may downplay the incident (“he only shoved me”) or may believe that violence is normal. If she did not grow up with violence, her image of “a battered woman may be someone poorly educated or of low income, and she does not want to perceive herself in that way.
She is ashamed and does not want anyone to know.
b. Blaming herself
Guilt and turmoil characterize the woman’s feelings as she begins to recognise that she is abused. Three factors contribute to her blaming herself:
· Low self-esteem: Even if she started with a high level of confidence, being abused makes her doubt her worth. She may begin to believe she deserves the abuse.
· Others blame her: Her husband is likely to blame her (“If you’d keep the kids out of the toolbox, I would not have to get so mad ‘ “) and she accepts responsibility for his actions. Widespread public opinion that “she must have asked for it” and that women are responsible for what happens in a family reinforce that she is to blame.
· She needs to feel some power: As the situation deteriorates and she feels more and more powerless, she can get some sense of controlling the situation if she believes she causes it. The logic goes: “I must provoke him to hit me. If it’s me that makes him do it, I could stop provoking him and then he would stop hitting me. I’ll try harder.”
c. Seeking help
Reaching for help is often a negative experience.
Friends and family may not believe her, may tell her she is to blame, or say, “You made your bed, lie in it’ ”
Women may feel that police, lawyers, and the legal system are guided by rules set up to protect the civil rights of the abuser more than the victim.
Rural women may find services simply do not exist.
But rural or urban, even women who have access to services may not find doctors, counsellors of other helpers with an in-depth understanding of her situation. Not all professionals have received specific training to help them recognise or understand family violence.
The belief that violence in the home is a private, family affair may mean potential helpers do not feel they should intervene. Societal values of keeping the family together at all cost may convince her to return.
She may feel she is in a no-win situation. If she leaves, “She didn’t try.” If she stays, “She must like it”
If a woman reaches out for help and finds none, she will likely be driven back to the violent relationship.
d. Going in and out of the relationship
Those who work with abused women say 80 to 90 percent of women leave and return to the relationship more than once. (“Traumatic bonding” and other factors we’ve mentioned may explain this phase.) This ambivalent state causes misunderstanding, hostility and frustration towards the woman, and may lead potential helpers to give up on her.
During the ambivalent stage, the woman is trying to decide whether to leave or stay in the relationship. She goes back and forth to help her make a decision.
She may try counselling to salvage the relationship. However, few abusive mates will attend counselling voluntarily. They usually require insistence by their partners or the justice system.
Why does she leave? She believes her life is in danger. She fears for her children. She has some hope of supporting herself in the outside world. She has mustered enough self-confidence to believe she can have a satisfying life on her own. When she leaves, she tests if she can survive in the outside environment.
Why does she go back? She wants the relationship (she still cares about him). She believes his promises or his threats. She feels guilty about breaking up the family. Her children may pressure her to return to their friends, their belongings – and their father.
She feels worthless and fears she can’t make it on her own. It may seem as if she has no skills, no money, no support and no chance of “getting ahead” by herself. Maybe all those times he told her she couldn’t make it without him, he was right.
When she goes back, she tests if the relationship can be changed. She needs to be sure she’s given it every chance.
Though nearly all abused women go through the pattern of ambivalence, each does so in her own way. She may leave and return few or many times; she may come to a resolution suddenly or gradually. The ambivalent stage may last for years.
e. Living without violence
Whether she stays or leaves, the woman will probably need on-going support. Fear, low self-esteem and flashbacks of the violence may plague her.
Some say it takes five years to recover from a violent relationship.
Some say it takes forever.
G. HOW VIOLENCE AFFECTS CHILDREN
Children are definitely affected by the violence happening around
Often, the children get “caught in the crossfire” and become victims of violence themselves. They may be accidentally pushed or hit during a violent outburst, or one of their parents may inflict intentional damage upon them.
A study conducted at an Edmonton women’s shelter showed that:
· 87 per cent of children between the ages of three and eighteen years, who came to the shelter with their mothers, were seriously abused or neglected.
· 30 per cent of the children between the ages of 11 and 18 had been sexually abused.
· 70 per cent of the abused children displayed behavioural and emotional problems severe enough to require treatment.
Even if they are not victims of assault themselves, children are seriously traumatised by living in a violent home.
These children live in fear, waiting for the next violent episode.
They feel no safety or security in their own homes, but are too young to seek out alternatives.
Both boys and girls who witness violence quickly learn that violence is an appropriate way to resolve conflict. They may get into fights at school or in the neighbourhood.
As they get older, these children are less and less understanding of their mother. Some may begin to verbally or physically abuse her as they have seen their fathers do.
Girls in particular may learn that being a victim is inevitable and see no way out of the pattern. As adolescents, girls may begin dating and become involved in relationships which grow to be abusive. They accept threats, controlling behaviour and violence from their
Children may live in shame of the hidden violence and be embarrassed by the family secret. Their self-confidence and self-esteem are slowly taken away, along with their confidence in the future.
They may have few opportunities to get involved in activities outside the home, because of their father’s (and perhaps their mother’s) domination and control.
H. CLUES THAT ABUSE MAY BE HAPPENING
There is no way to know just by looking whether or not family violence is occurring in a home. There are, however, several indicators or clues that might alert you to possible abuse:
· A track record of violence is the most accurate predictor. If someone has assaulted his wife in the past, it is almost certain that such abuse will reoccur when the family is re-united, especially if neither the abuser or other family members have received treatment.
· A history of abuse in the family of origin. Those who were abused as children or who grew up in a violent home are more likely than the general population to be victims or perpetrators of family violence.
One indicator of childhood abuse may be that, as an adult, the person has few childhood recollections.
Not all children who grow up in violent environments become abusers.
Children are more likely to become abusers if:
· The abuse was accepted or supported by the culture or society;
· The child felt in some way responsible for causing the violence that he or she “did something wrong.”
Abuser indicators include:
· Impulsiveness, temper tantrums, jealousy, possessiveness, excessive dependence on wife, emotional immaturity;
· Rigid views of men and women and their roles in society;
· Blaming of children or partner; anger about children or partner; no indication of sensitivity to how the children or partner might feel;
· Abuse of drugs or alcohol;
· A history of suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts;
· Characteristics listed earlier, such as denial of responsibility; vulnerable sense of well-being; lack of empathy.
Women who are being abused often present clues or indicators as well.
These may include:
· Low self-esteem;
· Health problems – chronic complaints of poor health; frequent visits to a doctor; sleeping difficulties such as insomnia, violent nightmares;
· Attitudes about men and women – rigid view of men’s and women’s roles; emotional dependence on husband; deference to husband’s needs; feeling responsible for his behaviour;
· Emotional or psychological disorders – severe agitation; anxiety or obvious nervousness; depression; a history of suicidal thoughts or actions;
· Substance abuse – tranquillisers and/or alcohol;
· Confused thinking, inability to make decisions, lack of eye contact; Suspicion of abusive behaviour towards children;
Children who live in an abusive environment sometimes exhibit these behaviours:
· Aggressive behaviour, or conversely, passive, withdrawing, clinging behaviour;
· School problems – truancy, poor grades, fighting;
· Role reversal – the child parenting the adult;
· Night time problems – not able to sleep, nightmares, bedwetting, bedtime problems;
· Physical complaints such as headaches, stomach aches, chronic colds, allergies;
· Crying hopelessly, or crying very little;
· Wary of physical contact; seem to seek safety by sizing up a situation rather than looking to their parents;
– seem constantly on the alert for danger, asking through words and actions what will happen next;
· Self-destructive or escapist behaviour (particularly in teenagers) such as running away, drug/alcohol abuse, prostitution, pregnancy,
Not all people in abusive homes exhibit these behaviours, and not everyone who exhibits these behaviours is living in an abusive environment.
However, if a number of these indicators are visible, that might be a clue that a relationship has elements of abuse.
I. CHANGING THE CYCLE
Changing the cycle of family violence is a long-term process. Our society is beginning the process by becoming less tolerant of abuse and more likely to intervene on behalf of abused women and their children.
Meanwhile, there are things we can do now.
If you are in an abusive relationship here are a few suggestions if you are trying to free yourself from a life of violence:
· Don’t underestimate the danger.
Don’t be lulled into underestimating the danger that you and your children face.
Statistics and research show that the violence gets more severe over time.
You could be killed.
· Make a get-away plan.
The violence gets worse – it never gets better. If you are not ready or able to leave the situation permanently, at least take some precautions for your own safety and the safety of your children.
It may not seem fair that you, and not your spouse, will be forced to leave your home when violence happens. You’re right, it’s not fair.
But it may be the only way to keep yourself and your children safe.
Have an escape plan. Whenever possible, tuck a few dollars away in a place where it won’t be found, but where you can get at it. Keep a set of car keys where you can get them easily and quickly. If you can, make an arrangement with a friend or neighbour or women’s shelter to provide a safe place for you or your children in an emergency.
· Care for yourself.
Be kind to yourself as you cope.
Remember, you don’t deserve to be abused. You are not responsible for another person’s abusive behaviour.
Appreciate the strengths you must have to have survived and coped.
When you wish you had done something differently, be as forgiving to yourself as you would to another person in a difficult situation.
· Ask for help.
Whether you are staying in the relationship or attempting to make it on your own, you need help. Don’t be afraid to ask for it.
Emotional support can be found from friends (if you have any available) or from the staff of a women’s shelter or other facility.
If you’re not interested in staying in a shelter, you can still drop in to ask for advice or telephone for assistance.
A counsellor might also provide emotional support. If you choose counselling, be sure to look for a counsellor who understands wife assault and is able to deal with it.
Not all counsellors are trained in this area. If the counsellor says you and your partner have a “communication problem” or suggests counselling you and your partner together, this is not the right person for you to be seeing.
Physical safety can be found at a shelter, a hotel or the home of someone you trust.
Legal advice and assistance is available. If you can’t t afford to pay the fees, Legal Aid may assist.
Financial assistance may be available on a short or long-term basis through Alberta Family and Social Services. They may be able to help you get into a training program to improve your job skills.
· You can help the police.
In Alberta, all police departments have been instructed to take responsibility for pressing charges against an abuser.
If you or someone else report the crime to the police, and if there is enough evidence, the police will take charge of the legal process.
Your evidence in court will be a big help.
Wife assault is a crime. Often it takes the threat of prosecution or being separated from his family to make an abuser agree to get help.
· Encourage your partner to get counselling.
Whether or not you have been through a court process, encourage your partner to get counselling.
Here again, choose your counsellor carefully. There are programs specifically designed for abusive men. Some are listed in the resource directory at the back of this book. Most women’s shelters also know of programs in their own areas that might be able to assist.
IF YOU ARE CONCERNED ABOUT SOMEONE YOU KNOW
If you want to help someone else who is in a battering relationship, there are a few things you might consider.
· Be supportive.
A woman in an abusive relationship has been the brunt of devastating emotional and physical abuse. If she talks to you about it, she’s looking for someone who can accept what she’s been through. Try not to be shocked or judgmental at what you hear. If you say things like, “How could you stand it?” or “I would’ve left that bum years ago,” she will think you are judging her and that only makes it harder for her to come to you.
· Understand her need to come and go from the relationship.
Women who are trying to free themselves from violence have been victims for a long time. They may still want their marriage to work, for reasons we have talked about earlier. Understand their need to go back to the relationship – to test if it can work without violence.
· Help her be aware of the options.
You can help by assisting a woman to find out what community services, resources or agencies might be accessible to her. Be careful to avoid telling the woman what to do, however. She’s been controlled long enough – it’s time for her to make her own decisions.
IF YOU ARE A PROFESSIONAL
As a community professional, you may suspect you have clients who are victims of wife assault.
· Know what to look for.
Familiarize yourself with some of the characteristics and indicators of abusive relationships
· Know what questions to ask.
Chances are, the abused woman is not going to admit her secret. But if you recognise the signs and know what questions to ask, (not when her partner is present) you may be able to help her speak out.
· Help clients understand.
Women in violent situations are often unaware of what’s happening in their lives. You can help them to see how the cycle of violence works, and let them know options are available.