Lost in headlines about presidential electioneering and the roller coaster stock market is the news that October is designated to raise awareness of domestic violence. The irony is that financial shock waves may increase the prevalence of abuse. The economic turmoil will undoubtedly lead to greater fears, pressure and anxiety within families facing financial collapse - and that stress can lead to battering.
The Centers for Disease Control believes that 10% of the population is affected by domestic abuse, although it is estimated that only one-third of these cases are actually reported. It is the most common cause of injury for women ages 15 to 44 who suffer physical as well as emotional injury, such as depression, anxiety and social isolation.
Why do women remain in abusive relationships? Frequently, the reason is fear - they've been brainwashed by the perpetrator, convinced that they are helpless and cannot cope alone. Or they're afraid that the abusive partner will harm them or the children if they attempt to leave. Some victims incorrectly believe they are responsible - they have caused the abuse or it is up to them to stay and keep the family together. Denial as a defense mechanism can remain strong: victims may not see themselves as battered and don't believe the perpetrator will continue the abuse.
If you're afraid of your partner's anger and how he/she treats you, your children or elders under your care, your first responsibility is to protect yourself and loved ones from harm. Resolve to begin the tough process of freeing yourself even if you feel trapped and so deeply entrenched in the dysfunctional relationship that it seems you'll never break away. Make a start by taking these steps:
1. Insist your partner participate in individual therapy as well as relationship counseling. The therapy should focus on anger management, cognitive behavioral change, insight, skill building, communication, stress reduction and control strategies.
2. Get help from friends and family. Talk about your concerns, educating them about domestic violence. Let them know what you need from them and how to recognize if you are in immediate danger. Devise code words to alert them if you need help.
3. Prepare to take care of yourself - emotionally, financially and physically. Find a therapist who will help you develop self-confidence and the life skills you may need to go solo. Take charge of your personal finances, open your own bank account, find a job if you are not already employed.
4. Have an exit strategy and plan what to do if and when you leave the relationship. Investigate the national domestic violence hotline, available community resources and learn about shelters in your area. Have copies of documents you may need as well as extra clothes and cash; leave them with a friend or neighbor so you can retrieve them later.
5. Immediately let someone in authority know about the abuse, if it occurs. Have the phone number of the local police station available - and you can always call 911. If the violence is directed to your children or the elderly, know how to contact the agencies dealing with child welfare and elder abuse.
As we move through these difficult financial times, the stresses we face are great. Emotions are likely to be close to the surface as uncertainty about the state of our economy continues. Be aware of any potential for domestic abuse in your family and learn how to protect yourself and your loved ones from the painful trauma caused by violence.
© 2011, Her Mentor Center