Thursday, December 26, 2013

What everyone should know about domestic violence

About one in three women is the victim of domestic violence worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. And this violence doesn’t discriminate based on economic status, race, or religion. Any woman can experience this abuse, and there are often no warning signs at the very beginning of the relationship. The violence typically begins once the couple has formed a strong bond between them.

Women in abusive relationships often struggle to address the issue because of fear, doubt, and many other reasons. To help women understand how to recognize and deal with domestic violence, we recently invited Azucena Ugarte, Director of Education and Training at Women Against Abuse, to present at the College. Her insights not only helped our community become better informed about this issue, but were especially useful for students in our criminal justice program, who may start a job that involves working with victims of domestic violence. Azucena was kind enough to share some information from her presentation with us for our blog readers.

Q: What is domestic violence? I’ve also heard of intimate partner violence. What’s the difference?

A: Domestic violence and intimate partner violence both refer to a pattern of behavior that one partner uses to gain power and control over the other partner. When people use the term, “domestic violence” they usually refer to a couple that lives together or to family members, but intimate partner violence can refer specifically to any couple. They can be living together, not living together, married or dating, and with or without children.

Q: What are the different types of intimate partner violence?

A: There are four major ways in which abusive partners try to gain and then exert power and control over the other partner.

  1. Physical abuse: This is when a partner uses physical action or the threat of physical action to exert power. This can include hitting, punching, burning, scratching, or strangling. It can also be restraint, not letting you leave the house, locking you in, or leaving you in a dangerous place. It could also be not letting you have access to healthcare that you need. An abusive partner can stalk you, either in person or via technology. Though IPV or DV is a pattern of behavior, an abusive partner may use physical abuse only once if that is enough to give that person power and control over their partner.
  2. Emotional abuse: Your partner could threaten you, your family, or your pets. They could put you down, trying to break your self-esteem, either alone or in front of your family, friends, or colleagues. They could also harbor extreme jealously, refusing to let you see family or friends, attend classes or your job, or wear certain clothes. This can also include insisting that you answer phone calls or texts immediately or provide personal information or passwords to them.
  3. Sexual abuse: Sexual abuse isn’t about intimacy, but more about power. It can be forced or coerced intercourse, or refusing to allow you to use protection. It can also include forcing you to have intercourse with other people, creating an overlap between intimate partner violence and human trafficking.
  4. Economic abuse: This lesser-known type of abuse involves the abusive partner controlling the couple’s finances. They could refuse to let the other partner work, or not allow them to know how much money is in their accounts. It could also be controlling their spending and insisting on knowing everything that the other partner buys. Abusive partners can also sabotage their partner’s work situation, making them quit or interfering with their productivity so they’re fired.

Q: Who is impacted by intimate partner violence?

A: Anyone can end up in an abusive relationship – it’s not defined by socio-economic status, race, religion, or gender. Abusive partners are usually not abusive at the beginning of a relationship, and it’s absolutely never the fault of the victim if they find themselves in an abusive relationship. Beyond the partners, intimate partner violence impacts family, friends, coworkers, and the community.

Q: What are some warning signs of intimate partner violence?

A: You should watch for signs that a family member or friend is beginning to become isolated from activities they used to be interested in or need to check in with their partner before committing to plans. Also watch for changes in behavior. They could change how they dress, display anxiety when answering their partner’s phone calls or texts, or make excuses for their partner’s unacceptable behavior.

Q: If you suspect that a friend or family member is in an abusive relationship, what should you do?

A: The best thing you can do in this situation is be supportive. Meet them where they are, and don’t make demands that they take action if they’re not ready to do so. Don’t put them down. Instead, let them know that you’re worried about them and be very specific about why you are worried. Then tell them that you’re here for them and ask if there’s anything you can do to help them. They may take you up on it or they may not, but it opens the door if they should decide to want to talk later. In any case, make it clear that being in an abusive relationship isn’t their fault and they don’t have to handle it alone.

Q: If you’re in an abusive relationship, what plans should you make before you leave?

A: It definitely depends on the particular relationship. It depends on your resources, and it’s almost always difficult to leave this type of relationship. But planning is the most important thing. Men and women experiencing intimate partner abuse should call the intimate partner abuse hotline at 866.723.3014. Representatives can give you very specific advice based on your situation about the steps you should take before leaving. There will be no pressure and the representative will be able to provide the support you need.

Q: For those living locally in the Philadelphia area, how can Women Against Abuse help them?

A: Women Against Abuse runs the only intimate partner violence shelter in the City of Philadelphia. We can house up to 100 individuals, with 85 beds and 15 cribs. It’s a 24-hour emergency shelter for women or anyone who identifies as a woman who is being abused and is in fear of being physically hurt. They can bring their children and find some solace.

We have a legal center that provides free legal representation for women or men who are being abused with six staff attorneys. We also provide court advocates. They cannot give legal advice, but can accompany you in court to provide support and explain the process. We offer a transitional housing program for victims of intimate partner violence who have children and are officially homeless. It’s an 18-month program where they have their own apartment, and we provide case management and child care. We also have our Safe at Home program, a long-term program that provides further support after they leave transitional housing.

We also provide workshops and educational resources for students and professionals in Philadelphia so they can be more informed about these issues. Whether or not you feel you’re impacted by intimate partner violence, it’s important to learn more about them so you can help should you encounter something down the road.

Thanks so much for joining us at the College, Azucena, and shedding some light on this important topic.