Tackling Three Misconceptions of Domestic Violence
Opening our eyes to domestic violence and helping victims requires a deeper understanding – because reality is far more complicated than common conceptions.
Domestic Violence fact:
Understanding the complete definition of domestic violence
The U.S. Department of Justice defines domestic violence as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship, used by one partner to gain or preserve power and control over another intimate partner. This behavior can involve physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats.
Social and economic costs are huge
Misconceptions and falsehoods around the issue of domestic violence persist, preventing our understanding of the problem and ability to tackle it properly. Seeing the issue clearly is imperative because the social and economic costs are huge. In addition to victims, domestic violence affects family members, friends, co-workers, witnesses, and the surrounding community.
Social workers are the first line of defense for victims
Domestic Violence cuts across so many of social workers’ service areas: Child & Family Services, Child Welfare, School Social Work, Substance Abuse, Employee Assistance Programs, Public Assistance, Gerontology/Disabilities and Medical Social Work. Social workers are typically the first line of defense for victims and are ideally positioned to become extraordinarily informed advocates for them.
Domestic violence victims find themselves isolated
One common thread is that domestic violence isolates the victims from social and financial help, often leaving them with a terrible choice: return to the abuser or become homeless. Fortunately, social workers aid victims in emergency rooms, shelters, and courts, helping victims take back control of their lives.
Women in abusive situations are weak and helpless
Taking into account that most assaults are not reported, the most reliable estimates, obtained in the Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey, show that each year in the U.S., women suffer from 4.8 million rapes and physical assaults from intimate partners, while men are victims of 2.9 million physical assaults from such partners.
The alarmingly high numbers reflect that domestic violence happens at all socioeconomic and education levels, regardless of race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender. Why do so many victims stay in abusive relationships? According to the Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “the short answer is the power of fear” — of death or more abuse if they leave.
It takes great courage to escape an abusive situation. Often, abusers make their victims feel shame, that the violence is their fault. Social workers can help them seize opportunities to leave, which is why there are calls for universal domestic violence screenings of women and girls in mental health settings, including substance abuse services.
Most abusers are alcoholics or struggle to control their anger
Alcohol, anger, and stress are often used as excuses, but this is not always accurate. Domestic violence happens because of a need for control and happens in regular, predictable cycles. Abusers aren’t out of control or reckless: they’re careful with their violence, abusing their victims in less visible places on their bodies, such as under the hairline or on the torso.
As a social worker, it’s critical to recognize this pattern, as well as the warning signs that a relationship is heading down a dangerous path. Equally important is your ability to believe the victim’s story even if it doesn’t fit into a “box” that you’re familiar with. Your empathy can be vital to helping a victim finally escape the situation.
Children are too young to understand and will recover
Children who witness domestic violence are also victims. They may be traumatized in both short-term ways (nightmares, increased aggression or anxiety) and long-term ones (substance abuse, depression, PTSD), leading to a shorter life expectancy, according to the CDC.
Since their experience equates violence with family life, they could continue the cycle and become batterers themselves. When social workers develop group counseling programs for parents, they are advised to have simultaneous or separate sessions with the children.
As a social worker, your role in stopping the ongoing effects of domestic violence can be incredibly rewarding and supremely valuable to the future or survivors.
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