Julie O'Neill is community advocacy coordinator for Catholic Charities Harbor House in Wichita. She offers this guest blog post for Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior in which one relationship partner tries to control the other through violence, intimidation or threats. This experience is spirit crushing and has profound effects on the victim’s health.
One in four women experience an abusive relationship in their lifetime. Current medical research now shows clearly that domestic violence alters the body at a cellular and chemical level & increases numerous health risks. Some of the effects:
- Domestic violence victims and survivors have 70 percent higher rate of some forms of heart disease
- Domestic violence victims and survivors have higher rates of stroke, higher risk of 4 types of cancer & a more difficult time controlling chronic conditions such as diabetes & asthma
- Female victims & survivors have 3 times the normal rate of gynecological problems
- The stress of living in abuse is comparable to that experienced by war survivors. This speeds aging, lowers immunity & slows physical healing.
- A 2006 study revealed that violence survivors have only slightly better overall physical health, similar emotional health and slightly higher risk of developing stress-related mental health issues than patients with terminal cancer.
- An adult survivor can expect negative health impacts for an average 10 years after the end of an abusive relationship.
- In the end, living in an abusive relationship shortens life & reduces its quality.
Some common myths about domestic violence include:
- “The abuse will reduce or stop if the victim changes her behaviors”. The abuser learned to use this behavior regularly in relationships and the victim’s actions will not change his habits.
- “Abuse is caused by stress or addictions.” Abuse is an ongoing pattern of behavior. Stress or addiction may increase the intensity of violence, but the underlying relationship pattern remains the same. The abuser will not stop abusing when he gets sober or resolves a troubling problem.
- “Couples counseling is a solution”. Marriage counseling does not stop domestic violence. A counselor cannot “fix” dangerous behaviors in one session. Therefore, a victim cannot share their feelings about the abuse and return home with the abuser without expecting “punishment”. An abuser must seek assistance to stop their abusive behaviors or the victim must seek advocacy to leave the relationship.
- “Domestic violence is not a problem in our community.” In 2012, 24,373 incidents of DV were reported to law enforcement in Kansas. That’s an increase of 26% since 2004. Most incidents were NOT reported.
- “Domestic violence is more common among minorities or those living in poverty” Domestic violence happens at about the same rate in all kinds of families and relationships. Persons of any class, culture, religion, sexual orientation, marital status, age, and sex can be victims or perpetrators of domestic violence.