October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In the United States, over 13 million men and women will be a victim of domestic violence each year. Ensuring that patients are safe is an important topic for discussion among health care providers because social and emotional health is just as important as physical health.
What is domestic violence?
Domestic violence is when one person uses power and control over another to scare, threaten, intimidate or harass the other. We have included a brief description of each type of abuse below, but please remember that abuse is not limited to the examples provided. If you think that you or someone you love may be in an abusive relationship, call the National Hotline for Domestic Violence.
- Emotional/Verbal abuse: often includes name calling, belittling, and harassing another in order to scare the other person and/or have the other person do what they want.
- Psychological abuse: intimidating and threatening the other person. Isolation. Threats of weapons and/or physical harm.
- Physical abuse: hitting, kicking, pushing, shoving, biting, choking (strangling), pulling hair, dragging, stabbing, shooting.
- Financial/Economic abuse: causing the termination of the victim from their job, prohibiting victim from attending work or seeking/securing employment, sabotaging victims work performance in any way (commonly through controlling when they arrive to work, if they arrive to work or calling job with threats), controlling any/all financial aspects of partnership, providing victim with “allowance” money, forcing victim to turn over their wages.
- Sexual abuse: engaging in sexual conduct with another with their permission or consent. Can include digital penetration, anal penetration, vaginal penetration, touching of the genitals with mouth or hands, gropping.
- Immigration Abuse: luring victim to another country with promise of sponsored citizenship, revoking sponsorship for citizenship, sabotaging citizenship process, threatening to “turn victim in” to immigration officials, forcing victim to work for little or no pay under threats of deportation
Who does domestic violence affect?
Domestic violence affects everyone, regardless of economic status, income, race, ethnicity, education, nationality, sexuality, gender, marital status, social status or disability. You are not alone. Abuse is never your fault.
How does domestic violence affect physical and emotional health?
Domestic violence affects both short-term and long term physical health. In the short term, victims may experience bruises, cuts, bleeding, broken bones, traumatic brain injury or other injuries that must be cared for immediately.
Research shows that stress and injury both play factors in victim’s over-all physical health. For example, victims are at high risk of developing stress-borne illness such as irritable bowel syndrome, sleep disturbances, chronic illness, chronic pain, arthritis, asthma, stomach ulcers and migraines.
Victims may also experience the onset of mental health conditions as a result of abuse. Conditions such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder are commonly experienced by victims of violence.
Leaving an abusive relationship can be dangerous. On average, it takes a victim 5 to 7 attempts before they are able to safely leave the relationship. Safety planning involves the use of strategies and support systems to help leave the relationship safely. Safety planning can also be used to ensure safety after you have left the relationship. If you have questions about a personalized safety plan, speak with an advocate at your local domestic violence center or a licensed professional.
Things to consider when leaving:
- Do not tell your abusive partner about your plans to leave. Telling the abusive partner could mean that they use dangerous strategies to keep you from leaving.
- Prepare your departure in advance. Ensure you have your birth certificate, social security card, driver’s license, money and credit cards. Ensure you have the same forms of documentation for your children.
- Plan where you will go after leaving. Consider if your abusive partner will look for you within your community or not. Call your local domestic violence center for safe shelter if needed.
- Consider a temporary order of protection (TPO): A TPO is an order signed by a Superior Court or Magistrate Court judge that prevents the abuser from having contact with the victim directly or indirectly. If the abuser violates the order, he/she/they will be subject to a fine and/or jail time.
What resources are available within my community?
The Georgia Coalition against Domestic Violence (GCADV) acts as an umbrella agency for domestic violence centers across the state. Through GCADV, every county in Georgia has an assigned domestic violence center. Domestic violence centers provide a 24-hour, seven day of the week emergency hotline, confidentially located safe shelter for victims of stalking, domestic violence and sexual assault as well as help writing and filing temporary orders of protection for victims of stalking, domestic violence and sexual assault.
Most domestic violence centers offer additional services to victims of violence, including child advocacy, teen education/prevention programming, individual and group counseling, transitional housing, case management and referrals.
What if I need safe shelter, but I have pets?
All of Georgia’s domestic violence centers partner with a private, 501(c) nonprofit called Ahimsa House. Ahimsa House shelters pets of domestic violence victims while the victim is in a safe shelter. Sometimes Ahimsa House partners with community volunteers, who shelter the pet in their personal home. Other times Ahimsa House partners with local veterinarian offices to shelter the pet.
If you are worried about keeping your pet safe while you seek confidentially located safe shelter, please tell the person you speak with at your local domestic violence center. They can coordinate with Ahimsa House to make sure your pet is safe.
Ahimsa House regularly cares for cats, dogs, horses, cows, goats, pigs, donkeys, reptiles and any other pet. They have stated in the past that the most unique request they have ever gotten was to board a pet shark!
I’m not a victim, but I would like to be an ally.
Allies are essential to the domestic violence movement. In fact, the women’s center model was created by the second wave of feminist allies in the 1960’s and 1970’s. These women trained and educated law enforcement, advocated for important state and federal laws, went to court with victims and sheltered victims in their own homes. While these women laid much of the groundwork for the resources and agencies that we see today, there are still areas in which new allies are needed.
Although the women’s center model was created by women, others are also critical partners! Men, you can start the conversation of respect for women with your friends, children, co-workers and family members.
Ways in which allies are needed at your local women’s shelter include volunteering at the shelter or legal clinic, donating new or gently used clothes and furniture to help a family with their transition into safe housing and inviting an advocate to speak at your place of worship or employment. Other ways in which you help include believing and supporting victims that you may know and helping them find the resources in their community.