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Domestic Violence is Bigger Than You Think

  • We are limited in the way we understand domestic violence. The most common association we have with the term is probably that of an abused wife who suffers at the hands of her husband. It’s true that this makes up a great deal of domestic violence in the United States, and that we need to do more to protect women from this type of abuse.


    Yet, to overlook other victims of abuse is to create a great injustice to others who also suffer, often in silence, from domestic violence. By ignoring the problem of domestic abuse against men, we effectively reinforce outdated stereotypes and give way to an increased likelihood of domestic abuse.


    We also need to be aware that so many victims of domestic abuse are children and older adults. These victims are some of our society’s most vulnerable, and by broadening the scope in which we see domestic violence, we'll find more opportunities to make our homes safer for all family members.


    In order to stop domestic abuse, we first have to be able to identify it. Before we discuss the different types of victims, let’s look at the many forms that domestic abuse can take.


    Types of Domestic Abuse

    • Physical Abuse - This is probably the most recognizable form of abuse, not only in terms of social awareness, but also in terms of visible damages to a victim. Physical abuse is tangible. When we see bruises and scars, we can easily see that abuse has taken place. Physical abuse includes hitting, pushing or any use of violence against another person.
    • Emotional/Verbal/Psychological Abuse – Unfortunately, this form of domestic abuse is more difficult to identify. Some victims in abusive relationships might become so accustomed to emotional and psychological abuse that they can’t see their own mistreatment for what it really is. These types of abuse include screaming, threats of violence and demeaning or degrading another person. It also includes the neglect and deliberate emotional abandoning of another person.
    • Sexual Abuse - Sexual abuse is perhaps the most reviled crime in our society, and rightfully so. In most cases, sexual abuse is also a type of extreme violence, often perpetrated against those who cannot properly defend themselves against an aggressor. Sexual abuse includes rape, molestation and taking sexual advantage of a person who is incapable of saying no or defending themselves.
    • Economic Abuse - Economic abuse occurs when one person, often someone in charge of or with access to another person’s finances, exploits, steals money from, or inhibits the financial situation of the victim. Sadly, this type of abuse is common when the victim is unable to take care of himself and puts his trust in a person who, in turn, takes advantage of them.


    Domestic Abuse Against Men

    The role that gender plays in our society has changed dramatically over the past few decades. However, abuse against men has yet to break free of many of the same stereotypes that are used against women. If a man reports abuse, he might be seen as weak. Authorities or family members might not take his abuse seriously.


    Unfortunately, men are believed to report abuse far less than women, due simply to the stigma associated with male abuse, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. One study conducted by Dr. Elizabeth Bates of the University of Cumbria, along with colleagues at the University of Central Lancashire, found that women are actually more likely to be verbally and physically aggressive to their partners than men are.  The study also found that there was no difference between men and women when it came to high levels of control and aggression.


    For men that are victims of domestic abuse, it is vital that we lift this stigma and raise awareness about the options that are available to them. Many of the same organizations that focused solely on domestic violence against women have now opened their doors and services to men. Every state in the U.S. issues restraining orders against abusers, regardless of gender. Thirty-seven states also use gender-free language in their domestic violence statutes, and most states will apply the laws equally to male and female victims.


    Domestic Elder Abuse

    Elder abuse in nursing homes and medical facilities is unsettlingly common. But these facilities, at least in theory, are supposed to be held accountable to other agencies and be subject to some sort of regulations. Domestic elder abuse, on the other hand, goes vastly underreported, and is often committed in situations in which the victim has very little recourse and the perpetrator has very little accountability for their actions. Each type of abuse mentioned above can be committed against elderly citizens.


    Domestic Child Abuse

    Child abuse is often committed by those who are known and trusted by the victim. When parents, stepparents, other family members, teachers or authority figures abuse a child, it may go unnoticed by others in the child’s life. If abuse is a regular factor in the life of a child, the victim may become accustomed to this behavior and interpret it as an appropriate way to deal with others, leading to a cycle of abuse that can have long-lasting implications and ripple effects on generations of victims.


    Domestic abuse can affect anyone, regardless of gender or age. As our country becomes more evolved on issues of gender, and we strive for equality in every aspect of our lives, we can look to raise awareness for all victims of domestic abuse so that no one is left without recourse against their abusers.


    Domestic abuse victims need the help of loved ones to overcome their fears and to make the courageous decision to come forward about their abuse. We all need to be aware of the signs of abuse so that we can identify it. Most importantly, we must let victims know that they have support waiting for them whenever they need it.


    Dan Carman is a criminal defense attorney in Lexington, KY. He represents clients across Kentucky. You can reach Dan Carman and attorneys by calling or visiting his website.