One of the most common crimes against women in America is domestic violence. While one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, most cases are never reported to the police. And its influence is not restricted to the home or personal front; workplace-related incidents of stalking or threats against employees who make the victim feel unsafe in the workplace are also a form of hostility.
According to the ‘Violence Against Women Act’ Policy Statement released by the Department of Justice in November 2013, domestic violence is a prime example of coercive behavior; the perpetrator will threaten or act on their threats to wield control and power. Domestic aggression is not limited to physical or sexual abuse; it includes emotional and/or psychological intimidation, verbal abuse, harassment, or even physical intimidation and economic control.
Leaving an abusive relationship, however, may not always be straightforward. Leaving the abuser often means the victim becomes homeless. This problem is magnified for the victim when there is a child or children involved, forcing the families to live in their cars. In more than 50 percent of the cases, having no courage left to call a stranger to ask for a bed or seek assistance services, the victims often return to their abusers.
The problem is further amplified by the obstructive state laws on domestic violence in the United States. While a number of states include current or former dating relationships in domestic violence, most other states require the perpetrator and victim to be current or former spouses, living together, or have a child in common. Delaware, Montana and South Carolina exclude same-sex relationships in their domestic violence laws.
Most frequently requested services, which remain unfulfilled, are housing, legal representation, financial assistance and transportation needs. Besides the elimination of 1696 staff positions across the United States, a multitude of factors such as reduced funding, cuts from private funding sources, reduced individual donations, and, of course, not enough staff, have played a crucial part in the unmet requests for help.
The abuse occurring in situations of domestic violence is seldom a one-time, isolated occurrence. Assault is a form of intimidation and control that the perpetrator exerts over the victim. Often the violated woman makes numerous attempts to change her own behavior in the hope that it will stop the abuse. While this never works, the silence leaves her feeling trapped with shame, fear and a stigma of the crimes committed against them. Carol Kurzig, President of the Avon Foundation for Women, believes “If we can encourage more people to start talking, we can end that cycle and bring these issues to light in a new way.”
There is also a staggering silence and inaction around domestic violence. A survey conducted in September 2013 found that 73% parents with children under 18 years of age have never had a conversation about domestic violence or sexual assault with their children. Nobody is talking about domestic violence because most people believe that it is prevalent among poor, uneducated and minority families. This is far from the truth. Domestic assault has been found consistently in families of all types; educational level, income, profession, race or region notwithstanding.
Domestic violence should not be a normal way of life in the United States. Frequent exposure to violence in the home will only increase the risk of spawning the next generation of violators and victims.
By Nilofar Pardawala
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence