- Do you think you might be in a destructive relationship?
- If it hurts or scares you, it's not healthy.
- Relationships should make both partners feel good about themselves and about each other.
This Counseling Center Help Screen is about domestic violence; and, more specifically, spouse abuse. However, if you are not a spouse, please keep reading because this may pertain to you anyway. In spouse abuse, the couple may, but need not be married. They may be separated, divorced, or living together. They may just be dating.
Domestic violence occurs when a relationship is based on power and control. The abuse can be physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual. Often, one or more violent incidents are accompanied by an array of other types of abuse. They may not be as obvious, but help to firmly establish a pattern of intimidation and control in the relationship.
This kind of abuse occurs in every race, class, and educational background, from doctors to truck drivers. It is extremely prevalent with 3 to 4 million women being battered each year in the United States (Senate Judiciary Committee). In Texas, more than 100,000 women are assaulted in their homes at least once a week. These are reported incidents--it is estimated that the actual number of incidents is ten times this figure (Texas Department of Human Services). The FBI reports that 30% of female homicide victims are killed by their husbands or boyfriends.
Spouse abuse has other serious implications--25 to 45% of women who are beaten are pregnant, 70% of men who batter their wives also batter their children. Male children who witness adult-to-adult domestic violence are, as adults, 700 times more likely to beat their female partners. Male children who also are physically abused are, as adults, 1000 times more likely to beat their female partners.
Chances are that you know someone who is being abused.
What is Abuse?
Generally, there are three different types of abuse associated with domestic violence--physical, sexual, and emotional. It may include one or more of these types of mistreatment:
PHYSICAL--This is the most obvious type of abuse. It includes kicking, hitting, biting, choking, pushing, hair pulling, throwing across the room or down on the floor, prevention from seeking health care or taking medications, and assaults or threats with weapons. It can also include a physical use of objects such as throwing objects, breaking personal items, punching walls, tearing clothes and violence to pets. Destruction of property or pets should be taken seriously. It is symbolic. It is a threat. It's violence.
SEXUAL--Sexual abuse occurs when a person is forced to participate in sex (or specific sexual acts) against his/her will, forced or pressured to participate in sex with others or in the presence of others, subjected to the use of weapons or objects during sex, pressured or prevented from using birth control, or when sex and affection is withheld to manipulate or control. Sexual abuse seems to be primarily acts of aggression in which sex is the method used to humiliate, hurt, degrade, and dominate the partner. The violence in the sexual relationship seems to escalate with time.
EMOTIONAL/PSYCHOLOGICAL--This type of abuse, though not as obvious as the previous two, is also traumatic and the effects long-lasting. It is often easy to deny, but can be the most difficult to recover from. This abuse is more than verbal arguments--it is the systematic destruction of an individual's self-esteem. Emotional and psychological abuse may involve the following practices:
- Economic Domination. Frequently, the abuser tries to control their partner by having complete control over the finances. They may try to keep the victim from working to encourage the economic dependence. Even if the partner has their own resources, they are made to account for every penny.
- Using Children. Abusers may use the children to maintain their power and control. They may belittle or degrade children as a way to harass the victim. They may threaten to take the children away should he/she leave.
- Intimidation. Abusers may frighten their victims by using looks, actions, gestures, or loud voices; by smashing things; or by destroying the survivor's property. They often act like bullies, asserting what they believe is their entitlement to the partner's services. Verbal degradation, cursing and name-calling can contribute to the humiliation.
- Threats. Abusers may make threats from harming the children to committing suicide. These threats add to the anxiety and fear experienced by the victim.
- Extreme Controlling Behavior. Abusers may control their partner's activities, companions, whereabouts, etc. They are intrusive, needing to always know what the partner is thinking, feeling or doing, and are possessive and jealous of his/her relationship with others.
- Isolation. Abusers often control what their partner does, whom they see and where they go. Many abusers feel very threatened by anyone with whom their partner has contact. This expression of jealousy serves to limit the partner's contact with others.
The Cycle of Violence
Domestic violence affecting females usually follows a cycle that repeats itself continually. This cycle consists of the following three stages:
PHASE I--TENSION OR BUILD UP--Increased tension, anger, blaming and arguing. This phase may last a week, months, or years. However, it usually becomes more frequent as the cycle is repeated. It typically involves an increase in verbal and minor physical abuse. Sometimes this is enough to frighten the woman into submission. She knows what will happen if she does not comply. At this point, the woman may be amenable to sources of help.
PHASE 2--BATTERING INCIDENT--Battering--hitting, slapping, kicking, choking, use of objects or weapons, sexual abuse, verbal threats and abuse. During this phase, the batterer loses his desire or ability to control his anger and violence. He learns that battering helps to "relieve stress" and "change her behavior." Just following this episode, the batterer and his partner are most likely to seek help. She is hurt and scared, and he is feeling ashamed, guilty, and humiliated.
PHASE 3--CALM OR HONEYMOON STAGE--(This stage may decrease over time.) The man may deny violence; say he was drunk, say he's sorry and promise it will never happen again. The woman is least amenable to help at this point. However, the batterer may be most open to help at the start of this phase because typically, he is remorseful and wishes to please (keep) his partner. At the peak of this stage, both parties may deny or distort what happened.
Then, Phase I begins again . . . The truth is that change is unlikely unless you get help. Wives want to believe their husbands when they promise it will never happen again, but in most cases it does. It not only recurs, but escalates each time. Studies indicate that most abusers who seek professional help do so only after their wives have left. Otherwise, they have no incentive to change.
There are several myths associated with violence in relationships. It is important to realize that these are false, and that it is not your fault.
- I'M THE ONLY ONE. Three to four million women are battered each year. Every 16 seconds a woman is beaten in her home. Every 6 minutes a rape occurs in the United States. Many women don't talk about it because they feel afraid or ashamed. Others simply don't want to admit a problem exists.
- I ASKED FOR IT. No one asks to be hurt! It doesn't matter what you do--if your partner abuses you, it's wrong.
- RAPISTS AND BATTERERS ARE STRANGE, PERVERTED MEN. Batterers come from every race, class, and educational level. They may be doctors, lawyers, truck drivers, ministers, and teachers.
- THIS IS NORMAL. It does not matter if he grew up this way or you grew up this way or if this is the way it's always been. These are not excuses. There are no excuses for abusive behavior.
- NO ONE CAN HELP ME. Wrong! You have to take the first steps of deciding there is a problem and calling someone. There are people out there who understand and can help.
- LOVE AND VIOLENCE CANNOT EXIST TOGETHER IN THE SAME RELATIONSHIP. Most abusers and victims love each other. Many abusers act in loving, caring ways some of the time. Most survivors love the abuser and want the abuse to stop. However, over time the loving periods lessen, change, or fade as the abuse takes its toll.
Why Do Women Say?
People often do not understand why a woman stays in an abusive relationship. They may think or say it could never be them, but statistics show that domestic violence is by no means rare. The truth is that if you do find yourself in an abusive relationship, it is usually very difficult to leave, even if you aren't married. Some of the reasons most often given are listed below:
- She fears the unknown or is afraid of being alone.
- She has low self-esteem and little self-confidence.
- She hopes he will change.
- She might come from an abusive family and think violence is normal.
- She wants to make her marriage work, or her religion or friends believe she should stay in her marriage, no matter what.
- She believes the children need a father or that he will take the children away.
- She is financially dependent on him.
- She feels guilty and ashamed.
- She has no emotional support from others.
- She believes there is no way out.
- She is afraid of retaliation and/or worse beatings or that he will find her no matter where she goes.
- She believes he will harm himself.
Signs of an Abused Woman or Man
It can be very difficult to spot an abused woman because they are ashamed and may make concerted efforts to hide any signs of abuse. They may make up stories about injuries. The following list may or may not be helpful in identifying an abused woman:
- She will act ambivalent, guilty and seem fearful of her living conditions.
- Feels isolated and distrusts others.
- Has few friends and limited contact with others.
- Is emotionally and economically dependent upon her batterer.
- Has poor self-image and low self-esteem.
- May have been abused as a child or witnessed others in her birth family being abused.
- May express anger, embarrassment, or shame.
- Feels powerless to escape her situation.
- Believes she might be insane.
- Has unexplained injuries that may go untreated.
Many women are interested in knowing if they are getting involved with someone who may be abusive. Below is a list of behaviors that are seen in people who beat their wives or girlfriends. The last four signs are almost always seen if the person is a batterer. If the person has three or more of the other behaviors, there is a strong potential for violence. The more they exhibit the more likely the person is a batterer. In some cases, the person may have only a few of these behaviors, but they are very exaggerated (extreme jealousy over ridiculous things). Initially, the batterer will try to explain his behavior as signs of love and concern, but as time goes on the behaviors become more severe and serve to dominate the woman. The behaviors are:
- Controlling behavior.
- Quick involvement.
- Unrealistic expectations--She is supposed to take care of everything for him emotionally and in the home.
- Isolation--The man tries to cut the woman off from all friends and family.
- Blames others for his problems.
- Blames others for his feelings--"You control how I feel."
- Hypersensitivity--The man is easily insulted and defensive.
- Cruelty to animals or children.
- "Playful" use of force during sex.
- Verbal abuse.
- Rigid sex roles--Man expects woman to serve him.
- Severe mood swings--Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde.
- Past battering--He may say he has hit women in the past, but they made him do it.
- Threats of violence.
- Breaking or striking objects.
- Any force during an argument.
What Do I Do?
- Go to or call the Counseling Center on campus. The number is (936) 294-1720.
- Call the SAAFE House in Huntsville. The 24-hour hotline is (936) 291-3369. The office number is (936) 291-3529.
- If you live in Montgomery County, call the Montgomery County Women's Center. Their hotline is (936) 441-7273. Service for Hispanics (936) 441-2086. Administration (281) 292-4155.
- Call the Northwest Assistance Ministries' Family Violence Center, 4610 FM 1960. Their helpline is (281) 583-2539 and their office is (281) 583-5656.
- Call The Roseate Women's Center of Northwest Houston, P.O. Box 691789, Houston, 77269. Their hotline is (281) 351-4357 and their office is (281) 444-1582.
- Call The Houston Area Women's Center. Their hotline is (713) 528-2121 and their office is (713) 528-6799.
What Do I Do if I am an Abuser?
If you are an abuser, there are steps you can take as well. Admit that you are hurting someone and make a commitment to stop. Talk to trusted adults and friends about your problem. Call a hotline or find a counselor or support group. The SAAFE House listed above has a special group for men. There are people who understand and can help you, too, if you want it.
Sam Houston Counseling Center
Box 2059 | Huntsville, TX 77341-2059 | Phone: 936.294.1720 | Fax: 936.294.2639