Domestic Violence is not a topic that people are often eager to speak about. With that said, there is information that is essential for a healthy relationship, and that information is not always talked about. For example, how does one know what an abusive relationship look like? How can you tell if you yourself in an abusive relationship? Overall, there are simply some topics with the subject of domestic violence that simply does not get spoken about very often. We at Hear My Voice wanted to bring bright light to some of these topics with the help of Molly McLay, assistant Director at the University of Illinois Women's Resource Center, and Marella McMurray, program manager at Courage Connection, an organization that serves domestic violence victims, and homeless women and their children.
What Does It Even Look Like?
Sometimes it may be easier for someone on the outside to notice that a family member or loved one may be experiencing abuse in their relationship. “Some of the signs that outside individuals notice, like family and friends, if often time that person becoming increasingly withdrawn or isolated,” said McMurray. Some of these acts of withdrawal or isolation could look like not being present, not being able to spend as much time, or turning down offers of getting together or spending time in social situations.
Often the abuser in a relationship could become more controlling. “Abusive partners may be having a close watch on the survivor, like monitoring their phone, always wanting to know where they’re going, monitoring their finances, telling them not to hang out with certain people,” said McLay. One might be able to notice a cycle in an abusive relationship. For example, there could be some negative behavior from the abuser, an argument between the pair, the victim might reach out for help, the pair makes up, and then, isolation. Of course not every cycle is the same, but there could definitely be some noticeable patterns in an abusive relationship. Not only is every cycle different, but every case is different and unique.
It could be easy to overlook the subject of love when touching the topic of Domestic Violence. Considering that the topic has the term “violence” in it, it is not too surprising that love is not often brought up. “There could genuinely be love in that relationship, there could genuinely be deep, intense feeling that a person has for their abuser,” said Murray. Murray also brought up the topic about kids. Bringing in kids into the discussion adds an additional layer to the situation, especially if the abuser is the parent of the children. For the victim, safety might not be the only thing on their mind. Victims of domestic violence still have the concerns of the children having parents, loss of a relationship, loss of love, and how much they put into a relationship. All of the concerns that someone may have in any other romantic relationship, not necessarily abusive, are still there in a domestic violence relationship. “With that love and trust that has been established, it can be very, I think, confusing for a survivor when they are feeling love for the person, loved from that person, but then also that person is hurting them.”
Emotional abuse can often be looked at in comparison to violent abuse. Because there is no physical harm being done to the victim, one may not consider emotional coercion to be as harmful as domestic violence. McLay brought up that emotional coercion gets talked about in a sort of weird way that someone might say “oh it was just emotional abuse.” “I’ve heard many survivors say that the emotional forms of abuse are what left the deepest scars or the longest-lasting scars,” said McLay. Although there is no physical violence, emotional forms of abuse can be just as serious. Emotional coercion also has a close relationship to physical coercion because it can lead to threats of physical coercion and then to actual physical coercion.
According to this Courage Connection’s online post on Domestic Violence Awareness Month this year, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 7 men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. The topic of men in domestic violence relationship, in our society, can get sticky because it brings out the discussion of social norms and the question of what masculinity is. McMurray talked about how although it may be “crappy,” the reality is that it has become normalized that women deal with abuse. “So for a man to step up and say ‘I am a victim’ makes it that much harder because of the feedback they might receive, that they are not as manly because they’re a victim,” said McMurray.
Despite the recent wave of acceptance towards the LGBTQ community in the recent years, the community still consists of a marginalized group. Romantic relationships in the LGBTQ community are just like any other romantic relationship. With that said, romantic relationships in the LGBTQ community are not excluded from domestic violence. Yet, when domestic violence is talked about, the subject of the LGBTQ community might not come to mind, and some credit can go to the already existing issues that people in the community are facing. “Outside, take way the domestic violence issue, there is already a lot of non-acceptances, judgment within that community,” said McMurray.
As a member of a marginalized group, not only can it be difficult to reach other for help because domestic violence just adds another layer of difficulties, but it also is difficult because of identity oppression. This can also apply to groups outside of the LGBTQ community. If a victim reaches out for help and their partner is labeled as an abuser there could be consequences for the already oppressed group. “I’ve seen this in terms of race as well, black women and women of color not being sure what to do in terms of gender and race. That idea of ‘I don't want to see another man of color go to prison,’” said McLay. When factors like that come into play, it can clash with the issue of a person being a victim of abuse in a relationship. These clashing forms of oppression could make even that much more difficult to stand up and ask for help.
Domestic violence, like sexual assault, is depriving someone of power. This deprivation of power in an abusive relationship does not have to only be physical. It can also be financial. “When a victim gets financial resources taken away, image how hard it is for them to go out and survive on their own,” said McMurray. An abuser can financially abuse their partner by limiting their resources such as credit cards, good credit, bank accounts, education, jobs, and money overall. When abuse like this happens, it can make things extremely difficult for victims when they try to leave the relationship and stand on their own.
Modern technology is vastly growing in terms of how people are connected. Although the advances in modern technology have brought many conveniences and helpful tools into the hands of people, it has also brought new means of abuse. With the growth of the internet and the accessibility to the internet and each other, less and less things are becoming private. According to McMurray, technology has become a huge way that abuser abuse their partners. This can happen through harassment, stalking, phone calls, text messages, and threats to disclose personal business online.
*The views expressed in this report are the authors’ alone and are not necessarily shared by the “Hear My Voice…” organization or publications or the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals and their families. ACE, Active Centralized Empowerment and Inc. cannot be used without the written permission from Dr. Janice Marie Collins.