“It doesn’t start out with you being hit. It starts out with words. From my experience, I was with my ex for a year happy but then it started with him calling me names. Bitch, slut, idiot, dumbass, those type of things. Then one day we got into a physical fight and I wasn’t strong enough to fight back.”
Hannah, a 19-year-old from Santa Clarita, recalls her experience with her abusive ex-boyfriend. At the time she excused his behavior because she thought it was justified. “I figured since he got some bruises from me too we’d get over it. But after that, every couple weeks the same thing would happen, and I didn’t know that it was domestic violence until the arguments got to be too much. We were both held in jail a couple times for it.”
“There are always signs that someone is being abused and I hope me telling my story will help people get out before they get in too deep,” Hannah said. “It’s hard to come out of something like that and some women don’t know how to end things before they go too far.”
Unfortunately, stories like Hannah’s are not uncommon. Every day in the United States, three women are murdered by their romantic partner. Every minute, 20 people are physically abused by their significant other and every nine seconds, a woman is assaulted or beaten. It’s no secret that domestic violence is a growing problem in today’s society.
While 85% of abuse victims are women, men experience domestic violence as well. 20-year-old Justin was verbally and physically abused by his ex-girlfriend for eight months.
“She suffered with mental illness and I saw good in her, but it got to one point where I was cooking for her and she just mentally abused me and made me feel horrible to be me. I sort of brushed that incident over my shoulder but then it started to be physical, and she would spit on me and hit me; she even broke my phone one day. It got so bad that at one point I had to restrain her from hurting anyone, especially me. That was when I realized that enough was enough,” Justin said.
He has since ended the relationship, but the memories of abuse still haunt him. “People don’t believe [domestic violence] happens to men but it does, and it hurts them just as much.”
According to the Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness, an abusive relationship involves abusive and coercive behaviors used to maintain power and control over a former or current intimate partner. Abuse can be emotional, financial, sexual or physical and can include threats, isolation, and intimidation. Domestic violence often starts with threats or name-calling and can build up to pushing, slapping, and other violent acts. Abusive partners will often embarrass the victim, control who the victim talks to, make decisions for them, intimidate them with weapons, and even threaten to kill them.
“A lot of things come into play with abusive relationships, but they’re mainly about power and control,” Alexandra Garcia, youth prevention specialist at the Domestic Violence Center of Santa Clarita Valley, said. “There’s a victim and there’s a batterer. The batterer abuses the victim as a way to assert their power and control over the victim, and uses fear tactics to prevent the victim from leaving the relationship.”
Victims are often blamed for staying in abusive relationships, but there are many reasons why they don’t leave. Victims may stay because of safety concerns. In some cases, the abuser has threatened to kill himself, the victim, or their children if the victim leaves. According to the Domestic Violence Intervention Program, women are 70 times more likely to be killed in the two weeks after leaving than at any other time during the relationship. Also, in abusive relationships, like with normal relationships, there are good times. An abuser may not always be violent and there may be some moments where they seem like a loving and caring partner. Because of that the victim may hold on to hope that the abuser will eventually change. Another reason victims don’t leave is lack of money and resources. In many cases the abuser is in control of finances and the victim relies on them for financial support. Many victims who do escape eventually become homeless.
Unfortunately, domestic violence not only affects the victims but their families as well. One in fifteen children are exposed to domestic violence each year and they are six times more likely to commit suicide. According to the World Health Organization, men who were exposed to domestic violence as children are also three to four times more likely to perpetrate intimate partner violence as adults, keeping the cycle of violence alive.
Statistics show that one in four women and one in six men will experience domestic violence at some point in their lives, so there is a high likelihood that you know someone who is experiencing domestic violence. If you have a friend or family member who you think is in an abusive relationship, here are some signs to watch for, according to WebMD:
- They have bruises or injuries. Black eyes, red or purple marks on the neck, and sprained wrists are common injuries that result from domestic violence
- They attempt to hide bruises with clothing or makeup
- They make excuses like tripping or being clumsy, but the seriousness of the bruises don’t match up with the excuse
- They’re isolated from relatives and have few friends
- They have to ask their partner’s permission to talk to and do things with other people
- They seem afraid of their partner, or is always anxious to please him/her
- Their partner criticizes and humiliates them in public
- They often talk about their partner’s jealousy, possessiveness, or bad-temper
- Their partner makes all their decisions for them (controls all the money, who they can talk to, tells them what to do)
- They have little money available, don’t have a car or a credit card, or are always asking for money
- They have lost their confidence and are extremely apologetic and meek
- They show symptoms of depression, such as sadness, hopelessness, or loss of interest in daily activities
- They talk a lot about suicide, have attempted suicide
College of the Canyons student Christopher Ochoa admits that at first, he didn’t know a friend of his was experiencing domestic violence. “Seeing them and realizing how reserved and quiet they were I thought they were just a shy person, but after I started to get to know them it became clear to me what was going on,” Ochoa said.
“It doesn’t just affect them physically, but also emotionally. They end up feeling like they aren’t good enough, like they deserve what’s happening to them. For them to open up to somebody after that, a mentor, a boyfriend or girlfriend, anybody, is really hard, because they feel like they’d get in trouble if they shared what happened to them.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
The Domestic Violence Center of SCV is a local non-profit organization that helps victims of domestic violence in the Santa Clarita Valley. The DVC provides many services for victims of domestic violence and their families, including support groups, individual therapy, peer counseling, court advocacy, case management, and emergency shelter. Women and children may stay in the confidential emergency shelter for up to 30 days. At the shelter, they receive emotional support, food, clothing, goal planning assistance, advocacy for medical, legal and financial resources, information and referrals. Counseling is an integral part of all the DVC’s programs, services and the crisis shelter. The legal advocacy component assists victims in meeting with an advocacy counselor and accessing the resources available for restraining orders. The advocates are bilingual and they will accompany the victim to court. For more information on the Domestic Violence Center, you can visit their website at dvc-scv.com.