By Richard Fleming, MD
Although we are in the middle of baseball season, this article is not about scoring runs at the ballpark. No, today I want to talk about how everyone has the right to live in a safe, secure environment. Unfortunately, some homes are not safe because of turmoil and violence.
Domestic violence is very common in the U.S. It especially affects women, who make up 85 percent of domestic violence victims. One in four women will experience violence at the hand of a loved one or partner sometime during her life. One-third of all female homicide victims are killed by someone with whom they are emotionally involved. In almost every case, there was a pattern of domestic violence before the murder itself finally happened.
In addition to the physical injuries inflicted, the emotional injuries are often severe and long-lasting. Stress, depression, anxiety and other mental-health problems occur commonly in the aftermath of domestic violence. When someone you love hurts you, those wounds can cut far deeper than those at the hands of a random stranger.
Children are also affected by this problem. Children who witness violence at home are more likely to experience health problems as they grow older. Young boys who grow up in households with violence are twice as likely to commit violence themselves, when they become adults.
It is not unusual for a domestic violence victim to blame herself for causing the violence. Women often wonder why a loved one would do something like that, and may feel that they brought it on themselves. If only I had not argued with him. If only I had let him have what he wanted. If only I had been more understanding. Such “if only” thinking may be an understandable reaction to a very painful situation. But it is important to remember that violence is never an acceptable response to the disagreements or misunderstandings that inevitably come up in the course of all relationships. The victim of violence is not responsible for the violence.
Violence at home is, simply stated, unacceptable. It is not good for the victim. It is not good for the children who watch it happen. And, honestly, it does not solve the aggressor’s problems.
When there is violence in the home, it usually tends to progress and worsen over time, not get better. It may start as verbal assaults, or pushing and shoving, or throwing things. Most of the time, behavior like this tends to get worse.
So what is a person to do, man or woman, when faced with escalating threats and violence at home? First, make it clear to your partner that such violence is unacceptable, inexcusable, and
cannot continue. The person committing the violence needs to get professional help with anger management. Second, if violence continues, the person being threatened needs to prepare to leave.
Make specific plans for where to go, how to leave, and how to cover your tracks. Have a bag ready which includes things you may need, including toiletries, financial documents, phone numbers, medications, and a change of clothing for yourself and your children.
While taking these steps may sound extreme, keep in mind that every day three women are murdered by their boyfriends or husbands in the U.S., and most of the time there were warning signs ahead of time.
More information can be found at www.thehotline.org or by calling 1-800-799-7233. Remember, home should be a safe haven. Everyone has the right to expect a comforting environment when they walk through their own front door.
— Dr. Fleming is the regional medical director of Partnership HealthPlan of California