What Are Telltale Signs of Abuse & Can The Behavior Be Stopped
By now, we’ve all seen the grainy video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking out his now-wife, Janay, in the elevator of an Atlantic City hotel. As shocking as these images are, domestic abuse is common. In fact the CDC says that it’s responsible for 2 million injuries and 1,300 deaths each year, cutting across socioeconomic, race, ethnic, cultural and religious lines. The injuries may not only be physical, but can be inflicted emotionally, sexually and through threats.
On the heels of the Rice case and with October being National Domestic Abuse Awareness Month, exploring this epidemic is particularly timely. Who commits such acts? What instigates them? Can an abuser change his/her ways? What are the telltale signs of abuse? What should I do if I suspect a loved one is being abused?
While men are more often the perpetrator, an estimated 15% of women fall into the category, a figure that may be misleading as many female upon male abuse is underreported. In general, women age 16 – 24 are at highest risk and minority women are more likely than white women to be victims. Abuse can also be found among same-sex couples.
Societal pressure for men to be masculine and play the dominant role in a relationship is often what sets the stage for domestic violence. It’s not uncommon for men, particularly those from families with histories of abuse, to act on their violent impulses to “put their spouses in their place” and regain control of the relationship.
Couples involved in domestic violence often forge a relationship where they believe they can’t live without the other. This distorted mindset is the principle reason why they can’t break free from the relationship, even after it has become dangerous and the violence intensifies and becomes more frequent.
Breaking such patterns is very difficult but through therapy, there is hope. One program, Manalive, for instance, has been successful in teaching domestic violence offenders how to identify their triggers and during these times of stress, hit their “pause buttons.” By cooling down, they are better able to challenge their destructive thoughts, make rational decisions and curb their behavior. They have to be trained to calm themselves down and not feed their aggressive feelings.
So how do you know if your loved one may be in such a relationship? Some telltale signs:
- The abuser often exhibits controlling behavior such as having to know where their spouse is at all times, regularly monitoring their everyday activities, answering questions on their behalf and monitoring their cell phones calls.
- The victim often appears quiet, passive, depressed, may cry for no apparent reason, avoids eye contact, feels tired all of the time and may even threaten suicide.
- Both perpetrator and victim may abuse drugs and alcohol, behaviors that are oftentimes the result rather than the cause of the violence.
- Victim may have black eyes, bruising, scrapes, cuts, ruptured eardrums, cigarette burns, loose teeth and fractured bones. (Cunning abusers oftentimes strike their victims in parts of the body that are generally covered by clothing, which experts refer to as “bathing suit” areas of the body.)
If you or a loved one is in trouble, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800) 799-SAFE (7233).
EDITOR’S NOTE: Jeff Ball, PhD, is Executive Director of PCH Treatment Center (www.PCHTreatment.com) in West Los Angeles, which specializes in intensive and holistic psychological treatment. He is also an Assistant Clinical Professor in the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.