Van Beek: For some, love hurts

This week we will continue our observance of Domestic Violence month by delving deeper into an issue that is so tragic and affects so many. Our community seeks to create an awareness, so as to eliminate a sense of isolation for victims and deliver the help they so desperately need.

According to the National Institutes of Health, domestic abuse includes intimate partner abuse, child abuse and elder abuse, with women and children being disproportionately affected. Physical, psychological and sexual abuse are included.

While domestic violence has been around forever, according to a study done by NIH, there has been a substantial increase in violence since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. There were nine themes that emerged from the study, which analyzed over 1 million tweets related to family violence and COVID-19 from April 12 to July 16, 2020.

  • Increased vulnerability: COVID-19 and family violence (rising rates, increases in hotline calls, homicides)
  • Types of family violence (child abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse)
  • Forms of family violence (physical aggression, coercive control)
  • Risk factors linked to family violence (alcohol abuse, financial constraints, quarantine, guns)
  • Victims of family violence (women, children, the LGBTQ community)
  • Social services for family violence (hotlines, social workers, confidential services, shelters, funding)
  • Law enforcement response (911 calls, police arrests, protective orders, abuse reports)
  • Social movements and awareness (support for victims, raising awareness)
  • Domestic violence–related news (Tara Reade, Melissa DeRosa, etc.)

Domestic violence happens within all demographics. Most of us think of domestic abuse resulting from a specific incident, and sometimes it does.

Everyone has experienced times when their emotions get the best of them. Sometimes an overreaction comes from suppressing negative experiences to the point where it finally explodes. When operating from a highly emotional state, decisions are clouded, and behavior can lead to regretful and hurtful actions.

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Oftentimes, the easiest person to lash out at is the one closest to you. An intimate partner becomes an easy target. Sometimes, that stress, anger and frustration is taken out on a child or even an elderly parent, where resistance is low. This targeted anger, which can result in physical harm, is only one type of abuse.

The other type of abuse is more chronic in nature. It has little to do with a flash of inappropriate emotion, and more about control and power. This is the abuse that lingers on for years, starting slowly, perhaps on a psychological level, and progressively gets worse, until the physical attacks become expected, commonplace and increasingly deadly. This is the most dangerous because it becomes habit, an automatic response to dissatisfaction. And while men can be the recipient of abuse, it is most often women and children, because of the physical disparity.

One of the most frustrating forms of abuse, which is invisible yet powerful, is psychological abuse. According to Psychology Today, psychological abuse is one of the most harmful. Not only is it usually the first step towards more aggressive behavior, it is also the most long-lasting. Physical and sexual abuse can be easily identified, but psychological trauma is much more stealthy. It is also the most difficult to prosecute because the injury is a hidden one, which can be easily distorted to look like nothing more than someone just being mean to another.

The article states, “These behaviors also recognized as emotional abuse can include gas-lighting, bullying, intimidating, verbal threats, ignoring, criticizing, demeaning, humiliating, intentionally inducing fear with angry outbursts and gestures, discounting and actively undermining the intentions and strengths of the other.” There is also a tendency of the abuser to isolate the victim by alienating them from family and friends. The environment is one of constant fear and suffering.

Psychological abuse can result in mental health issues, like depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder, and can spark a multitude of physical health issues and disorders. Making a person feel weak and unworthy, on an emotional level, lays the groundwork for the “well-deserved” physical abuse.

Help is available, but sometimes victims are hesitant to seek assistance because they are embarrassed. They hear family members say, well, just leave him, like it was no big deal. However, by the time these conversations take place, confidence is down to zero, the fear factor is at 100%, financial accounts are all controlled by the spouse, and if there are children, there is concern about school enrollment and disruption of everything that child knows. Thoughts of “stay in it for the kids” become a recurring mantra, not recognizing that the psychological harm women experience, living in a violent household, is much more traumatic and long-lasting.

In an article by Christina Fox, she reiterates that “domestic violence is about controlling another person. The abuser uses whatever means necessary to gain and maintain that control. This includes the use of threats, manipulation, intimidation and force. If emotional and psychological abuse is effective, there might not be physical abuse, but once the victim resists or stands up, the physical abuse is certain to begin. The abuser will break things, punch his fist into the wall, hurt the family pet and do other intimidating actions to show her that he can and will do the same to her. The victim lives her days walking on eggshells, never knowing when her abuser will explode. The abuser also attempts to control all areas of the victim’s life.”

These behaviors can extend across the household, to children and the elderly, as well. Please contact the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office Victims Unit. We have resources and people ready to help. Your safety is our greatest concern.

Other resources include the Bright Future Foundation, Eagle Valley Behavioral Health and Violence Free Colorado.

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