WHAT IS DOMESTIC VIOLENCE?
We all need our homes to be a haven, a safe and happy place where we are loved, supported, and encouraged to reach our full potential, whatever that might be. Unfortunately, for many people, home is quite the opposite. It is a place of conflict, anxiety, abuse, violence, and terror.
Domestic violence is an ongoing pattern of power and control over another person, (usually the intimate partner) which includes intentional acts of physical, economic, sexual, emotional, and psychological abuse. It is an abuse of power to control and manipulate that harms family members. We use the term “family” to refer to a range of relationships among people: traditional nuclear families, extended families, step-families, current or former intimate partners who may or may not be married, gay and lesbian families and those who consider themselves a family, whether or not they have blood ties or fit legal or religious definition of “family”.
Our definition includes intimate partner violence in cohabiting or formerly cohabiting relationships, dating violence, sexual assault, child and elder abuse. Unfortunately, the law disregards psychological and/or emotional damage. Psychological wounds heal more slowly than most physical ones and often have more long terms consequences for the victim.
Many acts of domestic violence are criminal offenses: Assault (aggravated and simple); Arson; Burglary; Breaking and Entering; Destruction or Vandalism of Property; Homicide; Kidnapping; Hostage-taking, Abduction; Sexual Assaults; Stolen Property; Disorderly Conduct; Stalking; Trespass of Real Property, arson and other criminal acts such as killing or abducting pets. Domestic Violence encompasses child and elder abuse and sexual assault..
Tennessee‘s legal definition: “Domestic abuse” means inflicting or attempting to inflict physical injury on an adult by other than accidental means, physical restraint or malicious damage to the property of the abused party. “Adult” means any person eighteen (18) years of age or older, or who is otherwise emancipated (Tenn. Code Annotated 36-3-601).
Beliefs and attitudes concerning domestic violence are engrained in our society, often at an unconscious level. For example, the expression, “Rule of Thumb” reflects the attitude that it is acceptable to beat your wife. It stems from English common law, which was used to indicate acceptable standards and permitted the man to beat his wife with a stick as long as it was no thicker than the base of his thumb.
It is common to view domestic violence as a “family dispute” rather than one person assaulting another. The victim’s efforts to defend herself are often viewed by law enforcement, attorneys and judges as an assault on the abuser. The perpetrator often appears as a charming, responsible person in the community, not as someone who regularly assaults his wife and/or children. Without skilled police investigation and prosecution by a knowledgeable prosecutor, it is easy for a juror who sees the case as a “family dispute” to find the perpetrator innocent.
Traditional attitudes about gender roles and shame about seeking help for “family problems” create an environment endorsing domestic violence. As the “head of the household”, the male is assumed to have certain entitlements such as control of money, sex, and instant obedience to his wishes. “A man’s home is his castle” implies male rights to proprietorship even when property is jointly owned. Some people still believe that a wife and children are property of the male. These beliefs are manifested by the growing number of women and children who seek shelter with nothing but the clothing they are wearing. Victims who are forced to abandon the home to escape abuse often find it difficult to establish a new household and support themselves and their children.
Beliefs and attitudes of significant others in the victim’s life such as family, ministers, and employers often advise the victim to remain in the abusive relationship. Even mothers may tell their daughters it is their “duty” to stay in the relationship and make it work. “It can’t be that bad,” they may say. Or, “You made your bed, now lie in it.”
Ministers may say that “It is not Christian to leave a marriage” even when it is abusive. These attitudes are prevalent in our society. Employers sometimes fire victims because they are stalked at work. Many victims do not know that help is available nor do they seek help because they believe the messages from important people in their lives that they are responsible for the abuse. They feel guilty that they cannot make the relationship work and blame themselves. They feel shame that they must seek help from others. They are in a double bind. No matter what they do, it will be wrong.
Professionals in the justice system may reinforce the victims’ belief that abuse is her fault. Questions or comments are often made, such as, “What did you do to cause him to do this?”; “It’s up to you to go home and work it out”; “She must like it. She keeps going back.” “It’s just a little tap, why are you so neurotic?” Comments such as these indicate belief that the victim is responsible for the abuse and fail to hold the batterer accountable for abuse.