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About Domestic Violence

In order to effectively address the issue of domestic violence, it is important to understand the nature and cycle of domestic violence.

What is it?

Domestic violence is a pattern of assaultive and coercive behaviors used by an individual with the willful intent of hurting, dominating, and controlling an intimate partner or family member. Domestic violence is about power and control.

In an abusive relationship the abuser may use a number of tactics in order to gain or maintain power and control over his or her partner or family member.

The “Power and Control Wheel” describes the cycle of abuse. The center of the wheel—“Power and Control”—is the purpose or intent of the abuse. Each spoke represents the tactics of exerting power and control. The rim represents the cyclic nature of physical and sexual violence that perpetuates the abuse.

The Power and Control Wheel was developed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, Duluth, MN.

Abuse can occur in any intimate or family relationship. The laws in many states cover incidents of violence occurring between married couples, as well as abuse of elders by family members, and abuse between roommates, dating couples and those in lesbian and gay relationships.

Common myths and realities of domestic violence

  • Myth # 1: Domestic violence is rare.

Fact : Although statistics on domestic violence are not precise due to underreporting, it is clear that hundreds of thousands of women, children, and men are abused by family members or intimate partners each year in the United States alone. According to the most recent data available, the United States Department of Justice reports that about 1 in 320 households were affected by intimate partner violence in 2005.

  • Myth #2: Domestic violence only occurs in lower socioeconomic classes.

Fact: Reports from police records, victim services, and academic studies show that domestic violence exists in every socioeconomic group, regardless of race, age, sexual orientation, gender, religion, educational or income level, or culture. Violence can occur in married, cohabitating and dating relationships. Studies show equivalent rates of domestic violence among all cultural groups. In other words, abusers and their victims reflect the whole spectrum of socioeconomic and cultural groups in our society.

  • Myth # 3: Victims of domestic violence are masochistic.

Fact: Persons experiencing domestic violence are not responsible for the brutal actions of another person. However, domestic violence victims often blame themselves. Victims also are frequently and unjustly blamed by society for their circumstances. The most common response to battering—“Why doesn’t the victim just leave?”— ignores the economic, social, and psychological complexities and realities facing most victims, such as:

  • Often, safe shelters are full and those experiencing violence in their intimate relationships are financially dependent upon their abuser.
  • Family, friends, local law enforcement, and the workplace, at times, are less than fully supportive. In many cases, domestic abuse survivors feel revictimized by the very systems they are reaching out to for support.
  • Moreover, in many instances, the victim may be increasing the risk of physical harm or even death if she attempts to leave an abusive partner. A 1993 Australian study of homicide victims in three countries found that 47 percent of the victims were slain by their domestic partners during the first two months after leaving the abuser.

Too many people believe that domestic violence is a private matter between partners, rather than a criminal offense that impacts the workplace and community and merits a strong and swift response. Silence is the batterer's best friend. Your efforts to break the silence can make a difference.

Domestic violence at work

Domestic violence doesn’t stay home when its victims or perpetrators go to work. It can—and does—spill over into the workplace and become disruptive to the work environment, particularly when a victim is:

  • being harassed by threatening phone calls or e-mails
  • being stalked by an abuser
  • absent because of injuries
  • less productive due to the stress, depression, and chaos created by the abusive relationship

The effects of domestic violence are associated with many direct and indirect costs to the workplace such as decreased productivity, increased health care costs, absenteeism, errors, employee turnover, time spent coping with problems, and acts of physical violence in the workplace. More and more, business and union organizations are realizing the heavy toll that domestic violence takes in terms of productivity, morale and creativity.

Each "minor" incident of domestic violence carries with it the potential for a more serious event. Employers have a unique opportunity to prevent the potential of domestic violence from spilling over into the workplace, as well as to provide tools and resources to employees that can help end the epidemic of violence in America's homes.

Common workplace reactions to domestic violence

Domestic violence clearly affects the workplace. As the violence at home spills over into the workplace, the circumstances of the person being abused often are exposed—either through her diminishing job performance and increased absenteeism or because the work group has gained direct knowledge about the situation from the victim herself, other co-workers or due to the abuser’s harassment at her workplace. Co-workers can have many reactions, from total avoidance, to “rescuing”, to appropriate support.

Members of the workgroup may:

  • fill in for the less-productive or absent worker
  • resent the abused co-worker for needing time off or receiving special attention
  • try to protect the victim from unwanted phone calls and visits by abusers
  • fear for their own safety
  • feel a developing sense of helplessness/hopelessness in addressing the problem
  • deny or minimize the problem
  • overreact to or obsess about the problem
  • be frustrated with and critical of the victim for staying in the relationship
  • be confused about work and personal boundaries
  • avoid the victim
  • have diminishing productivity due to time and energy spent on problem
  • be absent more often to avoid additional work responsibility or to maintain their own safety

Domestic violence:

  • is a significant problem in our society that impacts all of us
  • will not be tolerated in our communities and workplaces
  • can be prevented if we are all willing to get involved