Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse

Being assaulted by a stranger is a traumatic experience for anyone, but being abused by someone in your own family is worse. In addition to the victimization itself, in a domestic violence and/or sexual abuse situation the victim must also deal with the emotional conflict which comes from being hurt by someone who claims to love them or who has promised or is obligated to care for them.

What is domestic violence and sexual abuse?

There are three general categories of domestic violence which often occur together:

  • Physical Abuse or Battering of adults takes many forms including slapping, shaking, shoving, punching, kicking, hair-pulling, choking, burning, and attack with a weapon. Battering also includes threats of physical harm. Physical abuse tends to escalate over time and may lead to more and more serious injuries ultimately culminating in death.
  • Sexual Abuse includes any coerced sexual activities ranging from unwanted sexual gestures or remarks to forced sexual contact to physical violation of genitals, breasts, or anus.
  • Psychological Abuse is a powerful component of domestic violence where the abuser humiliates, intimidates, and terrorizes their victim by creating an atmosphere of fear. Degradation, and belittling of the victim's actions, thoughts, and capabilities are common forms of psychological abuse.

In domestic violence situations, the abuser attempts to exert power and control over their victim. Possessiveness, sexual jealousy, intrusiveness, and attempts to isolate the victim are typical of people who batter and abuse. The victim tends to withdraw from others, so slowly that she/he doesn't realize it, until she/he becomes even more dependent upon the batterer. Isolation and lack of social support makes the victim increasingly vulnerable to the abuser. This "power and control" pattern is the mortar that perpetuates the abusive relationship, as the victim feels more and more psychologically helpless.

Common reactions to living in a situation of domestic violence are a variety of intense fears: of retribution, of losing control, of being blamed, and of not being believed. In addition, anger, self-blame, shame, guilt, depression, denial, numbness, re-experiencing the violence in dreams, thoughts, flashbacks, avoiding situations which are similar to those in which violence has occurred, being hyper-vigilant and startling easily are widespread responses. Abusing alcohol and drugs or behaving compulsively in terms of sex, gambling, eating/starving are also frequent reactions.

What can you do to recover and heal from these experiences?

If you think you may be in an abusive relationship, the first step is to acknowledge the abuse. The next step is to develop a plan to keep yourself safe. Help is available through free and confidential counseling by professionals at the Personal Counseling Program. There are many resources available, such as hotlines (800.942.6906), shelters, crisis centers, and legal assistance to which we can direct you. Stop by or call to make an appointment, if you or someone you know needs help.