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Introduction to Domestic Violence and Rape

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

Domestic violence is a variety of abuse that occurs within the home, between family members or couples. The typical image of domestic violence involves an adult male perpetrator and a female victim, often his wife or girlfriend. However, there are also women perpetrators of domestic violence, and men are sometimes victims. Really, any violence done by any family or group member towards another could qualify.

abuseDomestic violence may take many forms. Destruction of property, psychological and emotional abuse, and physical and sexual assault are all common forms. On the milder but still quite serious side, perpetrators of domestic violence may threaten victims or use verbal put downs and bad name, attempt to publically humiliate them, or play manipulative mind games. Abusers may be act very jealously, and work to control victims' access to family and friends or employment. The abuse may be extreme enough so that the victim loses a job because of absenteeism or decreased productivity while at work, or is prevented from working at all. In its most violent form, domestic violence will involve actual physical and sexual violence, kidnapping of children, torture or murder of pets, etc. Some victims are driven to suicide.

Rape is a crime involving forced sexual activity, usually including sexual penetration, against the will of the victim. Rape can occur in the context of ongoing domestic violence (where a partner sexually assaults another partner against that partner's will), but it may also be perpetrated by aquaintances (e.g., date rape) or by strangers.

Domestic violence and rape are serious societal problems disproportionately focused on women. However, the official numbers are likely to seriously under-estimate the actual number of assaults made on men, however, as it is known that men tend not to report such assaults due to shame and fear of ridicule.

Consequences of Domestic Violence and Rape

In addition to the financial and social adjustment difficulties that are often associated with removing one's self from an ongoing abuse situation, survivors of domestic violence or rape can develop emotional and psychological concerns that last well after the physical injuries have healed. Memories of victimization may be overwhelming, and return again and again, unbidden, to torture the victim long after actual victimization has passed. Victimization removes any illusion of safety that victims might have previously enjoyed. Self esteem and self-worth may have been damaged as well. Physical assaults may also have resulted in disfigurement or lingering chronic pain.

Being a victim of violence in and of itself is not sufficient in itself to cause a person to develop a psychological or emotional disorder. However, being victimized often leaves people more vulnerable to developing psychological disorders such as post traumatic stress disorder, depression, and other anxiety disorders than they were before having been victimized. This is particularly so if the violence occurred while the victim was a child, or still forming his or her personality in significant ways. Each individual will react differently, even to highly similar victimization events. Some but not all, victims of domestic violence will develop disorders while others will emerge relatively unscathed.

Just as there is not any definitive disorder that a victim of domestic violence or rape will develop, there is also not any definitive way that victims should respond to having been hurt. Most all means of grieving and coping with having been victimized are okay, except for ways that might result in self-harm or harm towards other.

Help is Available

Literally millions of people have been victims of domestic violence and/or rape. Many of them have gone to some lengths to try to help others (such as yourself) recover from such victimization. Information and help are available to assist you in getting out of abusive situations or dealing with the aftermath of violence. Effective psychotherapy treatments exist that can assist you in dealing with any emotional or psychological symptoms you may have as a result of having been abused or assaulted. There are also numerous resources available for those who wish to assist someone else who has been a victim of violence.

No matter what type of violence you may have experienced (or are experiencing) or variety of emotional difficulty you may have incurred from such trauma, it is important that you not blame yourself for having been victimized. Thoughts like, "He hits me because I am stupid and clumsy... I deserve it." or "I shouldn’t have been walking out late at night alone; I deserved what I got", occur commonly as victims try to make sense out of why they are singled out for punishment. Perpetrators are likely to feed such mistaken thinking by actually suggesting that abuse is deserved. Such thoughts are mistaken and not based in reality. In reality, no one deserves to be beaten, assaulted or otherwise intimidated. Nobody deserves to be physically, sexually, emotionally, or spiritually abused as a child or as an adult. Abusive people are unable or unwilling to effectively control or cope with their own impulses and to respect human dignity and rights. Their failure to do so reflects their own (emotional, ethical/moral, spiritual, etc.) defects. By acting out their impulses they transfer their own problem on to you and people you love. If you have been a victim of violence or rape, you are not to blame.

Domestic violence and rape are no longer taboo topics that cannot be talked about in polite society. It is okay to talk about having been raped or assaulted, if you want to do that. Further, more is known today about how to recover from the effects of such assaults, and how to help insure that such assaults will be less likely to occur again than ever before. We have developed the information here to act as a guide to help you better understand domestic violence, rape, and to help you discover more information about ways to heal and move forward with your life.