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When Love Hurts

By Jacqueline Harounian, Esq
Law Partner at Wisselman, Harounian & Associates, PC

"Don't compromise yourself. You're all you've got." -- Janis Joplin

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence is a pattern of controlling and coercive behavior which can involve physical, sexual, emotional, and psychological abuse. Domestic violence is not only evidenced or experienced by broken bones, bruises, and black eyes. It can be slaps and shoves, as well as threats, with or without a weapon. It can be economic control and emotional humiliation that causes harm to the victim.

Who is affected?

Domestic violence affects people who are married or dating, and can occur between parents and children. It affects people from all social, economic, racial, religious and ethnic groups. It knows no boundaries. It occurs in Great Neck with as much frequency as in the inner cities. It is just more carefully hidden, and much more stigmatized. While anyone can be a victim of domestic violence, women are by far the most common victims. The statistics from the National Institute of Justice indicate that 95% of victims are female, and 95% of perpetrators are male. This translates to millions of women being abused by their partners each year. In many cases, the abusers are men in positions of authority and respect in their work and careers.

Recently, my law firm sponsored a workshop for a group of mental health professionals on the issues surrounding domestic violence and its effect on the family. The guest speaker was Lois Schwaeber, Esq., head of the Nassau County Coaction Against Domestic Violence, also known as "The Coalition". This highly regarded organization is a private, non-profit tax exempt entity, founded in 1976. The agency is the only comprehensive service provider to victims of domestic violence in Nassau County. It offers counseling, legal services, safe housing and Family Court advocacy for victims. All services are confidential and without charge. The Coalition can be reached at 516-572-0700. There is also a free, confidential 24 hour hotline at 516-542-0404.

How can you recognize violence in a relationship?

A healthy relationship is based on trust and mutual respect. Each partner supports the other, and tries to understand each other's feelings and experiences, and feels free to express his or her needs. An abusive relationship often starts just like a healthy one -- full of love, excitement and romance. As time goes on, however, what once felt loving and flattering starts to feel controlling and even frightening. Some signs of an abusive relationship at the dating stage are: excessive jealousy, threats and accusations, name calling, humiliation, possessiveness, and violence. Domestic violence includes isolation of the victim from family and friends, forced sex, control of financial matters, excessive criticizing and belittling, destruction of property, monitoring of the victim's whereabouts, stalking, and manipulation. The more experienced abuser can check the car's mileage and question the children about the victim's daily activities.

What is emotional abuse?

Physical abuse may be easy to recognize, but what is emotional abuse? Emotional abuse is often invisible and unreported. It is verbal abuse, threats, humiliation, and control. The abuser may prevent his partner from getting or keeping a job. He may force the victim to ask for money, or give her an allowance. He may deny her access to the family income. He abuses her by making her think she is crazy, playing mind games, controlling who she sees and talks to, and where she goes. Studies have shown that emotional abuse may be even more destructive than physical abuse because the abuser is always in the victim's face, demeaning, degrading, humiliating and harassing her. In most communities, emotional and psychological abuse is much more common than physical abuse.

What are the causes and effects of domestic violence?

According to Ms. Schwaeber, domestic violence is rarely caused by alcohol or drug use, genetics, stress or mental illness. Therefore, it is not treatable in most cases with medication. Violence is not caused by loss of control as previously believed. It is the intentional use of controlling tactics. Violence is the choice the abuser makes to gain control and power in his household. The following characteristics are found in most batterers in family relationships:

  • CONTROL:  Coerciveness is widely recognized as a central quality of battering men. The abuser treats the victim like a servant; he makes all of the big decisions and acts like the Amaster of the castle@. One of the areas of life heavily controlled by these men is their wives' parenting skills. An abusive man may overrule the mother's parenting decisions, or assault her when he is angry over the children's behavior
  • ENTITLELMENT:  A man who batters considers himself entitled to a special status within the family, with the right to use violence when he deems necessary. He believes that he has the right to enforce his will on his partner. This belief, rooted in sexism and misogyny, is supported and tolerated by the society in which we live, a society which has historically condoned the use of violence against women. "Hitting my wife has nothing to do with how good a parent I am. As a man, I have the right to define her reality."
  • POSSESSIVENESS:  Abusive men have been reported to perceive their partners as owned objects. Other characteristics that can have an impact on children include manipulativeness, denial of the abuse, and resistance to change. Some abusers use favoritism to build a special allegiance with one child in the family. As some researchers have noted, the favored child is particularly likely to be a boy, who is encouraged to feel superior to females
The abuse is cumulative and it eventually robs the victim of her identity. The abuse almost never stops on its own and almost always gets steadily worse and more violent with the passage of time. Marriage counseling usually is not effective to stop the abuse because the victim is afraid to speak up out of fear of later repercussions. In addition, the abuser is often very manipulative and charming (even romantic), and as a result can fool the counselor that the marital problems are the victim's own fault. He may claim that he is the real victim, and that she needs to change. Therefore, the counseling sessions become another means to control the victim and humiliate her. Researchers report frightening accounts of men who say and do all of the right things, and are the Astar@ of their anger management class, who are later arrested for horrific acts of violence towards their partners.

Recurring abuse may cause significant psychological problems resulting in post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety or mood disorders, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and substance abuse (used to self medicate). Both victims and batterers use alcohol or drugs to rationalize the violence. Society also rationalizes the situation, creating reasons why victims stay in the relationship and excuses the abuser as not really being a bad person. Adolescents in treatment for alcohol abuse are reported to have a higher rate of witnessing violence at home.

What are the effects on children?

Children who witness domestic violence, even indirectly, experience high levels of stress, fear and tension due to the high level of conflict between the parents. According to Ms. Schwaeber, when children live in a household with fighting and abuse, they are much more likely to:

  • Copy the hitting and yelling they see.
  • Live in fear of physical harm to themselves or their family.
  • Worry too much.
  • Think they are responsible and feel badly about themselves.
  • Feel hopeless and sad and be unable to concentrate at school.
  • Have problems with eating or sleeping.
  • Love and hate the abuser at the same time.
Studies have indicated that children who witness domestic violence at home, compared to those who do not, exhibit more aggressive and anti-social behavior, depression, anxiety, low self esteem, and low cognitive, verbal and motor skills. Moreover, men who abuse their wives are often violent towards their children. Children from violent families, even if not physically abused themselves, are severely affected by their experiences. A child who has witnessed violence in the home is often thinking: "I can't sleep because I worry about Mommy. Why won't she stop crying? I am afraid that Daddy will really hurt Mommy. Why are there broken dishes in the kitchen? If I keep my room clean, maybe Daddy wouldn't hit Mommy. I get so frightened when they yell that I need to hide. I want to call the police."

As children get older and begin their own relationships, they will often mimic the behavior they witnessed in their childhood. Boys often react to domestic violence by acting with aggression towards their mothers and sisters. They carry this aggressive behavior into their later lives as boyfriends, husbands, and fathers. Girls who witness domestic violence may become more passive and in later life, they may become attracted to abusive men.

Why do victims stay in abusive relationships?

There are many reasons why women stay in the relationship, even after they know that they are being harmed. Some reasons are:

  • Fear that leaving will precipitate even more violent incidents (One out of three women killed in homicides tried to leave abusive partners.)
  • Emotional dependency on the marital relationship, accompanied by feelings of low self esteem and self blame.
  • No access to cash and lack of financial resources and employment income; concern about future economic security.
  • Concern about the effects of a marital breakup on the children's future.
  • Feelings of love for the abusive spouse, coupled with hopes that the relationship will improve. (The victim believes that if she tries a little harder, or is a better wife, the abuser will really change.)
  • Rationalization and excuses for the abuser's behavior.
  • Physical or social isolation from family.
  • Strong cultural and religious beliefs about the importance of staying married, at all costs (Orthodox Jewish women stay twice as long in violent relationships.)
  • Feelings of shame about choosing a bad partner, and having made a mistake.
  • Acceptance of violence as "normal". (Mothers of victims tell their children, "My marriage was the same".)
  • Lack of information about legal rights and the resources available.
  • Prior unsuccessful attempts to obtain help.
  • Concern that a report of violence won't be believed. (Family and friends see the abuser as a "good guy" since the abuser is always careful to abuse in private, and always displays a positive image in public.)
  • Fear of the unknown or making a life change. Fear of loneliness and social isolation.
What can be done to help the victim?

Religious and cultural beliefs may tacitly or openly approve of preserving the family, even to the detriment of women and children. In many cultures, there is a strong belief that domination of women by men is acceptable, based upon sex-based stereotypes about appropriate roles and conduct for women and men. In this belief system, males are superior to females, and the victim, not the abuser, is to blame.

It is important to offer support to the victim, and to help her understand that she is not to blame, and there is help available to her. If the victim has the support of her family and friends, she will have the strength she needs to investigate her legal options and to stop the abuse. The victim needs to know that there is a safe place for her to go with the children if the need arises. She can seek counseling to better understand her situation and what her options are.

Jacqueline Harounian, Esq became a Partner of the firm, Wisselman, Harounian & Associates, P.C. in July, 2006. She adeptly handles family and matrimonial litigation, appearing on custody, divorce, and support matters in the Family and Supreme Courts in Long Island and New York City. She is knowledgeable about current developments in matrimonial and family law and is committed to providing the highest quality of legal representation.Ms. Harounian has an AVVO rating of 10.0

She can be contacted by phone at (800) 483-1723 or
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