For many people, there are few things that evoke a more reassuring sense of warmth, comfort, stability, and safety than going home. Many people see their home as a personal stronghold—a bastion of unconditional love and support. At home we tend to have more freedom, more time for family, and for a few hours, at least, we are afforded an escape from the hustle of the day. For victims of domestic violence, however, the home is anything but a refuge.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), domestic violence is the intentional physical assault, intimidation, battery, sexual assault, and/or use of other threatening behavior by one member of a household against another. Other less obvious forms of abusive behavior include stalking, the use of threatening looks or gestures, attempts to control the reproductive health of an intimate partner (for example, refusing to use contraception during intercourse), and displays of psychological aggression such as putting down, humiliating, or isolating an intimate partner.
Domestic violence often has a ripple effect that tears through the fabric of the victim’s life. The psychological, emotional, and social impacts of domestic violence can linger long after the violence has subsided, and even after the victim has left the abusive partner.
The National Center for PTSD, a prominent research and education organization that studies the psychological effects of trauma, has identified several scenarios that indicate red flags in an unhealthy relationship. An unhealthy relationship may be indicated when one partner:
- Has complete control of all household finances.
- Limits or completely closes off the other partner’s social life. He or she may isolate the other partner from friends and family.
- Consistently threatens to ruin the reputation of the other partner, especially after he or she has expressed a desire to end the relationship.
- Repeatedly tries to scare the other by breaking things, punching holes in the wall, and hurting or threatening to hurt pets.
- Systematically evokes feelings of guilt or shame in the other partner.
These types of coercive and controlling behaviors are often present in cases of domestic violence, and can have a profound impact on how a victim of abuse is able to function socially, even after leaving an abusive relationship. If an individual is financially dependent on his or her abusive partner, any decision to escape the abuse carries with it the real possibility of homelessness. Most women who experience domestic abuse report homelessness.
Issues of poverty and homelessness are closely linked to the abusive act of isolating an intimate partner from family, friends, and other sources of social support. Under normal circumstances, a person with strong social connections will look to his or her relatives and/or peers when assistance is needed. However, isolation from these support groups may cause the connections to wither. In the end, people who experience domestic violence might reason that they are completely alone in their struggles and former resources are no longer available.
Even if a survivor is successful in escaping from a violent relationship, the scars of past abuse can significantly influence future intimate relationships. The National Center for PTSD explains that some people who have endured IPV may not even believe that healthy relationships exist. Thus, they might enter new relationships with the same unhealthy expectations that they had previously. Other challenges could include intrusive memories of past abuse (for example, during intimate moments with a new partner), nightmares, communication challenges, and feelings of worthlessness.