The Cycle of Violence: Domestic Abuse
Many people live in abusive homes for years. In fact, it takes survivors of intimate partner violence approximately 7 attempts before they leave.
Our wonderful founder, Anna, has been conducting interviews lately with survivors of intimate partner violence to help build our AI tool with community perspectives (in collaboration with the survivors, professionals,UN Technology and Innovation lab and relevant NGOs). Their stories and much research has a common thread, the escalation of abuse, and a gut feeling of something being wrong that individuals ignore. It has also been repeatedly found that people too often leave an abusive relationships in life or death situations, which is a dangerously high threshold.
This means that many people live in abusive homes for years. In fact, it takes survivors of intimate partner violence approximately 7 attempts before they leave. There are many factors contributing to this: shame and potential isolation, as well as a perceived inability to leave, which will be discussed in the next article.
Regrettably, this abuse can happen to anyone at any time, at extraordinarily high rates. Across the world, almost a third of women face intimate partner violence. It is an unfortunate equalizer- there is no socio-economic status, age, race, sexuality, or gender that is completely free of abuse (although there are varying rates in different demographic populations). It is also underreported, with only a quarter of physical assaults and a fifth of sexual assaults reported to police, statistics that do not even include the many incidents of verbal assault or emotional abuse that can occur. It is an issue often ignored so it is therefore important to be educated on what could happen so that you can recognize it in your own or other people’s lives.
Types of abuse
Many people only think about physical abuse, the act of harming another physically, be it hitting, kicking, or a myriad of options. Yet sexual violence, coerced and non-consensual sexual acts, and emotional violence, such as threatening, verbal humiliation, and criticism, forced isolation, and stalking can also occur. Often in forced marriage, and domestic abuse cases an excessive need for the perpetrator to control the victim’s personal and financial life is present.
All of these acts, plus many more, are possible in intimate partner violence and create scenarios of severe mental health and fear in victims. Both stand-alone and combined these types of abuse create a sense of isolation for the victim despite its pervasiveness in society.
Importantly, the abuse can come in waves, over varying lengths of time. Stages of apologies followed by violence, followed by more apologies. There are many ways to refer to these stages and different psychological models but there four main ones that we would like to share:
1. Build up (Tension rising)
Abusers may feel stress and often feel powerless so act abusively towards their spouse, often starting verbal and emotional abuse. Notably, this stress and powerlessness does not excuse their actions. It creates tension in the house where the victim is anxious and fearful but tries to calm and de-escalate their abuser; for example if they get angry when drunk, act possessive or start to be controlling.
2. More Abusive incidents
Intentional violence occurs, often repeatedly. Abuse is a power play of control and this is when the abuser is most likely to physically and sexually abuse. This creates intimidation and fear.
The abuser apologizes, potentially blaming their actions on others and excusing their behavior to avoid responsibility (e.g. saying their actions were due drinking or stress). This may be true remorse. It may not. The victim believes they are sorry, even after many cycles, so often forgives and is hopeful for the future.
4. Honeymoon / ‘calm’ phase
‘Normality’ resumes, sometimes with the abuser making promises to seek help. But problems are often not addressed. The relationship could reach a fantasy level of ‘perfectness’ to show ‘change’ in the ‘sincere’ perpetrator so their partner believes they have changed and feels secure. This is often false, but it makes their partner minimize the original abusive behavior.
5. The cycle starts again. It most likely escalates faster and gets worse.
We must break the cycle
It is paramount that the cycle is broken. Abuse, especially after many cycles, does not just disappear naturally. It is also almost impossible for a victim to ‘change’ their abuser alone. For such a prevalent issue, an ‘open secret’ of society, it is woefully ignored. This leaves many at risk, in fear, and isolated.
This is not acceptable.
Society needs to change.
If you are worried about anyone you know, or yourself, having recognized the above behaviors, please contact local authorities or charities.
Also, please look forward to the follow up for this article: The Difficulties In Leaving an Abusive Relationship.
Text by Emily Stamp
Visuals by Kristina Mancheva