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The topic I have chosen to research is how a victim of domestic violence escapes an abusive relationship, the steps they may need to go through to get out, the consequences that may occur if they leave, and the probability of staying out of a future relationship with the current partner. I will also discuss the prevalence of domestic violence and tools that can be used to predict homicide in a domestic violent relationship. I chose to research this topic due to widespread effects of this heartbreaking experience and that should the need arise; I could be a source of support and help.
Domestic violence is known by different names, such as intimate partner violence, battered women syndrome, or spousal abuse, but despite the name, it includes “physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, and psychological aggression (including coercive tactics) by a current or former intimate partner (i.e., spouse, boyfriend/ girlfriend, dating partner, or ongoing sexual partner.1 The prevalence of domestic violence is widely felt, with nearly 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men having experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner during their lifetime. Severe physical violence is defined as being hit with a fist or other hard object, being kicked, hurt by pulling hair, being slammed against something, tried to hurt by choking, or tried to suffocate, beaten, burned on purpose, or having a knife or gun used to intimidate or hurt. 2 These are the realities that happen in this kind of relationship.
During the course of researching this topic, the concept of escalation was repeated in various sources. A person in a domestic violent relationship usually doesn’t experience violence at the start of the relationship, or the abuse doesn’t reach a severe magnitude in the beginning of the relationship. The abuse usually escalates, or increases, over time. I learned in researching this topic that the whole situation is complex. In terms of leaving and staying, it all becomes a process that may be very hard for the victim to carry out. For the victim’s safety and well being, the relationship must be terminated. The reasons victims stay in the relationship include economical concerns, emotional worries, a belief that the abuse is normal, and fear for their future without their current partner. Although a victim’s rationale for remaining in the relationship may not seem valid to outside observers, if the abuse is even recognized, to the victim, these voices of reason are intense. The abuser has such control and power over the non-dominant partner that the victim often times does not realize the manipulation being asserted. Deciding to leave the relationship is usually a long process, with the decision often changed back and forth as things seem to improve, then worsen, and back and forth until finally the victim leaves.
The 2009 research article entitled “Battered Women, Children and the End of Abusive Relationship” reviews many reasons why many victims of domestic violence decide to leave the abusive partner. These include the fact that as stated above, the violence increases, the violence is identified by outside friends or family, the violence spreads to the victim’s children. This third reason, which the violence spread to the victim’s children, was often cited as the most compelling reason to leave the relationship. As cited in the article, one woman described her thoughts:
“Eventually, my daughter who’s the oldest, he began to treat her really badly…. At that point, I knew that I wasn’t going to allow him to continue to hurt her emotionally…. I’m sorry, you can do whatever you want to me to a point, but don’t start doing this to my daughter and to the kids.” Another woman shared a similar experience: ‘‘My greatest motivation [to get help] was my children. When he wasn’t satisﬁed hitting me, he started hitting my kids. And I didn’t like that. Not to my kids. I said ‘No’ to this. Not them.’’
Once the victim decides to leave the relationship, careful planning and preparation usually is required to ensure a safe exit, especially if children are involved.3 A positive step toward becoming a survivor of domestic violence is taking charge of one’s life and having a personalized safety plan to help while making an exit from the relationship. It is important to have things thought out and written down to provide more confidence in following a safety plan.4 A safety plan should include identifying the partner’s use and level of force so the risk of physical danger to the victim and children can be assessed before it occurs. Second, identify safe areas of the house where there are no weapons, and there are ways to escape and move to those areas if arguments arise. Third, do not run to where the children are, as the children may fall victim to the abuse as well. Fourth, have a phone accessible at all times and know what numbers to call for help, in addition to knowing where the nearest public phone is located. Know the phone number to the local shelter and if the situation is life threatening, call the police. A fifth item a safety plan should have is to let trusted friends and neighbors know of the situation and develop a plan and visual signal for when help is needed. These are some items to have written on a safety plan while a victim is planning for the best time to leave. This is not an all inclusive list for devising a safety plan, but it is a good idea of what a plan should include.
Because violence could escalate when someone tries to leave, the following are some things to keep in mind before making that step. First, keep any evidence of physical abuse, such as pictures of injuries, a journal of all violent incidences, noting dates, events and threats made, if possible. Keep the journal in a safe place. Second, know where to get help and tell someone what is happening to you. Third, plan for a safe place for the children, like a room with a lock or a friend’s house where they can go for help. Reassure them that their job is to stay safe. Fourth, contact the local shelter and find out about laws and other resources available prior to having to use them during a crisis. Try to set money aside or ask friends or family members to hold money in the event that it is needed. When leaving, a police escort or stand-by can be available. There are 3 things that should be packed away in a “preparation to leave kit”, including identification, legal papers and emergency numbers, as well as emergency money, medications, and sentimental items.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline5 gives additional recommendations to victims of violent relationships after they leave the relationship. Locks should be changed, caller ID should be requested, and phone numbers should be changed. Additional items to consider in an effort to stay away from the abuser include changing work hours and the route taken to work, alerting school authorities about the situation, and keeping a copy of a restraining order at all times. Changing stores and social activities can also be beneficial. Family and friends need to be notified that the victim has left and that a restraining order needs to be enforced. Contact with the abuser should be cut off entirely, as the victim may be subjected to the manipulative nature that could pull him or her back into the domestic violent relationship.
Predicting the outcome of a domestic violent relationship is challenging, given that every situation is unique. Potential outcomes include the victim staying in the relationship with a continuation of the violence at the same or escalated level, staying in the relationship and the abuser recognizing the severity of the situation and changing, leaving the relationship successfully and beginning a new life separately, and lastly, the relationship ending in the death of either of the partners. Jacquelyn C. Campbell, Ph.D., R.N. developed a “Danger Assessment tool” 6 in 1985 that is useful in assessing battered women who may be at risk of being killed as well as those who are not. The assessment asks the respondent to use a calendar of the current year a note the approximate dates that abuse occurred and rate the severity of the abuse on a scale of 1 to 5. Additionally, the tool asks 15 yes or no questions and the total number of yes responses are tallied. A score of greater than 8 indicated the victim was in very grave danger of being murdered by her partner. Many respondents do not realize the severity of the situation they are in, and this tool can help them realize the danger they face.
The prevalence of domestic violence is felt across all economic and cultural aspects of society. It is often hidden by both the abuser and the victim, thereby delaying the opportunity for the victim to seek help. When children are involved, the situation becomes even more complex, as the abused parent must not only decide what is best for him or herself, but also must factor in the well being of the children. As the abuse escalates, the victim is at increased risk for being severely injured or killed by her partner. Researching this topic brings to light the fact that deciding to leave is not an easy decision to make and requires thoughtful planning to be successful. Planning involves what to do during times of abuse, what to prepare prior to leaving, how to execute a plan to leave, and what to do after leaving in order to make certain the relationship is over and the victim is safe. As cited at the beginning of this discussion, one in four women and one in nine men report having been involved in an abusive relationship over the course of their life. This makes knowing someone involved in such a relationship very likely, and offers knowledge that can be used to help end such a relationship.
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