Approaches to Supporting Domestic Violence Survivors
Domestic violence has increased during the pandemic. Learn more and how you can help CareNectar in our efforts to support families affected by domestic violence.
Domestic violence is a deadly epidemic in the United States. It is often hidden, ignored, and overlooked due to the stigma and silence that surrounds it. The reality is, however, that these are horrific acts of abuse that affect far more people in our country than you may realize.
Consider the following 2020 statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:
- In the United States, more than 10 million adults experience domestic violence annually. On average, this is nearly 20 people per minute.
- Both men and women experience domestic violence, yet women experience it at higher rates than men: 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men experience some form of domestic violence during their lifetime.
- Each year, 1 in 15 children are exposed or witness to domestic violence among their parents or caregivers.
The rates of domestic violence have only increased during the pandemic. Increased stress—mental, emotional, and financial—has led to increased violence within relationships. Police departments in cities around the country are reporting increases in domestic violence cases. Further, data from X-ray scans at a hospital in Boston found the number of wounds consistent with domestic violence over a two-month period during the pandemic exceeded the total number during the same time frame in both 2018 and 2019, combined.
To dive deeper into the subject of domestic violence and its impacts on children and families, I interviewed staff members at St. Jude House, a domestic violence shelter and resource provider serving communities in Northwest Indiana. These individuals are on the front lines, serving those in need of respite and hope. Here are the responses they kindly provided to strengthen awareness and continue to impact positive change.
What are some of the lasting traumatic effects of domestic violence on survivors—both adults and children?
Witnessing domestic violence can impact a child’s physical, emotional, and behavioral development. Experiencing domestic violence as a child is one of several Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, that can negatively impact short- and long-term outcomes. Higher ACE scores for young children are indicators of increased risk of behavioral, physical, and mental health issues later in life. However, we know that children are resilient. We can help them build resilience, and teach them about healthy relationships and how to develop healthy coping skills. By working with child survivors of domestic violence, we can work towards breaking the cycle of abuse.—Dawn Bouton, Children’s Advocate
Experiencing domestic violence can have traumatic effects on adults, including impacts on one’s physical, emotional, and mental health. Trauma creates a sense of vulnerability, powerlessness, shame, guilt, and anger among adults, and can lead to individuals distancing themselves from family and friends. If left untreated, trauma allows for risky behaviors and encourages uninformed decisions. It is important to reach out and get assistance from a professional, therapist, or counselor to determine the best form of treatment and available resources, such as individual counseling or group sessions. Unaddressed trauma can lead to self-destructive behaviors and have lasting effects.—Adult Advocate
What are the common reasons why survivors choose not to leave, return to their abusers, or find themselves back in a similar domestic violence situation?
Individuals may stay in an abusive relationship for a number of reasons, including fear of the unknown, lack of resources, inability to provide for their family, guilt, religious beliefs, or love for their partner, among others.
Returning to their partners, although very dangerous, allows for a false sense of security and hope. They are safe until the next incident or violent outburst. They do not have to fear being sought out.
The individual has normalized the unhealthy relationship and easily falls prey to another abuser. They are vulnerable and this is what they are familiar with and accustomed to. As in most relationships, there is an initial honeymoon period, yet as tension gradually increases, they can become violent.—Adult Advocate
How has COVID-19 impacted domestic violence cases?
With COVID-19, domestic violence cases have increased, making it critical that survivors have access to e-filing protective orders. In Indiana, a large number of survivors were able to file for a protective order through the state’s e-filing system, which allows a person to file from home on a computer or even a smartphone. It allows the survivor to file and sign the petition electronically, which eliminates the step of having to take the petition into the Clerk’s office to sign. This eased the process during a time when many Clerk’s offices and court buildings were closed or had limited staff to assist survivors, which caused delays in survivors getting the protection they needed. Through the pandemic, many courtrooms also limited the number of people who can attend hearings, making it difficult for domestic violence survivors to have the support they need in court, whether it is friends or family.—Pam Serrano, Legal Advocate
Can you explain some of the signs of abuse?
Domestic violence is all about the power and control the abuser has over the survivor. There are many different signs to look for in someone who is being abused.
- Physical Injuries. Indicators may include any physical signs, such as bruising, scratches, marks around the neck, or frequent trips to the emergency room for “accidents”. Often, a survivor will try to hide their physical injuries by wearing clothing that is not appropriate for the weather. For example, long sleeves in the summer or sunglasses indoors or at night can be signs of someone trying to hide injuries.
- Distancing Behavior. There are also signs of abuse other than physical. If a person is suddenly withdrawing from family and friends, frequently canceling plans, calling out to work at the last minute, or discontinuing activities that they once loved, these all may be signs that they are in an abusive relationship.
- Asking Permission. A person who is experiencing domestic violence will also often act anxious around their abuser when they are with other people. They will often seem overly anxious to please their partner when in public or with others. They may always “ask for permission” to do something or go somewhere, and often have little or no access to money, having no control over the finances in the relationship.
- Language. When a person frequently uses terms like “possessive, controlling, or jealous” to describe their partner, that is a red flag that may indicate abuse.
- Constant Communication. Constant calling or texting when a person is not with their partner is another indication that there may be some sort of abuse happening in the relationship.
Any or all of these signs can be indications that someone is in an unhealthy relationship and a survivor of domestic violence.—Pam Serrano, Legal Advocate
How can someone help a loved one who is enduring this type of abuse?
One of the most important things you can do for someone who is in an abusive relationship is to support them and let them know that you are there for them. Listen to their story and let them know that they do not deserve to be abused. No one deserves to be abused. You should be supportive and nonjudgmental, and respect their decision if they are not ready to leave the relationship. You can gather resources in your community, such as phone numbers to local shelters and the number to a domestic violence hotline, and share them with your loved one when they are ready. You can also help your loved one create a safety plan.—Dawn Bouton, Children’s Advocate
For those who are not familiar with what services are out there, can you explain how organizations like St. Jude House support survivors both inside and outside of the shelter setting?
St. Jude House offers services for clients both inside and outside the shelter. Anyone seeking information about legal services, domestic violence education, and community resources can call the shelter and get connected with an advocate who can provide assistance. A survivor can find assistance on filing a protective order or talking to staff about their experiences of domestic violence. The shelter provides referrals in the community for housing, public benefits, employment, utility assistance, and legal aid. For residential clients, the shelter provides a safe and secure environment to come to while working on what to do next. Once a client leaves the shelter, services are still available and can continue as long as the client needs them.—Kori Polusky, Case Manager
If someone reading this is experiencing the brutality of domestic violence, what next steps can they take to get help?
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, they can reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or a local shelter depending upon where they are located, including, but not limited to, St. Jude House at 1-800-254-1286. When calling the hotline, the survivor will have the opportunity to speak to a non-judgmental associate that will listen and be supportive as well as offer resources. If the survivor is not comfortable talking to someone, they could always go online at thehotline.org and click on the “chat live now” button for help.
In addition to calling for assistance, one should consider making a safety plan for themselves, their children, and even their pets. Once in place, the safety plan will help lower the risk of being hurt by an abuser.—Michelle Thiel, Assistant Director of Client Operations
For additional information regarding St. Jude House, please visit stjudehouse.org, or call their 24-hour Crisis Hotline (800) 254-1286 or their general inquiries number (219) 662-7066.
Meet The Expert
Kelley is a Christian, wife, mother of 3, author, business professional and domestic violence survivor advocate. She is passionate about using her life experiences to help you find joy in the hard stuff and encourage your spirit. Kelley has dual undergraduate degrees in Psychology and Family Studies and a Master’s degree in Executive Business Administration. She is driven to write, serve and advocate for those who need a louder voice. Kelley has served on the board of a local domestic violence shelter for the better part of a decade, and she runs The Kind Kids Academy with her eldest daughter. She is also in the process of developing another nonprofit that will continue to support survivors as they rise above their past abuse.