Dealing With Domestic Violence

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(This article apeared in the November/December 2004 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)

Joyce B. Robinson, Research & Education Department Director

The numbers are alarming: one-third of all women’s injuries are the result of violence; 1,500 American women are murdered each year by their husbands, ex-husbands, or boyfriends; and approximately two thirds of reported domestic violence incidents are classified as “simple assaults,” which is a misdemeanor rather than a felony.

Short of murder is battering, an act of domestic violence used to establish power and control through fear and intimidation, often including the threat or use of violence.

Psychological battering includes threats, name-calling, destruction of property (such as punching a fist through a wall), excessive possessiveness, isolating a woman from friends and family, deprivation of economic resources, and destruction of personal property.

Physical battering ranges from bruising to murder. It often begins with trivial contacts: restraining, pushing, slapping, and pinching, and escalates into more frequent and serious attacks: punching, kicking, biting, choking, and breaking bones. It also can involve sexual abuse.

Warnings and Responses

The following may serve as indicators of the potential for abuse. Men who over-react to minor incidents; use violence to “solve” problems; punch walls or throw things; abuse alcohol or drugs; insist that women stay at home and follow orders; isolate women from friends and family and demand to know where they are at all times; threaten to use weapons to get even; and exhibit kindness one moment and extreme cruelty the next.

Battered women experience shame, embarrassment and isolation. Yet many stay with abusive men. Often they feel they cannot “afford” to leave – they may not have jobs and have dependent children to support. It’s easy for them to rationalize their plight by remembering the good times and holding onto hope that the situation will change.

Some women go further and convince themselves that they have provoked the violence. Such women live in constant fear that they will bring further harm to both themselves and their children.

Safety Planning

Women in abusive relationships who are thinking of leaving should make and keep copies of all important documents: Social Security cards, birth certificates, leases or deeds, bank and credit card statements, and insurance policies. Ready possession of these will facilitate applications for benefits or in the course of legal action.

Meanwhile, women who are being abused should plan for a safe place to go if an argument occurs. Safe havens are rooms that allow for an exit and that don’t contain potential weapons (such as the kitchen). Other safe practices include: keeping a list of important contact numbers; putting aside money for emergencies; and establishing a “code word” or “sign” that close friends can recognize and will know to call for help.

Women who have left abusive relationships should instruct family and friends not to give out new phone numbers. Calls should be screened and if it becomes necessary to meet with the abuser, women should arrange for a public setting and be sure to bring someone along. It’s probably best to vary the daily routine and to at least contact a shelter for battered women for further support and advice.

Support System

Family members and co-workers can offer support by: listening without being judgmental; encouraging the victim to leave the abusive situation; aiding in securing safe housing; providing information on available resources and community support groups; and maintaining confidentiality and being sensitive to the seriousness of the situation.

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, I urge you to seek help today – we have a moral obligation to get involved. Please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 800-799-7233.

Postal employees also can get help through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), 800-327-4968. Services are available, twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week and are free and strictly confidential for victims or family members at risk.

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