October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It is important to bring our attention to this serious and often highly underreported offense.
Domestic violence is a pattern of learned behavior when one person uses physical, emotional or sexual abuse to control another person. While most domestic violence is perpetrated by men, men can also be the victims as well. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 36.1 percent of women in Michigan and 25.8 percent of men in Michigan experienced physical violence, rape or stalking by an intimate partner in 2019.
However domestic violence is not limited to spouses or boyfriends/girlfriends. Domestic violence refers to any familiar relationship including but not limited to ex husbands and wives, former boyfriends or girlfriends, relationships with a child in common, parents and siblings, or resident or former resident of the same household. In 2019, 57,018 incidents of domestic violence were reported to Michigan Police and in a single day that same year, Michigan domestic violence programs provided service to 3,204 adults and children.
What can domestic violence look like?
The image that comes to mind when thinking of domestic violence is a woman with a black eye, broken nose or bruises on her face or body. While this can be what domestic violence looks like, it isn’t the full picture of domestic violence. Unfortunately it is so much more.
Physical abuse can be the most noticeable form of domestic violence, but even still, many people may not be clear about what all is included. The Michigan State Police state “If you or someone you know has their personal freedom restricted or is afraid of their partner, they may be a victim of domestic violence.”
Physical abuse can look like, but is not limited to being pushed, shoved or kicked, being slapped or bitten, and being strangled, hit or punched. It is also physical abuse if a person is locked out of or in their home, denied help when ill, injured or pregnant, has a weapon used against them or is abandoned in a dangerous situation. If force is used to prevent someone from leaving or objects have been thrown at them, this is also considered domestic abuse.
Financial or economic abuse is also a common form of domestic violence. Examples of economic abuse are if a person is denied access to bank accounts, credit cards or a vehicle, or if a person is prevented from getting or keeping a job or going to school or has limited access to healthcare or prescriptions. This is a way for the batterer to control the victims movements and ability to leave.
Emotional, psychological and sexual abuse are also domestic violence. Being threatened with harm to either themselves or their family members, being manipulated with lies and contradictions, or being stalked are forms of emotional abuse, and rape, being forced to commit acts sexual in nature or threats of violence for failing to perform acts in sexual nature are examples of sexual abuse. The great majority of the time, the batterer tells the victim she/he is responsible for the acts of violence and uses this as a way to manipulate the victim.
It is also important to note that anyone can be an abuser and anyone can be a victim of abuse. Domestic violence does not cater to one income level, gender or race. Abusers and victims can be from any race, gender, educational background, income bracket or sexual orientation. Often the pattern of abuse is learned behavior from birth either by witnessing abuse or from being abused.
What are the penalties for domestic violence?
Domestic violence is a serious offence. It may also not be one crime, but many crimes including domestic assault, stalking, criminal sexual conduct, home invasion and malicious destruction of property.
Penalties for domestic violence vary depending on the number of offences. In Michigan, a person’s first offence is considered a misdemeanor. They will receive 93 days in jail, fines and costs, probation and will be required to take some sort of anger management course. A second offense is also considered a misdemeanor. They will receive a year in jail plus probation and anger management counseling. A third offense is considered a felony and can result in up to five years in prison. The offenses do not have to be against the same person, meaning if an abuser is arrested for domestic assault against their wife, they would be given a first offense misdemeanor. If the man is arrested again for an domestic assault against his girlfriend, it would be considered a second offense. The assaults or other crimes related to domestic violence do not restart with a new victim.
How can we help?
The bottom line is no one deserves to be abused. No one deserves to be physically hurt, emotionally hurt, sexually hurt, belittled or degraded. It is not the victim's fault. It is never the victim's fault. An abuser wants to have control over the victim and makes the victim feel responsible for the abuse. They are not. The abuser is responsible for the behavior.
It is important for the community as a whole to educate themselves about domestic abuse, what it is and signs to look for. Know that there is no quick fix to end domestic violence in a household or in the world.
Do not blame the victim. Inaction may be their safest strategy at this time. Believe them. There is shame that comes from being a victim of abuse and telling someone you know and trust can be difficult. Believe the victim and listen without judgement. Tell them this is not their fault. Validate their feelings and take their fears seriously.
Understand that someone else stepping in may make the situation worse for the victim. Abusers take their frustration out not on the person stepping in to help, but on the victim. Be patient and respectful of the victims wishes.
It is important to know that after everything, the victim may go back to the abuser. On average it takes a victim seven times before they will leave their abuser. There are several reasons for this including trauma bonding - an emotional attachment that develops out of repeated cycles of abuse, devaluation and positive reinforcement - promises it will never happen again, and fear of nowhere else to go.
What programs are out there to help victims?
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, please get help. In an immediate situation call 9-1-1 to receive assistance from your local police department. Once out of the domestic violence situation the police can help direct you to a program.
In Hillsdale County, victims of domestic violence can utilize the resources of Domestic Harmony. Domestic Harmony provides emergency shelter to victims and their children including food, clothing, laundry services, and personal hygiene items. They also provide individual and group counseling services, child advocacy, legal advocacy and prevention education. Domestic Harmony can be reached 24/7 at 888-439-1454.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is also available 24 hours anywhere in the United States at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233.) Victims can talk to trained counselors who will provide confidential crisis intervention, support, information and referrals to local programs not only to victims of domestic violence, but also their families and friends. The hotline links people to help in their area, including shelters, legal and social assistance programs.
Kimm Burger, Attorney
I want to hear your side of the story.
KB Law Office P.C.