What Domestic Violence Looks Like and How to Get or Provide Help

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In this real-life account, the author introduces us to “Carol,” an abuse victim who eventually finds her way to safety with the help of Catholic Charities.

By: Cathy Hassinger, Director of Community Services, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington

In 2014, Carol (a pseudonym) learned she was pregnant with her second daughter. Secretly delighted with the news, she worried how her husband would react. Her fears were confirmed when he punched her in the abdomen to try to make her lose the baby. Terrified by his reaction, Carol fled to a domestic violence shelter.

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The physical assault was the last straw. She had endured verbal and emotional abuse throughout her marriage. Name-calling and insults were common. Her husband had gradually limited Carol’s access to her family as well, refusing to allow phone calls and even taking her phone from her when he suspected she was reaching out. When they were dating, Carol’s husband justified his behavior as symptoms of being in love; he said he just wanted all of her for himself. It felt flattering at the time, and Carol didn’t fight him. After they were married, however, Carol’s husband started to control more and more of her life. He took her paychecks and set up bank accounts in his name only. She needed permission to spend money, even on daily needs, like food. Although Carol had a driver’s license, her husband refused to let her have a car and limited where she drove in the family car.

There were good times, though. They liked the same movies, and he often followed up the insults with compliments and physical affection. The birth of their first daughter was difficult. He was frustrated with the added expenses and angry with the time Carol devoted to the newborn. But he seemed to relax as the baby grew older and even seemed to enjoy being with her as she entered her toddler years. So when Carol became pregnant again, she was worried but hopeful. Maybe this time her husband would be happy.

Although she was nervous about telling him, still Carol was shocked when he pushed her against the wall and punched her. Her husband had threatened physical abuse in the past but had not followed through. This time, he did.

When Carol left the domestic violence shelter, she had nowhere to go. Homeless and frightened, she entered St. Margaret of Cortona Transitional Residences, a program of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington (CCDA). Pregnant and desperate, she needed help with housing, counseling and even custody. While she was in the domestic violence shelter, her husband refused her visitation with her oldest daughter and told the daughter terrible things about her mother. He continued to threaten her and even tried to force her to surrender to him a car she bought in her own name.

St. Margaret’s obtained a pro-bono attorney for Carol, and together they fought for custody. Carol was successful in her fight and obtained full custody of both girls. St. Margaret’s also offered filial therapy to help heal the parent/child relationship with the oldest daughter and provided employment and life skills support to Carol to help her gain financial stability and confidence as a single head of household. The years of abuse had taken their toll, and Carol experienced significant anxiety about her future.

Today, Carol lives in her own home with her children. She works, drives her own car, shops for groceries with her girls and has reconnected with her family. Her ex-husband has visitation, and she has to face him during the custody exchanges, but she is making it on her own.

In 2009, St. Margaret of Cortona started collecting data on domestic violence. Since that time, 47 percent of clients have reported some exposure to domestic violence at program entry. Half of those reporting incidents state that the domestic violence occurred within the last six months and was a contributor to becoming homeless. From experience, the staff at St. Margaret of Cortona believes these numbers are on the low side. As St. Margaret’s staff works with the women and children, and trust develops between the case manager and the client, their backstories begin to disclose pervasive evidence of physical, emotional and financial abuse.

Nationally, across the United States, one out of four women and one in seven men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime (Centers for Disease Control). On average in the United States, three women die every day at the hands of an abusive partner or ex-partner. One in six women reports the first instance of physical violence occurred during pregnancy, and 38 percent of pregnant teens report being physically abused.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Wear purple to show support for victims and survivors. Pray for those still experiencing abuse, as well as those recovering from abuse. Hold on to hope for the children growing up in violent homes that they will not become the next generation stuck in a horrifying cycle of control and abuse.

Perhaps most importantly, learn the resources available in your community. Is there a domestic violence shelter in your county? Is there a hotline number you can provide to a woman in trouble? Below are additional statistics on domestic violence and national resources.

Statistics:

  • Domestic violence (which some also call Intimate Partner Violence, or IPV) is a pattern of behaviors used by one person to maintain power and control over another in an intimate relationship.
  • It includes physical, sexual, psychological, emotional and financial abuse. It may also include stalking.
  • Domestic violence-related homicide is the second leading cause of death for pregnant women (after car accidents).
  • Respect her choice to leave or stay. Keep in mind that between 50-70 percent of domestic violence-related homicides occur after the woman leaves. When he tells her, “I will kill you if you leave me,” he means it. She may choose to stay in the relationship in order to stay alive.

Resources:

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: (800) 799-7233 | (800) 787-3224 (TTY). thehotline.org.
  • National Center to End Domestic Violence: ncadv.org.
  • Learn what DV shelters are in your area—or what DV shelters are closest to you.
  • Catholic Church—“When I Call for Help” by usccb.org/domestic-violence.

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