Domestic violence, according to FBI crime statistics, occurs every 18 seconds in the USA. One reliable statistic indicates that 1.5 million or more women and over 830,000 men are seriously injured every year. Twenty nine percent of women murdered in 1992, for example, were murdered by their boyfriends or husbands. Domestic violence is defined by the state of Michigan Batterer Intervention Stand as follows:
"Domestic violence (DV) is a pattern of controlling behaviors, some of which are criminal, that includes, but is not limited to physical assaults, sexual assaults, emotional abuse, isolation, economic coercion, threats, stalking and intimidation. These behaviors are used by the batterer in order to control behavior of the intimate partner. The behavior may be directed at others with the effect of controlling the intimate partner."
Michigan law indicates that the DV occurs when an abuser has caused physical or mental harm to a family or household member, placing a family member in fear or, attempting to cause a family member to engage in involuntary sexual acts. A household member can be spouse or former spouse, a person who resides or has lived in the same household, a dating partner, a former partner or a partner with whom a child is shared or a minor child. The actual behaviors may include screaming, hitting, close monitoring or following of a partner’s activities, biting, rape or assault using a weapon. While two such DV offenses are probably going to be considered misdemeanors, a third offense is considered a felony, though my reading of the law indicates the penalty does vary according to the severity of the act by the offending spouse or partner.
Research in the area of domestic violence indicates that serious psychological effects follow such acts and these are not limited to the partner that is directly involved. The effects on children who witness DV at home will differ with the age of the child and their level of sophistication. At least one study indicates that children under five are more likely to be exposed to multiple incidents of domestic violence. Moreover, some children place 911 calls and some children are “blamed” for the incident by adults. Children who witness or are involved in DV are also psychologically tormented by such behavior and may develop Acute Stress Disorder or Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Symptoms may include an intense startle response, significant increase in behavior problems, sleep problems, lower grades and low self esteem to name a few.
There are domestic violence shelters for family members that have been victims of abuse. Safety is always a concern and individuals who are victims will likely need to develop a safety plan. I recommend thorough psychological assessment and counseling for both the partner and the children and strongly encourage involvement of the victim in a psycho-educational program focusing specifically dealing with domestic assault. I am often asked if offenders can be treated and the answer is a definitive “it is possible.” My treatment of choice for offenders also includes a thorough assessment in addition to a combination of group and individual counseling focusing on anger management. Additionally treatment of offenders may need to include involvement in a drug or alcohol program such as NA or AA or psychiatric intervention.