Domestic violence, which is also classified as intimate partner violence, can occur at the hands of current or former spouses and dating partners. It can include physical violence, including sexual assault, as well as emotional abuse and manipulation. According to the United Nations, as many as 35% of women said they have experienced some form of domestic violence in their lifetimes. In Canada, reports of domestic violence accounted for more than 29% (over one quarter) of all reports of violent crime, with 65% of those victims being women. Overall, fewer than 1 in 5 Canadians will report this type of violent crime to authorities.
Because domestic violence is something that is so often underreported, it’s important to know and be able to recognize the warning signs in someone who may be the victim of abuse. First, it’s not always the physical abuse that begins. Along with causing physical injuries, domestic violence is also about having control over someone’s every move – from who they speak to, where they go, how much money they spend, what they buy, and the things they think and feel. One of the earliest warning signs in someone who may be the victim of domestic violence is if they have been cut off from friends and family members – i.e. sending less e-mails or text messages, infrequent phone calls, as well as less in-person visits or making up excuses to not attend certain social functions and family gatherings. Once they have been cut off from their loved ones, that is when the domestic violence tends to increase. It can also be difficult for the victim to actually see themselves as one, but that often stems from a place of fear – and that fear then extends into being unable to communicate with your partner (or others) in a healthy way. As mentioned, domestic violence isn’t always just about harming someone physically. You can also be the victim of domestic violence if your partner repeatedly criticizes you, constantly accuses you of things you didn’t do (i.e. having an affair, spending money, etc.), tells you what to wear, raises their voice and speaks to you in a tone of anger, or if they threaten to hurt you or someone close to you. When physical violence does become involved, in can include everything from pushing, punching, kicking, pulling hair, as well as the use of weapons, or forcing you into having sex. Furthermore, it can also lead to an increased risk of homicide.
Victims of this kind of violence will often try to hide their injuries or may even find excuses for them. For example, if someone were to point out a bruise on someone’s arm, they may equate it to a fall or bumping their arm on something. They may also use things like makeup or long-sleeved clothing to cover up the bruises – and oftentimes the clothing their wear may be out of season. For example, wearing a sweater in the summertime. Personality changes also happen, such as low self-esteem, anxiety, and having the constant need to check in with their partner to let them know where they are at all times.
In addition to physical injuries, domestic violence can have a number of different health effects on individuals. The effects commonly recognized by family physicians like Dr. Ghahary and other healthcare professionals include but aren’t limited to problems with sleep, poor eating habits, gastrointestinal problems, chronic pain, as well as psychosomatic symptoms. In addition, domestic violence can also lead to problems with mental health, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.
As difficult as it can sometimes be to come forward if you are the victim of domestic violence, you still need to be aware of the fact that there is help available, and if you or someone you know is in immediate danger then it’s always recommended that you call 911. In Canada, Victims Services offers Province-wide help, and you can find a lengthy list of what’s available in your local area by clicking here. You can also find a list of other providers offering help via www.endingviolencecanada.org, including information on 24-hour phone lines that can connect you with a support worker. You can also ask your doctor to assist you in obtaining different resources and referrals that can be of benefit to you, whether it be counselling services or information on shelters.