Domestic Abuse and Violence: Epidemic Proportions or Under the Covers? ~ Stephen H. Hamel, Ph.D., ABPP

The bubble bursts when shocking stories of famous people become public knowledge. Such is the recent case of Ray Rice, the hero professional football player for the Baltimore Ravens. Unedited, raw footage of his physical abuse of his then-girlfriend went viral over the internet. Now the king of the mountain is reduced to a bully and a domestic abuser.

This savage act of physical violence against an intimate partner is unfortunately more common than you think and is often silenced. It seems to be only made public when a figure of notoriety is involved. We must recognize, however, that it should not require the behavior of a “national hero” to evidence the fact that domestic violence has been and continues to be a significant societal issue that etches away at the very core of mutual respect and family love. It further undermines, impedes and destroys the dignity, self-esteem and psychological status of the abused.

Let’s first look at the shocking statistics that are published by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence as well as a recent article in the Washington Post.

  • More than 30% of women are physically abused by an intimate partner at some point in their lives
  • 85% of victims of domestic violence are women
  • More than 3 million children are witnesses of acts of domestic violence in their homes with serious consequences
  • Sadly, most of the cases of domestic violence are never reported to the authorities. The problem is frequently overlooked, excused or even denied.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in their “Pastoral response to domestic violence against women,” cites that greater than 50% of men who abuse their wives also physically abuse their children. It has been found that children who witness such atrocious acts grow up having alcohol and drug addiction problems as well as become physical abusers themselves. Further, it is observed that acts of domestic violence are transgenerational-found in succeeding generations.

Domestic abuse and domestic violence are terms frequently interconnected. Domestic abuse that involves physical violence is constituted domestic violence. Actually, domestic abuse often escalates from verbal abuse and threats to actual physical violence. It is very clear that no one should have to live under the fear of the person with whom they supposedly love.

It is interesting to note that when people think of domestic abuse they immediately associate it with physical violence-a battered woman who has been assaulted. It should also be noted that abuse comes in a variety of other forms. The base of this abuse is the desire to primarily gain control and mastery of another.  The abusers utilize a variety of tactics to accomplish this purpose such as dominance, humiliation, isolation, threatening, intimidation and of course denial and blame.

The United States Conference on Catholic Bishops views “violence in any form (physical, sexual, psychological or even verbal) as sinful as well as a crime.” Thus, violence against anyone is a contradiction of the Christian view of treating the person as “someone worthy of love.”

Domestic abuse may take the form of verbal abuse, sexual abuse, psychological and emotional abuse, economic abuse, social abuse and perhaps a variation of many more. This type of abuse also has serious consequences such as working on destroying the person’s self-worth and fostering feelings of helplessness, abandonment and the inability to make healthy decisions.

It is found, however, that domestic violence is often hidden as people certainly outside of the family are reluctant to get involved and intervene. Further, family members are known to even deny that the abuse actually occurred. It informs us that we need to recognize even the subtle signs of domestic abuse and take a proactive stance in helping with the epidemic problem. Further, it is necessary to work harder in developing greater public awareness of this out-of- control problem as well as further developing preventative programming to stem this already tragic societal issue.

What are some of the characteristics and signs that you are in an abusive relationship? (source:

  • You are afraid of your partner
  • You feel that you have to walk on eggshells and cannot bring up certain topics, lest there be an altercation
  • You feel belittled and controlled
  • You feel helpless and have become numb
  • You are worried that your partner will hurt or take away your children
  • Your partner threatens you with suicide if you leave
  • You are humiliated by your partner and embarrassed among family and friends
  • Your partner ignores your opinion and puts you down
  • Your partner is excessively jealous and possessive
  • Your partner limits you access to money, telephone, car and friends
  • Your partner constantly checks on you

It is important that you attempt, when appropriate, to assist the abused person but not to take responsibility. Some suggestions include:

  • be nonjudgmental and supportive of the individual
  • listen sincerely, express concern, and validate the person’s feelings
  • help the individual to establish a safety plan for him/herself and children
  • encourage and support attempts to utilize all available and appropriate resources, realizing you cannot, yourself, solve their problems such as:

– hotlines
– shelters
– contacting appropriate authorities
– medical and therapeutic services

Below is a partial list of some of the appropriate phone and online services for victims of domestic abuse and violence. This list is not exhaustive but is merely suggested areas to begin to seek assistance.