Who Does Domestic Violence Affect?

One in every four women and one out of every seven men have experienced severe physical violence from an intimate partner at some point in their lifetimes.1

It doesn’t matter how long a couple has been together, how successful one or both of the partners is or how loving the relationship used to be, domestic violence can happen to anyone. It can span age, sexual orientation, religion and gender, and affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels. It can happen in opposite-sex and same-sex relationships and can happen to intimate partners who are married, living together, dating or somehow estranged. A person does not have to be married to be experiencing domestic violence.

Domestic violence also has a substantial effect on family members, especially children. Understanding domestic violence and being able to support survivors can also impact the 15.5 million children who are exposed to violence in the home each year.2

Each child is unique and may respond differently to the abuse, but there are common short and long-term effects that can impact a child’s day-to-day functioning. Short-term effects can include academic and behavioral problems, sleep disturbances and/or difficulty concentrating. Long-lasting effects can persist even after a child has grown up, like difficulty trusting others and establishing relationships or ongoing depression. For more information on how domestic violence can affect children and how to break the cycle, click here.3

It can be difficult to know if a loved one is being abused—or in some cases, abusing others. It is natural for family members, friends, co-workers and bystanders to want to help a survivor leave the abuser, which can take an emotional toll. However, we must consider that even though we would like our loved one to end the abusive relationship, he or she may not be ready and may be afraid of the consequences of leaving the perpetrator. It can be challenging to understand why the person decides to stay with the abuser, but it is important to let her or him make that decision. 

Many reasons can contribute to a person deciding to stay in a relationship. If the person is in love with the abuser, he or she may hold hope that the abuser will change. This can be especially true if there were once good times in the relationship. A survivor may long to have them back and feel that with time, things will get better. A person may also be in denial of the situation and may minimize or attribute the abuse to something he or she did wrong. The fact is that there is no reason for the abuse, despite how a person may have contributed to the conflict.  

When children are involved a survivor may decide to stay for the sake of the children.  It is common for a mother to feel that it is more important for the children to continue having a father figure in their lives.  However, continued exposure to violence can place the children at a much greater risk of being abused themselves and/or experiencing direct effects from the abuse.  Also, if a person has a limited support system it may be frightening to break up the family they do have and may also experience guilt about conceiving these thoughts.

Although it is estimated that one in every four women will experience domestic violence within her lifetime, most incidents are never reported to the police. People may not report these incidents for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Financial dependency
  • Shared space
  • Protecting children
  • Emotional attachment
  • Shame
  • Fear of being hurt further and/or being killed
  • Unaware that they have rights, especially if the survivor’s immigration status is illegal

Financial dependence and immigration status are also reasons that can contribute to a person’s decision to stay in an abusive relationship. Not knowing one has rights regardless of immigration status can change a person’s outlook and create a sense of hopelessness.

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It is important to note that over recent years the scope of domestic violence and its impacts have become better understood and acknowledged by society. Though the pace of change has not yet caught up to the quantity of abusive incidents, the overarching shift in mentality and understanding of domestic violence has greatly improved. Each state has acknowledged this is not just a family issue, but a crime and a significant legal and public health problem. They have helped bring awareness to domestic violence by putting laws on the book that make it illegal in every state to abuse a spouse or family member. Continuing down this path of acknowledgment will ensure that fewer people are affected by violence in the future, and help bring healing to those who have survived.

Next section: Know the signs

Previous section: What are the roots of domestic violence?

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Summary Report," (2013). www.cdc.gov.

2 McDonald, Renee, Jouriles, Ernest N, Ramisetty-Miklet, Suhasini, et al. "Estimating the Number of American Children Living in Partner-Violent Families," Journal of Family Psychology 20(1) (2006): 137-142.

3 United States Department of Justice, “Domestic Violence,” (2013). www.ovw.usdoj.gov.

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