Most little girls grow up watching the movies and reading the stories of faraway princes and princesses which all end with happily ever after. That becomes a goal and a dream and one that everyone deserves to have come true. However, sometimes once the cameras stop rolling the frog you thought turned into a prince turns back into a frog! Life is stressful, relationships are hard and as adults we all know that fairy tales are somewhat simplified.
There are also relationships where the frog turns into a monster and the women or children around him are questioning if they are victims of domestic violence. Often the beginning is subtle, the abuse isn’t physical and certainly there are no visible scars. There is a saying that you never know what goes on behind closed doors and never is that more true than when dealing with domestic abuse of any kind. A family unit should be the safest place for women and children and yet the statistics are terrifying when it comes to the numbers harmed by abuse of all kinds on a yearly basis both in Australia and worldwide.
It is an issue affecting all cultures, ages, religions and backgrounds. No group is exempt. One of the biggest problems is recognising the warning signs which exist for all forms of domestic violence. There are however red flags which if noticed by the person involved early can be acted on and save them and their families many years of pain. Here are some common early warning signs which are by no means exhaustive.
PHYSICAL ABUSE: It is rare for this to begin with physical violence and if it does it is likely to be a more gentle form such as pushing or shoving during an argument. You may also notice that your partner has an unpredictable temper and displays aggression to objects in his way such as throwing chairs or punching walls. It can also begin with threats of violence or physically blocking you from leaving during a disagreement. Even if this violence does escalate, it will often not leave a scar and will be something that you can explain away eg: you fell down some stairs or walked into a door.
EMOTIONAL / PSYCHOLOHICAL ABUSE: Whilst this form of abuse is subtler than physical abuse it is no less harmful and needs to be taken seriously. It is generally defined as a partner controlling your behaviour in order that everything is the way they like it. If you are living with fear of how your partner will react to certain situations or feel they are keeping tabs on where you are, who you are with and what you are doing, there may be a cause for concern. You may become aware that your personality is changing or that you are behaving or dressing differently from what you would choose for yourself. Your partner may express jealousy of you spending time with other people. If you feel that your self-worth or esteem is being damaged or that you are becoming more anxious than you were before, these could also be indicators that you need to seek help.
FINANCIAL ABUSE: Whilst this is another form of control, this can be very isolating. This may take the form of your partner expressing a strong opinion that you should/ n’t work and how responsible you should be for providing for your family. There are 2 extremes that are occur most commonly. The one is when every asset, debt and account is in your name which means that you are fully financially responsible for your partner. This most commonly occurs when your partner is financially irresponsible and may have issues with gambling, alcohol or drugs. The other is that you have no financial independence at all. There are no assets in your name, everything you spend is given to you and monitored or you are not allowed to own a credit card. This would mean that if you decided to leave or end the relationship you would have no money or resources with which to start a new life. The early warning signs for this can be very subtle but if you are noticing a control that seems abnormal with regard to your spending or earning you may need to put provisions in place to ensure your financial security.
SEXUAL ABUSE: What goes on in the bedroom is private between partners and should stay that way. However, the bedroom should always be a place that women feel safe and comfortable. If you are finding that you partner is criticising your body or sexual abilities, that should cause alarm bells to ring. Also remember that if you are being forced into sex acts at any time or to be involved in role plays or positions in the bedroom that you are not comfortable with, it is ok to say no. If you are worried as to what the reaction may be, that can be an indicator of sexual abuse.
If these warning signs apply to you and your family, the question going through your mind is probably “Now what?” The answer to that depends on a range of factors but here are some ideas which can help you to plan a way forward.
FIND SOMEONE TO TALK TO: It is important to tell someone what you are thinking and feeling and what you are afraid of. The right person may be a family member or close friend that you trust. It should be someone that you have confidence won’t discuss your concerns with your partner. If there is no family member or friend that you can think of, go and visit your GP. They are required to keep what you say confidential unless there are signs of danger and they will be able to advise you on other places where you can find advice and support. There are also many helplines for people suffering from abuse which are easy to look up. They are incredible resources and are experienced at dealing with these issues. Whoever you choose, you should come away from the conversation feeling better and not worse or as if someone is judging you.
KEEP A RECORD: If you are unsure as to whether there is a pattern to your partner’s behaviour or as to whether your concerns are valid, it can be helpful to keep a record of the incidents that occur. Set yourself a timeframe eg: 2 weeks or a month and document any time you feel concerned that abuse is happening. At the end of the period read through what you have written and it should help you find some clarity. DO NOT throw these notes away as if later there are any formal investigations, they can be very useful.
GOING TO THE POLICE: If there is violence within your home, however insignificant you have told yourself it is, you can consider calling the police. The police are used to dealing with family violence and will facilitate you being able to get the help you need. If a restraining order is warranted, they will help you to put that in place as well.
PLAN PLAN PLAN: It is never simple to leave once you are in the middle of these relationships. However, it doesn’t hurt to plan an exit strategy for if you need it. This can include researching alternative accommodation whether with someone you know or by finding a local shelter. Think through what you would need if you left including cash and important documents such as your children’s birth certificates or your passports. It can be an idea to have these in a readily accessible place that you can get them in a hurry if you need to. It is also important that your children know who to call and what to say in an emergency. This doesn’t have to be done in a scary way but it is important they know what number to call for help; the correct address and when is appropriate to call.
If there is anything you have read in this article which has made you wonder if this applies to you, please don’t suffer in silence. Look for someone to confide in, if the first person doesn’t take you seriously, keep trying. You are not alone, it isn’t your fault and there are options.