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Domestic violence is a "pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.” (Source: Office on Violence Against Women.) This may include physical violence, emotional and mental abuse, and sexual abuse/violence. One in four women have experienced some form of domestic violence in their lifetime. This breaks down to an estimate of between 960,000 to 3 million incidences of violence against a spouse or former spouse, girlfriend or boyfriend. 85 percent of victims are women and 15 percent are men, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief, Intimate Partner Violence. The reason for the large difference between estimates is because so many cases of domestic violence goes unreported. For this reason, the precise figures are very difficult to determine.

There are many different psychological theories as to what causes domestic violence. Professionals consider the perpetrator’s personality and mental traits, as well as external factors such as family stress and the environment in which they’re raised. As with so many other things regarding the human experience, there does not seem to be any one specific factor that causes domestic violence. Some studies suggest that experiences throughout an individual’s life may cause a propensity towards domestic violence (and this includes as both a perpetrator or victim.) People who experienced abuse themselves as children, or who witnessed their parents abusing each other, sometimes become abusers in their adulthood. The effects of domestic violence are many and so varied: problems in school, aggression and other behavior problems, depression, fear, feelings of guilt, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, insomnia, irritability, low self-esteem, nightmares, numbing of feelings, posttraumatic stress disorder, social problems, suicidal behaviors, alcoholism, substance abuse and withdrawal from society. There are no simple answers, but empowering women so that they do not get caught up in the cycle of abuse and feel they have choices is a place to start. If you, or someone you know, is in an abusive relationship, and you don’t know where to go for help, please see our section “Empowering Women” for a list of hotline crisis center phone numbers.


 


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