Trauma is the response to a sudden, unexpected, threatening event that evokes intense fear, helplessness, or horror-often accompanied by physical symptoms. The response of the individual to an event is what determines whether it is traumatic—not the nature of the event itself.
Domestic violence is the physical, emotional, or sexual harm inflicted by one person on another, usually in a marriage, partner or dating relationship. Most cases involve abuse from men towards women, although women can inflict harm upon men as well. Domestic violence is used to gain control over another person. This type of violence can greatly affect the direct victim and any children or bystanders who witness the abuse.
Any hurtful or unwanted behavior inflicted upon you can be classified as abusive and there are ways to see the signs of domestic violence and get help. It is important to remember that domestic violence is not the fault of the victim. It is possible to be a survivor by relying on personal strength, courage and the help of others.
Statistics on Domestic Violence (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence)
- 25% of women have experienced domestic violence in their lifetime
- 85% of domestic violence victims are women
- An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner every year in the US.
- Females who are 20-24 are at greatest risk for nonfatal intimate partner violence.
- According to the U.S. Department of Justice 835,000 men are physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually in the United States.
Signs of Domestic Violence
Being afraid of your partner is the number one sign that you are in a domestic violence situation. It is helpful to ask yourself the questions below in order to get a clearer picture of what a violent relationship can look like. If you find that you feel most of the emotions listed below, you could be in a violent intimate partner relationship and at risk for greater harm.
Am I ?
- Nervous about how my partner will act or react in certain situations?
- Afraid of my partner most of the time?
- Feeling like there is nothing I can do right for my partner?
- Feeling like I deserve to be mistreated and that it is my fault?
- Feeling helpless or emotionally numb?
- Always doing what my partner wants me to do, instead of what I want to do?
- Constantly making excuses for my partner’s behavior?
Does my partner ?
- Threaten or yell at me and make me afraid for my safety?
- Prevent me from going to school or work?
- Show jealousy towards my other relationships including friends, family, and/or co-workers?
- Kick, hit, slap, push or physically harm me?
- Pressure me sexually to do things I don’t want to do?
- Not see me as a person, but as a piece of property?
- Intimidate me and make me stay even thought I don’t want to?
The Domestic Violence Cycle
Domestic violence usually falls into a specific pattern that repeats itself and does not change. The cycle below is a guide of the phases an abusive relationship may go through, and the behaviors abusers use to gain control in the relationship. It is important to know that the pattern seen below is never-ending, and if the cycle does not stop it will continue to repeat itself.
Does your relationship look or feel like this?
*The above center wheel was received from HelpGuide.org, an online trusted non-profit resource for information.
Emotional abuse involves constantly embarrassing, criticizing, or putting you down verbally. An abuser will take advantage of your emotional state in order to control you, your mind, and eventually tear down how you feel about yourself. If you are suffering from emotional abuse over time you may begin to believe you are worthless, but you are not. It is important to understand that this is another form of abuse that is used to control you.
- Emotional abuse can be just as bad as physical abuse and is a way for someone to break down your self-worth and self-esteem.
- It involves verbal yelling, humiliation, insults and constant put downs, often in front of others.
- Emotional abuse involves intimidating you, threatening you, and talking you into something you do not want to do.
- It involves controlling your money, credit cards, or savings.
What you can do
- Remind yourself that it is not your fault.
- Make your friends, family, or co-workers aware of what is going on so that you may build a strong support system.
- Document incidents and feelings in a journal in order to process your emotions.
- Practice self care: Make sure you are eating, sleeping and maintaining a sense of daily routine in order to stay grounded.
- Obtain counseling services to give you support, guidance and resources.
- Consider joining a local support group.
- Call 911 if you are in a dangerous situation with your abuser.
- Make a Safety Plan
- Decide where you will go and who you will call if you find yourself in a dangerous situation.
- Plan how you will leave your home if you are in danger.
- Pack a bag with your identification and extra clothes in case you have to escape a dangerous situation quickly.
Children and Domestic Violence
Children who witness domestic violence can develop behavioral and emotional issues based on their age, sex, and role in the family. Often children will feel guilty, thinking they are the cause of the violent behavior. Many children can carry these emotional feelings with them throughout their lives. It is common for children to begin to act quieter, more to themselves, and not express their feelings because they feel this will help protect the victim. They may also act out more and get in trouble at home and school.
Children and teens can experience problems in the way they act, feel, behave and relate to others
- Frequently tired and sluggish
- Stomachaches or headaches
- Short attention span
- Often ill or sick
- Eating problems
- Anger and depression
- Guilt and feeling responsible for the abuse
- Shame and Embarrassment
- Confusion about feelings towards parents
- Bedwetting or having nightmares
- Refusing to go to school or learning problems
- Acting out and getting in trouble
- Becoming very involved in extracurricular activities to avoid going home
- Isolation from friends and family
- Trouble forming relationships and keeping friends
- Poor coping and anger management skills
What parents can do
- Talk to your children in order to make them feel comfortable and safe.
- Allow your children to express their feelings.
- Set rules and be sure to enforce them consistently.
- Keep yourself healthy so that you may serve as a role model for your children.
- Give affection and encouragement to your children.
- Show interest in your child’s life by attending school activities, asking if they need help with homework, and supporting their extracurricular activities
Domestic Violence Resources
If you or someone you know needs immediate help
DC SAFE provides emergency services for survivors of intimate partner violence, including help with safety needs, Temporary Protection Orders (TPO’s), emergency shelter and support with the legal process.
The Domestic Violence Intake Centers are open Monday through Friday, (except holidays) between 8 am–4 pm, and are located at:
DC Superior Court
500 Indiana Avenue, NW, Suite 4235
Greater Southeast Community Hospital
1328 Southern Avenue, SE, Suite 311
National Domestic Violence Hotline
24-hour assistance for shelter, counseling programs, and resources across the country – 800-799-SAFE (7223)
Survivors of rape are faced not only with the emotional and physical effects of a violent crime, but also with many mis-perceptions that society and even close friends or family members may have about sexual assault. Our culture tends to blame the victim, which leads to a sense of shame and very high rates of under-reporting.
Sexual assault is a criminal act of violence. At the Wendt Center, we view sexual assault as a broad term for unwanted sexual contact including rape, date rape, acquaintance rape, sexual abuse, incest, marital rape, childhood sexual abuse, molestation, or any other unwanted sexual contact. No matter what name you give it, sexual assault is a crime that leaves a lasting effect on those it impacts.
Survivors of sexual assault are faced not only with the emotional and physical effects of a violent crime, but also with many misperceptions that society and even close friends or family members may have about sexual assault. The result is often a feeling that you are alone and no one understands. However, according to the Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN):
- Every 2 minutes, a woman in America is sexually assaulted
- Roughly 2/3 of all survivors know their attacker
- 60% of survivors will never tell anyone
- 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse
- 1 in every ten rape victims are male
- 2.78 million men in the U.S. have been victims of sexual assault or rape
If you need immediate help consider calling this 24 hour hotline: 202-333-RAPE (7273) at the DC Rape Crisis Center
Adult Sexual Assault Survivors
Statistics on Sexual Assault (DC Rape Crisis Center)
- 77% of survivors know their attacker
- 84% of rapes go unreported to the authorities
- 46% of acquaintance rape survivors and 27% of stranger rape survivors never tell anyone
- 1 in 7 married women will be raped by her husband at some point
In reality, rape is not a crime of passion and is not driven by the perpetrator’s sexual desire. Rape is about domination and control, about the perpetrator’s need to overpower another human being. Therefore, regardless of what you were wearing, how you were acting, or how much you were drinking or using drugs, rape is not your fault.
Survivors pay a steep price for the perpetrator’s crime. They experience significant feelings of loss in many areas of their lives – loss of control, loss of self, loss of security, loss of sexual interest, comfort or desire. Individual survivors of rape experience many different emotions and reactions and have different ways of coping. Many survivors find it comforting, however, to learn about common reactions, and to know that they are not alone.
Because rape is an emotional and physical trauma, many survivors experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress. These symptoms are usually grouped into three broad categories:
- Intrusions, such as flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive thoughts
- Avoidance of situations, people or places that bring on the intrusions
- Hyperarousal, including hypervigilance, sleeplessness, and increased startle response (“jumpiness”)
The following list provides a more specific and comprehensive picture of common psychological and behavioral reactions.
You may feel
- Guilty, as if you did something to deserve to be raped (dressed provocatively, drank too much, acted recklessly, etc.)
- An overwhelming sense of anger, at the rapist, at yourself, at the world, at God
- As if you have no control over your life
- Terrified that you will be raped again
- Generally afraid of being alone.
- A need to avoid anything that reminds you of the assault, including talking about it
- Loss of trust, especially if you were raped by someone you know
- Constantly intruded upon by thoughts, flashbacks and nightmares of the assault
- Lack of interest in or fear of sexual intimacy
What you can do
- Repeatedly remind yourself that this was not your fault.
- Reach out to organizations like the DC Rape Crisis Center (DCRCC) or the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). They can provide you with information about the legal reporting process and medical care, including sexual assault “kits”. They also have 24-hour phone or online counseling services and can help you find a long-term counselor.
- Seek help from a mental health professional
- Consider joining a support group for survivors
- Reach out to friends and family who make you feel supported, loved and heard
- Limit your time with people who are emotionally demanding or only contact you when they need something. Consider ending or pausing relationships with people who are judgmental or don’t believe you.
- Take care of yourself. Pay special attention to your eating, sleeping and exercise habits. Maintaining a positive daily routine can help you feel more in control.
- Consider keeping a journal to help process your emotions
- Utilize your spiritual side. Prayer, meditation, visualization and engaging in your religious or spiritual community can often feel strengthening and restorative.
Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse
Many of the effects of child sexual abuse can carry over well into adulthood. The psychological world created by the abuser, in which the child is not allowed to tell anyone and often feels responsible for the abuse, often leads to intense emotional withdrawal, shame, guilt and mistrust. The survivor often experiences a major loss as a result of the abuse – loss of the ability to form strong, positive relationships with others. Nonetheless, many survivors of child sexual abuse are able to heal and live the kind of lives they want to live. The following lists represent common reactions experienced by adult survivors of child sexual abuse, as well as coping strategies to help the healing process.
You may experience
- Extreme difficulty trusting others and trusting in yourself
- Trouble forming strong relationships with others
- A tendency to be controlled and abused in relationships, or to be controlling and abusive yourself
- Sexual difficulties, anywhere from promiscuity to avoiding sex altogether
- Frequent feelings of anger that are difficult to explain
- Trouble concentrating, focusing and/or remembering things
- Recurrent episodes of “zoning out” or feeling “out of body”
- Symptoms of depression. Depression is the most common symptom in survivors of child sexual abuse.
- Constant fear and anxiety. Research shows that survivors of sexual abuse are up to five times more likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, most likely as a result of always being on guard as a child.
- Triggers that remind you of the abuse, whether it is something obvious like sexual contact, or something more subtle, like a certain sound, smell or color that reminds you of the abusive environment.
- Eating problems, including restricting, bingeing and pursing
- Other self-harm behaviors, like cutting or burning
- Thoughts of death and dying
What you can do
- Be patient with yourself. Know that there is no quick fix for what you have endured, but also remember that it is possible to heal
- Seek help from a mental health professional who is experienced in working with sexual trauma.
- Consider joining a support group for Child Sexual Abuse survivors
- If you are not ready for counseling, consider calling a hotline for survivors, such as the DC Rape Crisis Center (202-333-RAPE) or the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN; 1-800-656-HOPE FREE or online).
- Consider keeping a journal to help process your feelings about your childhood abuse
- Evaluate your relationships with others. Consider changing or letting go of relationships in which you feel used, abused, invalidated or not heard.
- Only when you feel ready, think about ways to empower yourself by turning your experience into something positive. Some ideas include getting involved as a volunteer sexual assault counselor, raising money for the cause, or simply correcting misconceptions and misinformation when you hear it.
Children Experiencing Sexual Abuse
Child sexual abuse can be defined as any sexual contact between a child and a person older than they are, usually an adolescent or adult. This includes touching, fondling, flashing, forced viewing of pornography, and prostitution, as well as any sexual act. Sexual abuse is very common in the United States. According to the DC Rape Crisis Center, one in three girls and one in six boys is abused before age 18, with the median age for abuse at just nine years old.
Child victims almost always know their abuser. According to the National Center for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, 30% of child sex abusers are family members, 60% are known to the child in some other way (e.g., a babysitter, coach or teacher), and the remaining 10% are strangers. Abusers are most often men, regardless of the sex of the victim; women are the perpetrators in only 14% of sexual abuse cases. The violation is often ongoing and habitual, though it can certainly be isolated to a single encounter and still have devastating effects. There are many emotional and psychological losses associated with child sexual abuse, and they often carry into adulthood (see below).
It can be difficult to know when a child is being sexually abused. Perpetrators typically create an isolated, secretive world in order to maintain the abusive relationship – the child is either manipulated or intimidated into keeping it a secret. Because the abuser is often an authority figure of some kind, children can feel that they are being punished for doing something bad.
The following is a list of possible indicators of child sexual abuse
- Emotional isolation or withdrawal
- Behavior changes, such as acting out in school
- Changing or dropping friends
- Sleep disturbances – both sleeping a lot and trouble sleeping
- Nightmares or bed-wetting
- Change in eating habits
- Increased clinginess
- Sudden fear of a certain person, place or activity
- Fascination with sex at a very young age
- Physical discomfort in the private areas – itching, bleeding rawness
- Self-harm behaviors, such as cutting
It is important to note that many of the symptoms listed above, such as irritability and behavior change, are indicators that anything could be wrong with your child, not just sexual abuse. It is important to have a non-threatening and open conversation with her and try to establish the root of the problems. Many children fear that no one will believe them and have internalized the abuse as their fault or something they deserved. It is important to emphasize that you will believe your child and take what he says seriously. If he discloses the abuse, stress that it is not his fault and that you are proud of him for telling you. The following is a list of suggestions for what to do if a child you love has been sexually abused.
What you can do
- Remember that it is possible for your child to heal from this, especially with your help.
- Seek out a child advocacy center in your area that is experienced and skilled at interviewing families who are reporting child sexual abuse. For a list of centers, please visit the National Children’s Alliance.
- Take your child to see a mental health professional who is experienced in working with child sexual abuse survivors. Play therapy, sand-tray therapy and art therapy are commonly used techniques in the healing process.
- If you are one of the abused child’s primary caregivers, be sure to get support for yourself as well as the child. Often the best predictor of a child’s resiliency from sexual abuse is the quality of primary care, so it is important for you to take care of yourself.
- Do not downplay the abuse to the child, even though you may wish for your child that it wasn’t as bad as it seems. It is important to send the message that any type of abuse is unacceptable and that you will always take it seriously.
- It is natural to feel a sense of protectiveness after learning that your child has been sexually abused. Try to manage your overprotective instincts, so that your child does not pick up on your fear. This could increase her overall sense of anxiety.
Military and Loss
Trauma and Service Members Returning Home after Deployment
Upon returning home from a war zone, you may notice that you feel differently from how you did before.
- You have seen and experienced a lot, and upon returning home it is normal to notice changes in yourself. Things that you used to enjoy before may not be as pleasurable to you anymore, and you may notice yourself seeking out new activities and support systems. It may seem like everything around you stayed the same, but you no longer understand how to fit into your home environment, and you may notice that your friends and family members don’t seem to understand what you’re going through.
- Try to help your family and friends understand that you need time to readjust to your lifestyle at home. Others might not understand why you have changed or that you are having difficulty getting back to your old self again. You have experienced so many new things that it might not be possible to find your old sense of normal again, but rather to find a way to understand yourself by including and incorporating what you have been through into a new way of living.
- You might find it tempting to look for ways to lessen the stress of having to adjust to being back home after a deployment and coping with the thoughts and feelings you are having, such as through drinking or taking drugs. Although it might seem like these ways of coping are helping you, they are only making things worse. Alcohol and drugs cannot solve problems, they can only numb or minimize the pain until you are sober. If you find yourself drinking more or taking drugs, find a professional who can help you develop healthy ways of handling your thoughts or experiences.
- You might be afraid of appearing weak or be afraid of others finding out, but a professional can help you take back control over your thoughts and behaviors without risking things getting worse. Most of what you talk about with a therapist will be kept confidential. Remember that it’s okay to ask for help. You have been through things that many others might not understand, and seeking support is an important way to ensure that you are able to manage things in a healthy way.
For more information on PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), Combat Stress, and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), please look at the Online Resources section of this web site.
Incarceration and Loss
Contrary to popular thought, when a loved one is incarcerated the effects of the incarceration extend beyond that individual on to their spouses, children, and other family members as well as their community. Consequently, the loved one and their family may be confronted by several challenges both while the individual is incarcerated as well as when they attempt to re-enter into society. During incarceration and the reintegration process, the individual and their family might be challenged by shame or social stigma associated with incarceration, which may then create emotional strain within the family as well as emotional stress for each individual. There may also be several questions that the individual along with their family may be attempting to answer: How can I keep my family together? Will life return to how it was before? When will this experience truly be over?
Noted below is a group of common feelings or reactions of an individual who is/has been incarcerated, which may also be experienced by their family members.
You may experience
- Feelings of shame or embarrassment
- Feelings of isolation
- Feelings of depression
- Feelings of anxiety
- Feelings of anger
- Difficulty in communicating your feelings
- Family conflicts
- Avoidance or social withdrawal
You may feel
- Loss of time while loved one is/was incarcerated
- Loss or lack of connection between family members
- Loss of connection within the community
When you’re ready
- Seek out support networks like individual therapy, group therapy, and family counseling or those who can provide you with support
- Talk with family members and allow for open and honest communication in order to strengthen family relationships.
- Discuss your concerns with your religious/spiritual advisor
- Allow yourself to process your feelings of anger, isolation, and anxiety remembering that these are normal and common reactions to having a loved one incarcerated.
- Look for opportunities in the community that will strengthen or rebuild positive connections within the community