March 8 is International Women's Day, which honors the social, economic, political, and cultural achievements of women worldwide. But the day isn't only about celebration. It also marks a call to action for advancing gender equality, bringing attention to the injustices many women still face: lower wages, discrimination, job insecurity, harassment, and violence.
That last point—violence—may seem like more of a global problem than one affecting American women, but that's not the case. “It’s something that happens behind closed doors that people don’t like to think about, don’t like to talk about, don’t like to think it’s happening to anyone they care about or know, and that it happens somewhere else,” says Katie Ray-Jones, CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Survivors tend to stay in the shadows due to shame, stigma, or fear, so today, we're shedding light on these very real domestic violence stats and facts that everyone should know.
Nearly 20 people are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States every minute
That means, in just one year, more than 12 million women and men will experience “intimate partner violence”—which, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) is any physical, sexual, or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse. And while that number may seem staggering, there's a good chance it's actually even higher. Many experts believe domestic violence is underreported because victims feel ashamed, afraid, or judged.
85% of domestic violence victims are women, but anyone can be a survivor
Women between the ages of 18 and 24 are most commonly abused by a sexual partner. But anyone can be a victim of domestic violence—male, female, gay, straight, says Bryan Pacheco, spokesperson for Safe Horizon, a victim assistance organization. One in three women and one in four men will be victims of physical violence by an intimate partner in within their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Many people struggle with identifying themselves as survivors, and may internalize what has happened as a result, says Pacheco. That's why it’s crucial to get the word out that domestic violence “doesn’t discriminate based on age, gender or socioeconomic status,” he says. “We’ve worked with professional wrestlers, CEOs, men. It can really happen to anyone.”
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Anyone can be an abuser
“Often abusers are very charming individuals, well-liked in the community, and seen as people who could never do something like that,” says Pacheco. However, these well-liked people can be very controlling and manipulative behind the scenes, says Ray-Jones. This is often referred to as the Jekyll-and-Hyde effect.
Leaving doesn’t always solve the problem
One common misconception about domestic violence is that if a victim leaves the situation, the problem is automatically solved. But it’s not that simple, says Pacheco. In fact, the week right after a survivor leaves her abuser is the most dangerous week, since “a recent separation is one of the strongest indicators of lethality,” Pacheco says. “An abuser may act in extremely violent ways to get control over that person and keep them from leaving.”
And even if the survivor does successfully leave the relationship, there’s a high volume of stalking that occurs after the fact. According to the CDC, 10.7% of women and 2.1% of men have been stalked by an intimate partner during their lifetime, and 60.8% of female stalking victims and 43.5% men reported being stalked by a current or former intimate partner.
Being in an abusive relationship can take a long-term toll on your health
Survivors are rarely free of trauma. “This is a journey of survival and healing that certainly doesn’t stop the minute the relationship ends,” says Ray-Jones.
According to the World Health Organization, physical, mental, and sexual and reproductive health effects have been linked with intimate partner violence.
It can cause anxiety, trouble sleeping, PTSD, depression, or lead to alcohol or drug abuse as a coping mechanism, says Pacheco. A survivor may also suffer from chronic pain or health issues as a result of physical abuse. Plus, if there’s a child involved, the survivor may even still need to interact with their abuser, which could potentially impact psychological recovery.
“We can’t put a magic wand in the survivors’ hands and say it’s all going to go away,” says Ray-Jones. “It takes a lot of healing, and it’s important to have a support system that is non-judgmental and supportive in that healing.”
It doesn’t just impact the survivors
One in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year, and 90% of these children are eyewitnesses to this violence, according to the CDC. Even if an abuser never lays hands on them, children who witness domestic abuse often face long-term psychological harm as a result. “There’s also a lot of correlation between children who observed abuse and then go on to be a part of abusive relationship,” says Ray-Jones. Which is why it’s crucial for not only survivors of domestic violence to seek psychological treatment, but for their children as well.
There are multiple types of abuse
It's crucial to note that domestic abuse can take on many forms, such as financial, emotional, sexual, and through technology. For example, one form of financial abuse is cutting off sources of income, making it impossible to leave the relationship. “Domestic violence is really about someone trying to exert power and control over another person, and using different tactics to do that, says Ray-Jones.