Domestic Violence Is a Health Concern

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What does an African–American woman who shows up in a local emergency room with a broken jaw have in common with a ten year old Black child who’s never allowed outside to play? Both are victims of domestic violence. The woman manifests classic evidence of end–stage abuse. The child’s withdrawal is a sign of an earlier stage – abuse by isolation. These examples illustrate the many faces and phases of domestic violence. African American men, women and children are just as likely as other ethnic groups to be affected by domestic violence since the phenomenon spans race, class and nationality.

What causes a person to physically or emotionally violate a loved one? Research shows that abusers often model behavior they’ve observed or experienced in childhood. Regardless of social class or education, most of us imitate what we see our first teachers – our parents – do. So the children of abusive parents often grow into abusive partners and parents themselves–thereby continuing the cycle of abuse. Of course other factors like mental illness, substance abuse, periods of high stress or crisis may also come into play as triggers of domestic violence.

Understanding what domestic violence is and its phases may help to break the cycle. A short, broad definition is any behavior by one or more persons that violates or compromises the safety of other persons living in the same household.

To imagine that all domestic violence begins and ends with physical contact is incorrect. Although physical violence, even death, are often tragic outcomes, domestic violence can begin with subtle emotional abuse in the form of isolation and neglect. Verbal abuse may be next in the form of harsh language intended to threaten, demean or embarrass. A next stage may be violent outbursts resulting in the destruction of property. Finally, violence is directed towards an individual in the form of pushes, slaps, shoves, punches or worse.

As stated earlier, domestic violence is learned behavior. The good news is it can be unlearned with proper intervention. But until intervention occurs, it’s important to remember that it’s never appropriate to use abusive behaviors such as verbal abuse or physical violence as a tool to express anger, control, threaten or manipulate another person. Watch for early stage warning signs that could escalate.

If you are a batterer, STOP! If you are a victim, SEEK HELP for yourself and for the batterer. The best action a victim can take is calling 911 or a domestic abuse hotline in your area and/or LEAVING your home with your children if at all possible. Although this step sounds dramatic, your life could be saved through the protection of a shelter, family or friends until your batterer can be apprehended by police. By standing for abuse – especially in the presence of children – victims and potential victims risk injury or death and place their children at risk for repeating the cycle of violence once they become adults. African–Americans need not live with violence. Take a proactive approach to shield yourself and vulnerable Black children from domestic abuse.

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