By: Alexandra Killan

On Sept. 8, a video of football player Ray Rice physically abusing his then-fiancée was released to the public. This high-profile case once again opened the difficult, sensitive, and serious discussion about the realities and complexities of domestic violence.

Domestic violence is any kind of abuse (physical, sexual and/or emotional) perpetuated by an intimate partner or ex-partner. Domestic violence doesn’t discriminate.  It is prevalent in all social groups, regardless of race, religion, gender, or income. Importantly, while domestic violence is often presented as a women’s issue, recent statistics support that men and women are affected almost equally, but with a higher degree of reporting among women.

In addition to being classified as a human rights violation, domestic violence can also have serious health consequences that can haunt the survivor after the tumultuous relationship has ended. Research has documented a wide range of serious problems that manifest themselves among victims, ranging from physical injuries and chronic pain, to sexual health issues, to mental health disorders, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder. The physical, mental and sexual consequences of domestic violence are often not addressed in a timely manner and because of this they can worsen, partially due to the shame many victims feel is associated with seeking help.

Where does this shame come from? It stems from the silence, stigma, and societal taboos around domestic violence. Those abused stay silent for a variety of reasons. As many victims are in long-term relationships, there is often some level of emotional involvement . They often blame themselves and excuse the behaviour of the abuser, while believing that they are the only ones that can help the abusers confront their demons.

Most importantly, the silence surrounding domestic violence means that many victims do not recognize the warning signs and patterns, which means they may fail to identify that they are being abused—and that they are not alone. One does not enter a relationship with an abusive partner willingly. That is, abusive and violent character traits are not visible from the beginning.  In addition to bringing attention to the horror and prevalence of domestic violence, the Ray Rice case also demonstrates a lack of societal understanding and sensitivity to this issue. Janay Palmer, now Rice’s wife, was his fiancée back in February, when the initial video of the abuse was recorded. In the aftermath of the video release, people were incredulous towards Palmer in her decision to stay with a man who beats her. In contrast, there was seemingly less outrage at Rice’s behaviour than one might expect. American author Beverly Gooden turned to Twitter in support of Palmer. She chose to disclose her reasons for staying in an abusive relationship and ended the tweet with the now iconic hashtag, #WhyIStayed. Soon, many joined in solidarity with Palmer, Gooden, and countless others who remain silent in the face of pain and suffering. The plethora of tweets and stories surfacing through other media emphasizes the prevalence and complexity of the domestic violence that surrounds us. As well as ignoring the intricacies of an abusive relationship, we often fail as a society to think about the consequences of ending an abusive relationship. The abuse doesn’t always end after the relationship is terminated; the abuser often stalks the victim, can manipulate related court proceedings, and may even resort to murder. Over 70 percent of domestic violence murders happen after the victim has ended the relationship.

While the stories and their victims are unique, many of the themes are common: Family. Isolation. Love. Fear. Shame. Guilt. Dependency. These are some of the many emotions involved. Other considerations, such as careers, finances, and social status, are also taken into account.  Most dangerously, silence and loneliness pervade. In breaking down the silence, encouraging discussion, and offering a support, we can take the first steps in preventing more men and women from falling into the psychological trap of domestic violence.

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