All relationships have disagreements and challenges. However, the way challenges are handled distinguishes a healthy relationship and a domestic violence situation.
Domestic violence (DV) doesn’t just apply to an intimate partner relationship; DV can also involve violence against children, parents or the elderly. The abuse takes on many forms, including physical, verbal, emotional, economic, religious, reproductive and sexual, and can also range in severity. DV has no boundaries and affects both men and women in all social classes and phases in life.
Barriers victims must navigate
Many victims find it hard to seek help. Claudia Cioni, a licensed therapist at the Center for Health and Counseling at Salt Lake Community College, provided some insight as to why.
“First thing is shame — shame of being seen emotionally and physically hurt, or be seen emotionally dysregulated or weak, or [seen as] having ‘made poor choices,’” Cioni said.
Victims of DV are slowly groomed, breaking down their self-esteem, self-confidence and social support. Extreme pressure to maintain a perfect outward appearance masks these slow changes.
Isolation is an abuser’s most effective tool, removing the individuals from the victim’s life that may see through their gaslighting and manipulation.
“Most importantly, domestic violence does not start when there is physical injury. The psychological injury comes first. In many situations, the dominant partner will use threat to harm the ones that the dominated loves, when they are trying to leave. And they ‘choose’ to sacrifice themselves to protect the threatened ones,” Cioni said.
Financial control is another hurdle victims face.
“Money is power and status [and] is also safety and access to privilege,” Cioni continued.
The uncomfortable nature of this topic may lead some to turn a blind eye; afraid to get tangled up in a scary situation, many choose to ignore it completely. Cioni referred to this as “social victim blaming.”
“Unfortunately, we still have to battle questions like, ‘Why did you stay or go back?’ This reaction comes from a very narrow perspective of the situation as if the domestic violence cycle involves just the ones that are fighting and as if those are single events or started recently,” Cioni said.
Effects on the family unit
Cioni explained the potential ramifications of DV on other family members, including children.
“Violence is an event that, by nature, safety and boundaries were removed intentionally, multiple times, and everyone that witnesses that situation is under that influence and consequence.
“In my experience, I have seen many children that were in a situation of domestic violence created by parents, and their levels of anxiety and depression, many times, mimics ADHD/ADD symptoms and bullying or being bullied. Unfortunately, the children ‘learn’ what is a dysfunctional power struggle and start to use it in their relationships as well.”
On the flip side, knowing that someone is being abused, and feeling powerless to help, can also create lingering trauma. Amie Schaeffer, an SLCC journalism and digital media graduate and a former Globe editor, recalled an event that changed her forever.
“At the age of 14, an individual that was very close to me was in a very abusive relationship. At one point I saw them with a bloody lip,” Schaeffer said. “[They said,] ‘Please don’t tell, this doesn’t happen a lot, please don’t tell.’”
While Schaeffer was obviously concerned, she honored the victim’s request.
“I told them I wouldn’t tell,” Schaeffer said. “I didn’t realize how much that had affected me until recently, while listening to a domestic abuse podcast — it triggered some sort of survivor’s guilt and led me to question, ‘Why them, not me?’”
What we can learn from the past
“Cold” podcast host and KSL reporter Dave Cawley gave some perspective.
“I’ve covered news in Utah for nearly 20 years. The most difficult stories over those years have always involved some form of domestic abuse, whether between intimate partners or parents and children. There’s a list of names of victims seared into my memory. Unfortunately, that list continues to grow,” Cawley said.
Cawley has tirelessly researched prominent DV cases such as the disappearance of Susan Cox Powell as well as the circumstances surrounding the death of Gabby Petito.
This summer, the 22-year-old Petito traveled the U.S. in a van with her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, documenting the fun and struggles of van life for her growing YouTube channel and Instagram followers. But when Laundrie returned to Florida in Petito’s van without her, a media flurry pursued.
“After Gabby disappeared, the entire world saw a different version of their relationship. Police body camera footage from a ‘domestic dispute’ between Gabby and Brian in Moab, Utah, showed the couple’s relationship was deeply troubled. They each told police how the stress of being on the road together non-stop had exacerbated stresses, leading to physical conflict. Two weeks later, Gabby was dead, her body abandoned alongside a creek bed in Wyoming,” Cawley said.
Cawley said that not every abusive relationship ends in fatal violence.
“For every Gabby Petito, there are many more survivors of abuse who carry their emotional, psychological, financial and physical scars in silence,” Cawley said. “Changing the culture that allows abuse to thrive has to begin by tearing down the stigma. By listening with empathy to the accounts of survivors, we can each individually help harbor an environment where survivors don’t fear public shaming or humiliation.”
How we can do better
James, a physical therapist assistant major at SLCC, was raised in a home of domestic violence. His name has been changed to protect his privacy.
“As an only child, it took me several years to figure out the things happening inside my home, to me, weren’t normal,” he said. “There needs to be a much larger conversation when these situations are reported; it’s easy to dismiss kids [victims].”
To further complicate his situation, he was a male reporting abuse and, as a minor, he had very little control of his situation.
“I feel like there is sexism on both sides,” he said.
Educating yourself and your loved ones about the warning signs of an abusive relationship can be key.
Abuse is never the victim’s fault. The abuse is intentional, well thought out and planned to strip their partner of any power or control in the relationship.
We can help survivors to rebuild their confidence and take their power back simply by listening to and believing their story. By amplifying their voices, we can raise awareness about the struggles and needs of survivors and begin changing the way society responds to domestic and sexual violence.
There are several organizations that can help if you or a loved one are experiencing domestic or sexual violence.
- Utah Domestic Violence Coalition provides free, 24/7 support. Call 1-800-897-LINK or visit udvc.org.
- Visit thehotline.org, text “START” to 88788, or call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) anywhere in the U.S.
- Plain language legal information for victims of abuse is available. Visit womenslaw.org; for Utah residents, visit womenslaw.org/laws/ut.
- Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault works to strengthen the effectiveness of sexual violence education, prevention, and response in Utah. Call 1-888-421-1100 or visit ucasa.org.
- Educate your family and yourself about what abuse looks like and the warning signs to look out for. Visit thehotline.org/identify-abuse.
Tamra Rachol is a former writer for The Globe.