October 22, 2014
By Amie Brooks, MSW, LCSW
Domestic Violence Coordinator
Domestic violence is a public health issue that at least 25% of women will experience at some point in their lifetimes. While men can also be victims, at least 90% are female. For that reason, this post will focus on violence against women by using “she” for the victim and “he” for the perpetrator.
Domestic violence not only results in thousands of injuries and deaths each year, but also causes the victim to feel scared, alone, and helpless due to intimidation and control by the abuser. The most common type of domestic violence is emotional abuse. The victim is told she can do nothing right and is blamed whenever something goes wrong in the abuser’s life. She is subjected to constant criticism and verbal attacks that leave her feeling worthless and undeserving of love. The victim ends up internalizing the abuse and feels that it is truly her fault and she is to blame for the relationship going bad. Once someone’s self-esteem is destroyed, it is difficult for her to seek help, as she may feel that she is not worthy of it.
Women often present at the health center for services before they have been severely physically assaulted. They question whether or not their experiences of abuse are as “valid” as other victims’ since they don’t have any physical scars, such as a black eye, broken bones, etc. Abuse takes on many forms and some women will experience all or only one of these types: physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, mental, and financial. Each experience is just as valid and important to address since all kinds of abuse have a long-term and negative impact on the victim. These circumstances can escalate very quickly so it is important to get support before it turns even more serious. Additionally, abusers will oftentimes use children as a tool to control the victim and manipulate her into doing what he wants by threatening to report that she is a bad mother or not allowing her to see their children. Gaining power and control over his partner is the abuser’s goal. As a result, she may feel like she has no other options and nowhere to turn for help. Women experience many negative health effects from intimate partner violence such as headaches, stomach pain, insomnia, anxiety, chronic pain, and high blood pressure.
At Whittier Street Health Center, we take domestic violence seriously and offer support services for survivors. Our Domestic Violence Coordinator, who is also a licensed clinical social worker, meets with patients for counseling, advocacy, court accompaniment, and provides a connection to other resources, such as legal services and shelter. Additionally, support groups are offered where women come together and share experiences while learning more about abuse and how to reclaim their lives. Services are free, confidential, and flexible to meet the needs of our patients. It is not required that a person leave her partner in order to access our services.
The problem of domestic violence is important to tackle, and we are working hard to address it at Whittier Street Health Center by supporting survivors, educating providers, and working with other agencies in Boston to meet the needs of the community at large.