TRIGGER WARNING: This article speaks of incidences of domestic partner abuse
In a scenario of domestic abuse, the building tension, the incident of abuse, and the reconciliation are followed by a period of calm. This cycle of violence is all too real for millions of people in the United States. Experiencing intimate partner violence (IPV) is not only mentally and physically traumatic, but in too many situations, it can also be life-threatening. According to the New Orleans Department of Health, in our own New Orleans community, homicides resulting from IPV accounted for 62 of all 83 domestic homicides that occurred from 2012-2018 (“New Orleans…”). It’s important to note that these are just the reported cases, and there is an enormous number of occurrences that go unreported due to a variety of factors, including the victim’s fear of losing their children, losing financial support from their partner, and even fear of shame from their family or friends.
This fear and feeling of reliance are why it’s more important than ever to be an advocate and ally for those experiencing IPV. People who are in the cycle of IPV often feel as though they are trapped and cannot say anything. The saddening truth is that IPV can and does affect individuals across race, gender and ethnicity. It could happen to anyone. Regardless of whether they are old or young, male or female, LGBTQ+, etc., this issue can affect all. Someone might be reaching out for help, even if they cannot vocalize it.
Even those who you would never expect: your next-door neighbor, your coworker, or someone in your family. Furthermore, there are certain vulnerable groups who are disproportionately affected by IPV and are therefore considered at-risk groups for IPV. Some of these at-risk groups include BIPOC women and/or members of a sexual minority, such as the LGBTQ+ community. Specifically, we must support and look out for marginalized people whose voices are not always heard. This means educating ourselves on the different impacts of IPV and understanding how IPV disproportionately affects some members of our community more than others.
As aforementioned, IPV is alarmingly prevalent in our city. The New Orleans Department of Health reports that “From 2012-2018, there were a total of 83 domestic homicides. Domestic homicides accounted for 8.4% (83 of 983) of homicides that occurred during that time period” (“New Orleans…”). Therefore, as a community, we must commit ourselves to raising awareness and work to provide support and resources for those experiencing IPV.
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), “intimate partner violence describes physical, sexual or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse” (American Psychiatric Association, 2018). Being aware of this issue and knowing how to help is one of the most important things you can do to help someone break free from this cycle. It’s important to know some of the warning signs of abuse and how to recognize the signs of an abusive relationship. The National Domestic Violence Hotline outlines some common signs of abusive behavior in a partner. Every relationship is different, and IPV does not look the same for everyone. Some common signs of an abusive partner include establishing power and control in many ways, including controlling finances in your household without discussion, controlling who their partner spends time with and displaying extreme jealousy of their friends, pressuring them to have sex or perform sexual acts, using emotional manipulation to make their partner feel guilty or sorry for them, or preventing them from making their own decisions (“Warning Sings…”). These are only some of the warning signs, and if you suspect you or someone you love might be in an abusive relationship, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 for conversation and support. Additionally, the NDVH includes possible ways to help. You can read more about ways to help emotionally and materially here. Assuring the safety and wellbeing of a person experiencing IPV requires a holistic approach to make sure their physical, emotional, and mental health is adequately addressed.
So how does IPV affect a person’s mental health? The traumatic events they have experienced, especially if they have endured this abusive behavior for an extended period of time, can lead to feelings of intense sadness and worthlessness. These feelings can manifest into depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Even if the person who experienced this does not develop these disorders, their mental health is still impacted. They might experience difficulty with their job, engaging in healthy relationships, and/or adapting and coping with other obstacles and stressors in their lives. Abuse can also be linked to substance abuse, eating disorders, and other harder-to-diagnose behavioral problems (Vachher et al.). Overall, an abusive relationship affects all aspects of the survivor’s life. Whether the survivor develops a diagnosed illness or not, no one should undermine the negative effects IPV can have on their mental health.
Where then does this leave us? The answer is hope. Educating ourselves on the prevalence and confounding factors of IPV means that we will be more aware and able to provide resources for those in need. This is a call to action for everyone in our community to keep supporting and advocating for those who are experiencing IPV. For those who are experiencing IPV and/or are survivors, there is hope in knowing that there is support and resources available for you. You are not alone, and our community is looking out for you.
There are four domestic violence and abuse shelters and programs in New Orleans, and hotlines are available 24/7. They are the Crescent House/ New Orleans Family Justice Center, Timmons Habitat, New Orleans Women and Children’s Shelter, and Metro Centers for Community Advocacy. Included are links to their website for more information. Help and hope are here for you.
American Psychiatric Association. Intimate Partner Violence, 2018. www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/cultural-competency/education/intimate-partner-violence
New Orleans Domestic Violence Fatality Summary. https://www.nola.gov/nola/media/Health-Department/Files/New-Orleans-DV-Fatality-Review-2012-2018-Full-Report.pdf
“Warning Signs of Abuse.” The Hotline, 10 Nov. 2020, www.thehotline.org/identify-abuse/warning-signs-of-abuse/.
Vachher, AlkaS, and AK Sharma. “Domestic Violence against Women and Their Mental Health” Indian Journal of Community Medicine, vol. 35, no. 3, 2010, p. 403., doi:10.4103/0970-0218.69266.
This piece was edited by Jiayi Xu as part of Professor Kelley Crawford’s Digital Civic Engagement course at Tulane University.