The Hard Truth About Domestic Violence

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The Hard Truth About Domestic Violence

Domestic violence, also called intimate partner violence, is a pattern of abusive behavior in a relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another partner. These acts of violence and coercion are committed by people of all genders against people of all genders. While studies show that women are more likely to be victims of intimate partner violence, men are also victims, although they often choose not to report the abuse. IPV frequently occurs in a relationship involving a spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend, but it can also occur in other domestic relationships such as roommates, parents, grandparents and siblings.

What does domestic violence look like?

Intimate partner violence takes on many different forms, including physical, sexual, emotional, economic, psychological, and stalking and/or harassment. Offenders use every way possible to control their victims, so most victims experience more than one form of abuse.

Physical. Many people mistakenly believe that all victims of IPV are physically assaulted. Perhaps that's because physical abuse, such as restraining, biting, shoving, slapping, hitting, burning and strangulation, and its signs, like bruises, swelling, cuts, broken bones or even death, tend to be more noticeable. Abusers also use pervasive threats of physical assault against the victim, children or pets.

While some victims are severely beaten and even murdered, it is a misconception that all victims are beaten. Physical abuse may be the most noticeable type of abuse but it is not the most common. Research shows that physical abuse may happen sporadically, sometimes with months or years in between physically violent episodes. However, the victim is conditioned to believe that the physical abuse is imminent at any time. Sometimes a simple look, gesture, or comment made by an abuser is enough to remind the victim about prior physical abuse, allowing the abuser to continue to maintain control.

Sexual abuse is still sexual abuse even when the abuser and the victim are married

Sexual. Abusers use sexual abuse to demean and control victims, and research shows that if there is physical abuse in a relationship, there is probably sexual abuse as well. It includes any unwanted complete sexual acts, incomplete sexual acts and sexual abuse with or without contact (e.g. rape, attempted rape, touching or harming private areas of the body and threats of assault). Sexual abuse is still sexual abuse even when the abuser and victim are married.

Emotional. Abusers intentionally try to destroy the victims' self-esteem. This is an underlying theme in IPV. Abusers can emotionally control victims through constant criticism, name-calling, minimization and, if there are children in the home, alienation of the victim from the children. Often emotional abuse precedes acts or threats of physical or sexual abuse.

Economic. Financial abuse keeps victims dependent on abusers. The abuser may forbid a victim from working, or require a victim to work to support the family. Often abusers will harass the victim at their place of work with the goal of causing the victim to lose their job. Abusers may withhold basic necessities, providing money only to then demand oppressive accountability for dollars spent or may prevent a victim from opening a bank account or credit card.

Psychological. Abusers traumatize victims, even causing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD, through intimidation, threats and isolation. While abusers harm and threaten to harm victims themselves, abusers also threaten victims' children and family, friends and coworkers, pets, too. They may also threaten suicide. They isolate the victims from any other source of support, causing the victim to feel that escape is impossible.

Stalking and/or harassment. Persistent and unwanted attention that creates tremendous feelings of fear and concern for safety.

Why should I care?

Since intimate partner violence affects everyone, we all need to be aware that we ourselves and our friends, family, coworkers, customers and students may experience some form of it. This is especially true here in Nevada as our Battle Born state, unfortunately, ranks high for IPV. To fix this, we must first understand how it affects our communities. Then we can come up with strategies to address it.

What is the cost of domestic violence?

Domestic violence is also called intimate partner violence. No matter what it's called, it's a pattern of abusive behavior in a relationship. The abusive behavior is used by one partner to gain and maintain power and control over another.

As noted, women are more likely to be victims of intimate partner violence than men, and it is the single greatest risk factor to a woman's health.

Most of us have an awareness of intimate partner vilence but don't know how much it costs.

Most of us have an awareness of intimate partner violence but don't know how much it costs.

There are different ways intimate partner violence can have a cost. The first is the obvious way: medical and mental health care costs, including ambulance rides, hospital stays, physical therapy and other actual dollar expenses. But, intimate partner violence causes indirect costs as well. These costs include days of productivity lost at work or home due to a victim's physical and mental health. They also include the income a victim could have made in the future if she hadn't had been murdered by her abuser.

To find out how much intimate partner violence costs in total, we can refer to a study on domestic violence-related medical data.

The study was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1995. It found that intimate partner violence costs our nation $5.8 billion each year. Most of that, $4.1 billion, is medical and mental health care costs. The study analyzed not just total costs but average direct medical and mental health care costs, too.

It found that if a victim of intimate partner violence, rape, physical assault or stalking receives just one medical and one mental health service, the average costs are $838 per rape, $816 per physical assault and $294 per stalking. And if the victim receives follow-up care? The costs climb to $3,062 per rape, $3,682 per physical assault and $690 per stalking.

If we apply the average amount of time a woman in an IPV relationship experiences each of these three types of abuse in a year, the costs are $1,340 for rape, $2,774 for physical assault and $294 for stalking per woman per year.

But these total and average costs are lower than the true cost of IPV.

This is because the study left out a few things. It focused on women over 18, leaving out the expenses of children and men. And, while it took into account mental health care costs for all of the women in the study, it only took into account the medical costs of women in the study who were physically hurt during an incident. The numbers are also low because they don't include inflation since 1995. But, they're the best and most recent numbers available to help us to think about the costs of intimate partner violence.

These costs are national costs. What about local costs? We can use the study's findings and some math to estimate what intimate partner violence costs Nevadans.

About 1,272 Nevada callers to the National Domestic Violence Hotline sought help for physical abuse in 2015. About 143 sought help for sexual abuse. Applying these numbers to the CDC's data on the cost of intimate partner violence, our state then spends $119,834 a year on rape and $1,037,952 a year on physical abuse.

Again, this cost is an underestimate. It doesn't include stalking as that data wasn't available. And it is only accurate if affected women do not receive any follow-up care, do not miss a single day of productivity at work or at home due to death or physical and mental health, and if there has been no inflation since 1995.

When looking at the nationwide and local annual costs, it's easy to see that intimate partner violence affects victims as well as our community and economy. This is an incentive for us to tackle the issue. If we do, we can help to heal affected victims – and our communities and economies too.

Why don't victims of domestic violence just leave?

A common question about intimate partner violence is why victims stay. The answer to that is complicated.

In a domestic violence relationship or an intimate partner violence relationship, one partner uses a pattern of abusive behavior to gain or maintain power and control over another. A common question about intimate partner violence is why victims stay. The answer to that is complicated.

While it is important to understand the abuse a victim is suffering in order to understand the fear, shame and guilt felt, focusing on behavior and why a victim stays perpetuates the belief that the victim is responsible for the abuse. This is patently false. The abuser is causing harm. The abuser is to blame.

For a victim, admitting to family and friends that the abuse is happening is extremely difficult. The victim is, of course, afraid of the abuser because of what that person does. The victim is abused in one or more ways, the forms of which include physical, sexual, emotional, economic, psychological, and stalking and/or harassment. The abuse is part of a campaign to control and demean, and destroy the victim’s self-confidence.

Leaving is the most dangerous time for a victim. One study found in interviews with men who have killed their wives that either threats of separation by their partner or actual separations were most often the precipitating events that lead to the murder. A victim's reasons for staying with their abusers are extremely complex and, in most cases, are based on the reality that their abuser will follow through with the threats they have used to keep them trapped: the abuser will hurt or kill them, they will hurt or kill the kids, they will win custody of the children, they will harm or kill pets or others, or they will ruin their victim financially. The victim knows the abuser best and knows fully the extent to which the abuser will go to maintain control. 

The victim is also fearful of how others will respond to the abuse, so it is important that friends and family understand the difficulties faced in escaping and what they can do to help the victim successfully leave.

How can I help a victim of domestic violence?

If you know someone who is a victim of intimate partner violence, you can help them.

Help them to be safe. Keeping the victim safe is paramount, so gently guide them in making safe choices. Help the victim to develop a safety plan. If the victim needs to leave, help them to identify a safe place to go and help them to get there. Go with the victim to court to get a protective order. If you witness abuse, report it right away, and if the victim is in imminent danger, call 911.

Understand, listen and care. Understand that the victim is not at fault for the abuse. Remind the victim that they are not to blame and that they do not deserve to be abused. Listen to the victim, and offer non-judgmental comments. Let them know that they are not alone and that you care.

Know your role. Remember that leaving an intimate partner violence relationship is a terrifying experience and that your role in this process is to support the victim, not to make decisions for them. Don't tell them what to do; that's what their abuser does. Be patient with them as they make plans to leave, if they make plans to leave. And if plans to leave fail, do not be discouraged. It often takes several attempts to leave before being successful.

Find information, resources and advocates. Help the victim to find information and resources, give them the contact information for domestic violence advocates and offer to help the victim to contact an advocate.

Sources of information, resources and advocates to contact include hotlines, crisis centers and programs.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline phone number is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). A list of Nevada domestic violence hotlines by county is available from the Nevada Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence. They can be reached at 775-828-1115.

Crisis Support Services of Nevada’s phone number is 1-800-273-8255.

University of Nevada Cooperative Extension's Heart and Shield Program helps survivors of intimate partner violence and their families. To learn more, contact Jill Baker-Tingey, 775-738-7291, or email her at

Learn more, and use what you know to make a difference. Seek out reputable sources of information, such as trustworthy domestic violence intervention and prevention programs, to learn all you can about domestic violence. Use what you learn to better understand the victim and to help to build awareness in your community about IPV. Developing community awareness and support for victims is essential. It helps to ensure that victims do not feel alone, and it helps them to realize that they have alternatives to remaining in the abusive situation.

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