Physical abuse or assault is the most obvious form of Domestic Violence, the most visible, and arguably also the most lethal.
Assaults often start small, maybe a small shove during an argument, or forcefully grabbing your wrist, but over time, physical abuse (or battering) usually becomes more severe, and more frequent, and can result in the death of the victim.
Physical abuse can include the following:
Physical abuse can be understood to include any behaviour which causes actual physical harm to the victim, is designed to do so, or a threat to do so.
"He came upstairs and asked me to get out of bed to help him look for a work shirt. I didn't get out of bed. I replied that I wanted to go to sleep. He suddenly turned on me. He kicked me out of bed, somehow got me in the position of being flat on my back. He stood on me and spat in my face." (Charlotte's Story)
Many survivors of physical abuse have reported that the physical abuse started very small, with just a slap or a push, but that it got progressively more violent as time went by. Sometimes there will be no actual violence for years (though retrospectively many victims do realise that there was a lot of emotional and verbal abuse) and it is then a huge shock to the victim when the first assault occurs.
"The first time he hit me was such a shock to me, as I really wasn't expecting it, and did not think he was capable of hitting anyone, let alone me." (Shelley's Story)
But once the physical abuse has started, it tends to continue, frequently getting more severe over time.
"From this point onwards, we would have periods of calm, followed by more violence, and him blaming me for 'pushing' him to do it, or him saying it was what I wanted, or 'I just couldn't take him not responding to me' and I' I always want a reaction don't I?' He always used these phrases, and I still think that he believes them to this day. He says he doesn't like violence, and hates the sight of blood, and yet he was doing this to me - hard hitting to the head, hitting and slapping my back, putting a knife to my throat, constantly accusing me of cheating on him, and disapproving of certain outfits I wore." (Shelley's Story)
As in Shelley's experience, the abuser will usually blame the victim for the assaults, not taking responsibility for the violence they have perpetrated. Also Shelley's partner's statement that he did not like violence or blood, together with the apologies and tears which often follow a vicious assault, leave the victim feeling very confused. There is simply no way of reconciling the words with the actions. The combination of the attacker blaming the victim for the physical abuse and the apparent contradiction between what they say or how they appear in public and their behaviour, leaves the victim feeling that the abuse really is their fault.
I always felt like I had turned Darren (a guy that everyone likes, and thinks is quite shy, studious, into his computer games, and doesn't really raise his voice) into this monster, so it had to me my fault. (Shelley's Story)
A common accusation is that the victim has in some way started or caused the physical assault, and that the violence is only a natural and inevitable progression of something the victim has started.
"He would hit me, and 9 times out of 10, I would apologise to him because he made me feel like I had started the argument with my mouth, and once he finished it with his fists, I got what was coming to me." (Shelley's Story)
"He always blamed me for the abuse saying I made him cross and if I would just obey him he would not need to hit me." (Charlotte's Story)
This blame-shifting allows the victim to believe that if they just change their behaviour, the physical abuse will also stop. That it is within their control rather than something which is completely out of their personal control. But since the only person responsible for the bruises is the attacker, no matter how much the victim tries to modify her behaviour, the abuse is likely to continue.
"I still slipped up now and then. I know because I had the bruises to prove it." (Allison's Story)
Quite often, violence will only be used when it is 'needed', ie when other forms of abuse are no longer sufficient to control the victim and ensure compliance. Amelia sometimes went for years without receiving a beating, but recognises that this was only when she did not in any way usurp or question her husband's control over her.
The times when there wasn't any domestic violence or any obvious abusive behaviour was the times that I was totally 'under control', the times when I stuck to the rules and didn't go against them, the times when I didn't have an opinion or wasn't outspoken, when I didn't enjoy talking to other people (especially if they were male!), the times when I kept the house immacutably clean, the kids were clean and quiet and the times I didn't go out and leave him to fend for himself. (Amelia's Story)
Another aspect worth mentioning is that abusers will often claim that their physical abuse was not intentional, that they simply 'lost it' or that drink or drugs were to blame for the violence rather than they themselves. If that were really the case then one would assume the injuries to be all over the body, but this is often not the case.
"The physical abuse included being punched at the top of my arms where I could easily cover the bruises and Ian always told me to keep them covered." (Charlotte's Story)
"He always seemed to punch me on the tops of my legs or in the head I was later to be told in one of his drunken stupors that he only hit me there because no one would see the bruises that way." (Joanne's Story)
While even so-called 'small' acts of physical violence can have devastating effects on the victim, as they then live in fear of the same - or worse - happening again, the physical abuse can frequently be so severe, that the victim would prefer death to having to continue experiencing the continued assaults:
"He would choke me, punch me, kick me, slap me, I was even burned, slashed and stapled in my five years of abuse. He would strangle me to the point I was close to death - my lips would be blue and my eyes blood shot from trying to breathe. In the end I didn't struggle I just prayed it would work and I wouldn't wake back up to another day or minute of abuse." (Danna's Story)
When physical abuse turns lethal
With any form of physical assault there is a risk of causing death, whether or not the intention is there. Blows to the head can cause major trauma, brain damage, paralysis or even death or permanent disability.
Not only is there the risk of an assault actually harming the victim, there is also the very real risk of it killing an unborn child.
"He punched me in my stomach and kept knocking my head. I kept trying to push him away but he wouldn't stop. This is how I had my first miscarriage." (Mandy's Story)
While physical abuse usually starts with small incidents, eg shoves, pushing, etc, and gradually gets more severe over time, this is not always the case. That is just the usual pattern, but there are exceptions. Less frequently, there will be no physical abuse within the relationship at all, nor even any indication of it, until one day the perpetrator literally assault their partner with the intention of killing them. The physical violence goes from zero to one hundred with no warning at all.
"For some reason I glanced over my shoulder and found my ex there with a 2x4 over his head. I'll remember the look on his face as long as I live. I called out "don't do this" and tried to roll off the bed. I was caught in the comforter as I felt the pain of the first blow to the back of my head. ... He swung again, and again, and again. ... I found myself hanging from the window, looking down 20 feet to the driveway below me. I was holding on so tightly and he was pushing. Just as I started to fall, I screamed. I don't remember hitting bottom. ... The blow to the head was nothing compared to the blows to my back with the metal tractor weight. ... I knew I was dying. ... I tried to move. I couldn't. ... I was left in the driveway about 45 minutes. When he thought there was no way I could live, he called 911 saying I was washing windows and fell. ... I was bloody and swollen and bruised. When one of the medics discovered it was me, he thought it would be the last time he'd ever see me alive." (Vella's Story)
Vella survived, but has to spend the rest of her life in a wheel chair. That was the first time her partner had ever been physically abusive towards her and he fully intended to kill her. Kirsty had a very similar experience, after telling her boyfriend that the relationship was over. Given the beating she endured, it is a wonder she made it out alive, but during the physical assault she remembers being acutely aware of her partner's intention of killing her and her own thoughts and feelings.
"He said you are going to die tonight after I get tired of beating you. My eyes were open and the only thing I could see was my mother and sons' face looking at me with this sad expression on their faces. I knew that I would never see them again and all I wished for at that moment was that I could tell them I love them and I'm sorry for leaving them. ... I laid on the ground wondering how many more seconds I actually had to live and wondering what he would do with my body after he killed me." (Kirsty's Story)
Physical abuse is serious. As we have seen, it can kill both the direct victim and her unborn child. It can build up gradually or be sudden. It is frequently used to add to the fear factor when verbal abuse and emotional abuse no longer seem sufficient to keep the victim under control. But the abuser does not have to use physical violence often for it to be an effective control tool, even the threat of violence is often sufficient to ensure compliance in the victim.
In This Section:
Lundy Bancroft has written what is probably the most comprehensive and readable book on domestic violence, the beliefs of the abuser and the dynamics of abuse. This truly is a MUST READ for anyone seriously trying to understand domestic abuse and how to cope with an abusive relationship:
To order in the US: Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men
To order in the UK: Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men
Living with the Dominator by Pat Craven is the book to accompany the Freedom Programme in the UK. This book should be compulsory in schools - the information is so clear and so obvious and such an eye-opener! After studying domestic violence issues for years, this is the one book which finally enabled me to click it all into place and answer all my whys. Just read it:
To order in the US: Living With the Dominator (Kindle version only - and well worth buying a Kindle just to get this book!)
To order in the UK: Living with the Dominator: A Book About the Freedom Programme: 1
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