Esther Francis Joseph believes that almost everyone knows someone who is being physically abused at home – they just don’t know it.
In 1999, a survey conducted by the Commonwealth Fund on women’s health reported that about one in three American women have been physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives.
“Victims of abuse are very good at hiding it,” said Joseph, a survivor of child abuse and author of Memories of Hell, Visions of Heaven—A Story of Survival Transformation and Hope (www.estherfrancisjoseph. com). “In most cases, they are threatened with more abuse if they ever tell anyone about it, so they become very adept at hiding bruises and acting as if nothing is wrong at all.
In many cases, abusers were abused themselves. Abusers are very good at terrorizing their victims because they were trained on how to be a successful abuser by those who abused them as children. As a result, the abusers themselves are often seen by friends and neighbors as friendly, affable people in good, healthy relationships. The abused seem happy and content in their lives. But when the doors close and lock behind them, the facade is dropped.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported in 1996 that 30 percent of all female murder victims in the United States were killed by their husbands or boyfriends.
In North Carolina, 158 people died from domestic violence related incidents from January 1, 2010 to February 2, 2012, according to the North Carolina Coalition against Domestic Violence (NCCADV).
Of those 158 deaths, two occurred in Swain County in 2010, two occurred in Jackson County in 2011, and two occurred in Macon County in 2012.
With the increase in stress caused by the current economic distress the United States is experiencing, domestic violence prevention organizations have experienced a greater need for the services they provide. REACH of Macon County’s Executive Director, Ann Van Harlingen, cited that although funding for the organization has decreased, the number of victims needing help continues to rise.
According to the most recently released report from the North Carolina Department of Administration Council for Women division, combined, Macon and Jackson counties reported receiving 755 domestic violence calls in 2010. Jackson reported 287 calls, 40 of which reported the male in the relationship being the victim, and Macon County reporting 468 calls with 12 being from male victims.
In both counties, the majority of domestic violence reports came from victims in the 45-54 age range.
Joseph thinks it is critically important to know what to do if you suspect someone you care about or work with is being abused at home by their spouse.
“Before you do anything, make sure that you are educated on the subject and the different types of abuse,” she said. “Prepare yourself for the encounter because your discussion may be unwelcome and viewed as interference. It is also important to know when to step back. If the person denies the allegation, you may want to simply express your concern and willingness to help.”
Warning signs of domestic violence:
• Bruises – These are the most obvious signs of abuse, but victims will usually hide them. They may use makeup to hide any facial cuts or bruises. Be mindful of those tactics if you think abuse is taking place.
• Clothing – Take notice of a change in clothing style or unusual fashion choices that would allow marks or bruises to be easily hidden. For instance, someone who wears long sleeves even in the dog days of summer may be trying to hide the telltale signs of abuse.
• Jealousy – Sometimes, victims will vent about other issues in their relationships, but stop short of talking about abuse. In their minds, it is the only way they can reach out for help without disobeying the commands of the abuser and not to reveal the abuse. Frequent talk about their partner’s temper or jealousy might be the main tip-off.
• Constant Phone Calls – Many abusers are very controlling and suspicious, so they will call their victims multiple times each day to “check in.” This is a subtle way of manipulating their victims, to make them fearful of uttering a stray word that might alert someone that something is wrong. Many abusers are also jealous, and suspect their partner is cheating on them, and the constant calls are a way of making sure they aren’t with anyone they aren’t supposed to be around.
• Missing Work – Victims of abuse miss work more often than most, because some cuts and bruises can’t be hidden. So, they stay home from work to prevent alerting people to their abuse.
• Always Together – If you have a co-worker that you never see outside the office without their partner, that could also be a sign of your co-worker being controlled by a jealous and potentially violent partner. By itself, this behavior may not be as revealing, but together with other warning signs, it could be an important indicator of abuse.
“Approaching someone and bringing up the topic of abuse is a difficult conversation to have, but it is one worth having,” Joseph added. “You might just be saving a life.”
With REACH of Jackson County closing, agencies throughout Western North Carolina have stepped up to offer services to domestic violence victims from Jackson County. There are REACH shelters in Macon, Cherokee, Haywood and Clay counties that are working together to fill the void left in Jackson. Swain County also has an organization known as SAFE, which offers similar services to domestic violence victims. Graham County also has a similar organization known as “Hope for Families.”