How Families Can Overcome Intimate Partner Violence
Every year in the United States, more than 10 million women and men experience physical abuse by an intimate partner. More than 20,000 phone calls are made to domestic violence hotlines on an average day. Overwhelmed by the reality of these statistics, prevention programs are listening to both victims and perpetrators, and they are learning that family can play an important role in reducing domestic violence.
Intimate partner violence is a complex and often multigenerational problem
Societal and cultural norms of masculinity reinforce the message that men should be in control of women. Many victims are unwilling to leave abusive relationships. Victims may be distrustful of law enforcement and less likely to reveal personal information. In addition, family members often hesitate to be honest about their multigenerational history of violence.
Family networks can help both victims and perpetrators of domestic violence
A recent study explores how engaging family networks and values can help both victims and perpetrators of domestic violence. Pepperdine’s Online MFT program followed the story of Caminar Latino, an Atlanta organization that addresses domestic violence in Latino communities. The staff at Caminar Latino found that reducing intimate partner violence required serving every member of a family. They discovered that when they told women to leave their partners, they weren’t empowering women to make decisions or respecting the importance of intergenerational relationships in the Latino community.
Women who feel empowered, heard, and connected to a larger support network are more likely to leave abusive relationships.
Family values also can play an important role in helping the partner who engages in abusive behavior. Rather than using fear-based lecturing about jail time, Caminar Latino engaged violent male partners to think about their own values. Men were encouraged to interrupt the multigenerational pattern of abuse in their families. Challenged to think about what kind of husbands and fathers they wanted to be, many stopped committing physical violence.
Members of families can also hold each other accountable to address conflict and intense situations with nonviolent solutions. It has been also found that holding both perpetrators and the community accountable allowed for greater societal change. By emphasizing the values of a tightly knit community, they were inspiring people to speak out against domestic violence and helping perpetrators challenge other abusers in their families and communities.
What you can do
If you have a family member experiencing intimate partner violence, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. People will often try to force a family member to leave an abusive relationship, but this pushing will often backfire. Instead, listen to their situation without judgment, and ask them what they want to do. Create a plan that helps them feel safe and prepared. Encourage them to take part in family activities so they feel more connected and less dependent on the abusive relationship. If you need extra support, consider calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
If you have a history of intimate partner violence in your family, it also can be useful to talk with a mental health professional about family history and challenges. While you should never put yourself in danger, consider how talking about the realities of your family history can help empower people to change current relationships. By talking about it and seeking support, you’re changing your family tree and helping future generations.
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