Domestic violence can affect everyone
Experience of domestic violence
“Eight years ago, I said “I do”. At that time, I didn’t anticipate what our life together was actually going to be like.”
Domestic violence can affect each of us during our lives. We are however rarely able to protect ourselves from experiences of violence in advance, because the person committing violence is a person who is loved and reliable to us. The experience of violence often comes as a surprise to the victim and the experience always involves the experience of crisis. The crisis itself temporarily affects our capacity to act and asking for help may be difficult.
If the experiences of violence continue, it can often lead to us not recognising violence in our lives and the violent acts become a normality in everyday life. Due to the experiences in violence, we often have to deal with a number of strong and difficult emotions. It is often said that due to feelings of shame, guilt, inadequacy and fear, getting help and telling others about violence is difficult.
Forms of domestic violence
“I clearly remember the first hit, it hurt a lot and I didn’t tell anyone about it. My partner tended to rip hair out of my head and hit my head against the ground so no marks would be visible. He also limited my use of money and meeting friends. The continuous control and criticising was distressing, it felt as though my mind and body were under constant control.”
Domestic violence can occur between couples or in the family. Your own partner, parent or adult child may be the person committing violence. Domestic violence may also occur between siblings. Violence often begins with emotional bullying, repressing, defacing and criticising. The need to control the victim’s actions is also considered to be emotional violence. Sometimes emotional violence may lead the person committing violence to threaten to hurt him-/herself or other members of the family or pets. At that point, you shouldn’t keep to yourself, but the threats should be reported to an authority or a representative of a victim organisation.
Domestic violence can also occur in other forms, such as physical, financial, sexual or religious violence. Sexual violence in relations is rather common, but talking about it is particularly difficult, because the violence targets the most vulnerable area of people, sexuality. Please realise that rape committed in marriage or civil partnership is a criminal matter. Sexual violence may also be comments related to body criticism, pressure into sexual acts, blaming in to reconciliation sex or agreeing to sex due to fear. Every one of us has the right to physical integrity.
Spiral of violence
“I was given flowers, a hug, compliments or dinner as a gift for hits and other violence, or a promise that the violence would never happen again. I believed that promise.”
We know that violence rarely ends by itself and only gets stronger as the years progress. It is typical that the person committing violence blames the victim for the violence. So-called better moments are also part of everyday life. When there is no violence, the person may make up for his/her acts with gifts, beautiful gestures, words or otherwise pay attention to the victim in a positive manner. Victims of violence often say that those “better moments” provide hope and confidence in change, and keep them in a violent relationship. However, violence often takes over more and more life, and the so-called better moments decrease.
Domestic violence as a hidden crime
“It was confusing to see the two sides in my partner. Unfortunately, the monster, who created fear, anxiety, shame, guilt and a terribly strong sense of inadequacy, lived at home. To people outside the family, it was a joy to encounter the social person, I too had once fallen in love with.”
It is not unusual for life spent within the family and experiences of violence to not be visible from the outside. Domestic violence is often described as a hidden crime, because violence takes place inside the home, without others being aware of it. Domestic violence is talked about more and more and reports on offenses are made, which is a good thing. It is important to understand that domestic violence is often a criminal case rather than a relationship problem or a matter, which should be solved within the family. But, above all, it is a crime in which the person committing violence needs to take legal responsibility.
Leaving a violent relationship
“There were a lot of moments when I thought about leaving. I dreamt of life without violence and spent several hours a day planning to leave. When my decision to leave began to be stronger, my fear emerged, which paralysed me and I was no longer able to function. I didn’t want to see the painful truth, it was easier to believe in the good and the promises to change, that was my way of surviving. Then one morning I woke up in hospital and I said to myself that now was the time, the time to save myself.”
It is important to know that living in a violent relationship is always a risk on the victim’s well-being. Over time, experiences in violence begin to affect the victim’s well-being and then the victim’s joy of life, sense of control and coping begin to deteriorate. Leaving a violent relationship is, however, always the person’s individual decision, which cannot be done in the seize of a moment. Consideration, processing fears, grieving and practical planning are often involved in the decision-making and divorce planning process.
Change and divorce may be frightening and we may believe that staying in the relationship is in our best interests. We may often postpone the divorce, because we fear for the safety of our children and ourselves, we worry about coping financially with everyday life, we may be powerless to seek help or we are ashamed and feel guilty of the situation. It may also be that we feel pressured by others to stay in the relationship and we fear being left alone. In addition, it is normal to want to be part of a family or relationship, be loved and accepted and the hope of better holds strong. We easily believe that a divorce would be a worse option for the children than living in a family, where there is violence and fear.
The decision to divorce is however often confirmed when we realise that the violence is not going to end and we get help and confidence in our own coping. It is important to know that you are not alone with your experiences and there is practical help available. You can also anonymously discuss your thoughts related to divorce with a Victim Support Finland service centre worker. It is important to remember that violence may be present in a divorce situation. If you want practical help or advice for a safe divorce, please contact Victim Support Finland, and we will prepare a safety plan together in case of a divorce.
Support offered to victims
“For the first time in my life I told what I had experienced. I was able to talk about my experiences, cry, laugh, hope and succeed together with the support person. At no stage of building my new life was I left alone.”
In Finland, the services and legislation for victims of crime and people who have experienced domestic violence continuosly become stronger. Victims of domestic violence can obtain help from several sources. One provider of low threshold support and help is national Victim Support Finland (RIKU), which offers services that can be referred to anonymously. RIKU provides you with up-to-date information, guidance and advice in matters that concern you. Every one of us has the right to a safe life, without violence.
“I had to encounter the person committing violence in court. I still remember how scared I was. We had, however, prepared well for the session with the support person and I had the courage to tell everything, without leaving anything out, without concealing anything, the whole truth, my story. After the trial I remember the feeling, the feeling as though a hundred kilos of the past, pain and distress had been taken off my shoulders. That is when, for the first time, I felt that life can continue.”
Criminal procedures can be stressful, but fortunately the victim of violence does not need to get through them alone. Victims who have experienced domestic violence are often provided a lawyer, which is paid by the government. The purpose of the lawyer is to defend the victim’s rights during the trial. The services of the lawyer and the trial in domestic violence cases are usually free for the victim. You can discuss your own situation with your own region’s RIKU worker.
Once the criminal procedure is complete, it is also important to see a doctor as soon as possible, where any physical injuries can be diagnosed and treated and any psychological consequences can be discussed. Hearing the victim is important in court. In practice, the victim tells about his/her own experience of the violence that has taken place. Victims often say how important and significant it was to be able to open up about all the experiences of violence in court, speak out the experiences of wrong do, which had been kept quiet for years. The criminal procedure itself can work as an experience that strengthens and energises the victim, especially when it does not need to be faced alone.
“And life continued. My ex-partner began to stalk and cause trouble after the trial. However, I knew how to deal with it and six months later he stopped. We have run in to each other a few times but to me he is simply a thing of the past, which I have left behind.”
We know that leaving a violent partner does not automatically put a stop to the violence. Violence can continue as stalking or other mental harassment, for example, in matters related to child care and meeting the children. If stalking occurs after breaking up, this is also a criminal case and can be reported as a crime. Stalking can refer to causing trouble, continuous calling and texting or following. Stalking can also involve the violation of domestic peace and unlawful threatening. Stalking may also extend to the workplace and to others it can seem like positive attention, such as sending flowers, expressing love or repeatedly asking how you are. The communication and stalking that the person committing violence carries out burden the victim and this is when a restraining order should be applied for.
“At the moment, I live my life according to my own terms, safe and happy. I am proud of myself and happy for all the support i have been given along the way. In hind sight, I can say that I am a survivor, a hero of my own life, who overcame violence and was able to build a new, safe life. “
It is important to know that you can overcome violence. We know this, because so many women and men before you have been able to live without violence. If you have experienced domestic violence and would like to discuss your experiences confidentially, please contact us. Together we can think about, what kind of support would help you the best. You can also ask a friend to submit a contact request and we will call you. Change begins with little actions. Breaking the silence and talking about violence often helps and enables support and practical help for you and your loved ones. Please understand that you are not alone with your experiences. There is help available!
“I was ten when I remember my first physical punishment. My parents hit me, when I had been bad. They also hit each other. At that time, I remember thinking that if I want someone to do what I want them to do, I should be scary. This upbringing has travelled along with me for a long time. I have shouted, threatened, hurt my loved ones physically and mentally, and I have made my loved ones scared of me. I was able to control them for a long time and the feeling of power and control felt good, until I lost the people, who were most important to me.”
Violence and aggression break several hundreds of families every year and they make people feel unwell. Violent actions can also be considered harmful to the person committing them and may often lead to legal consequences. Reasons for violent behaviour are always individual. We do however know that the model of violent behaviour may have been learnt early on and the person committing these actions may be lacking various skills for solving dispute and conflict situations. The methods of controlling emotions may also be weak and in the background, there may be victim experiences.
It is important to remember that violent behaviour rarely ends by itself. There is however help available! New, more beneficial behaviour that supports your own well-being may be learnt to replace the violent behaviour. Learning this new behaviour often requires motivation and perseverance from the person. The change is however possible.