As defined by the Texas Family Code, domestic violence is either a threat or act by a family member or someone within a household against another member that either results in physical harm/injury, is intended to result in physical harm/injury, or gives the victim reason to believe he or she is in danger of physical harm. Domestic violence can also be called “family violence,” and for the purposes of this page, they meant the same thing.
The legal definition of domestic violence includes acts between people who are related by blood or marriage, are or were spouses, are parents of the same child, are foster parents or children, are roommates, or are or were dating. You do not have to have been living together for the abuse to be considered domestic violence.
Overcoming Barriers to Reporting Domestic Violence
It can be difficult to report an abuser if you and/or your children are victims of domestic violence. You may face some of the common barriers of separating oneself from a domestic violence abuser:
- Your batterer is rich and/or famous
- Your batterer may threaten to hurt of kill you and your family if you report him
- You may feel issues of violence in your home should be kept private
- You might want to honor your wedding vows
- Your batterer may continuously apologize and say it won’t happen again
- You might not have the money to support yourself and/or your children on your own
- You may have had a prior negative experience with the court system
Abusers often isolate their victims from friends and family, leaving the victim alone to advocate for him or herself. And even if other people are aware of the violence in the home, they face their own barriers to reporting it. Kitty Genovese, a young woman living in New York in the 1960’s, was coming home late from work one night when a man attacked and stabbed her near her apartment building. Purportedly, over thirty bystanders heard or saw the event, and yet no one called the police until it was too late. The Bystander Effect, or Genovese Syndrome, occurs when bystanders witnessing a crime do not step in to help because they assume someone else (another bystander) will do so. For this reason, it is imperative to recognize that if you are in danger, you must do your best to advocate for your own safety (and if you are unable to do so, appoint a specific person you trust to be your advocate and help you).
Children & Family Violence
Being the victim or witness of domestic violence can have long-term effects on your children psychologically and behaviorally. Children who witness domestic violence have difficulty maintaining healthy relationships with people in the future. Growing up in an abusive home teaches them that violence is the answer to relieving stress, stopping an argument, or getting them what they want.
Studies show that trauma in childhood can lead to a smaller brain size and disrupt normal amygdala functions. The amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for “fight or flight” responses; for people who grow up in an abusive home, they may either be constantly stimulated into a “fight or flight” state, or become expressionless and low-functioning (also known as “dissociative behavior”). These children also commonly show behavioral problems later on in life, such as acting out in school or getting involved in crime. Finally, according to the National Domestic Violence hotline, “men who witness domestic violence as children are twice as likely to become abusers themselves.”
Getting out of a domestic violence situation can feel daunting, but it can be done and your life and children’s lives will be all the better for it. You do have options, such as filing for a protective order, to allow the law to keep you safe from further harm.
While we would all like to believe that people are always good to one another, unfortunately that is sometimes not the case. For those who are victims of domestic violence or family violence, they know all too well the psychological trauma that can affect how they react to save themselves or their children. Texas has laws in place to protect you from further harm but the first step is acknowledging the problem and knowing your options for moving forward.