From time to time, someone who is well-known or recognized in the community is arrested or charged with a domestic abuse crime. When that happens, domestic violence advocates are often asked, “Can you believe that?” as in, “Can you believe that someone who was well known, or successful, or seemed ‘normal’ is actually an abuser?”
The answer is yes—not because we know something particular about the person involved, and not because we want to believe the worst about our friends and neighbors. But we know that relationship abuse, while not the norm, is heartbreakingly common. We also know that abusers are capable of being polite, charming, giving, and thoughtful toward other people while behaving completely differently toward their partners at home. This means that how an abuser acts in public is not necessarily an indicator of how they act in private. If everyone knew the truth, it would probably be hard for the abuser to conduct business, maintain their standing, and keep friends and family from reaching out to their partner to try to help.
That is a hard truth to swallow. But rather than looking at each other with suspicion, as members of a society that does not tolerate abuse we must be vigilant in looking for the signs of abuse. Again, while most relationships are healthy, fully one in four women and one in seven men will experience intimate partner violence during their lifetime—which means that right now, odds are that you know a few people who are quietly struggling at home.
When abuse surfaces in public, it could look like a lot of different things:
- One partner constantly speaking for the other, or one partner who shrinks from conversation and is unusually deferential or subdued
- A partner who belittles or minimizes their significant other’s appearance or comments
- Behavior designed to make a partner feel insecure or isolated from supportive friends and family
- Controlling resources like money, access to the car, and time outside the home
If you see something you think might be abusive, but aren’t sure, you are welcome to call our hotline to ask questions (with total anonymity if you prefer) at (800) 863-9909. If you want to take a deeper look at tactics of power and control, examine the power and control wheel. We also keep information on our website about how you can help someone who tells you they are being abused.
Above all, as a community we need to keep our focus on the emotional and physical safety of the victims of abuse. Long after the headlines about the arrest or the trial have faded, victims continue to deal with the legacy of the abuse perpetrated against them. High-profile cases draw attention to a problem that is happening all around us, each day, and remind us that abuse can happen to anyone and be perpetrated by many different kinds of people.