Okay, I know that I may be a little late with this post, but Thursday’s episode of Scandal (Season 4, episode 7 “Baby Made a Mess”) was powerful. Shonda Rhimes is great at taking real life situations and highlighting important issues. Last Thursday highlighted domestic abuse from the survivor’s vantage point. Long time “Gladiators”, fans of the show, know that domestic abuse is a part of the character Abby’s personal history. This week’s episode brought Abby face-to-face with her abuser for the first time since the show’s inception. While watching it, what stood out for me – enough to want to talk about it – first was why highlighting this issue is important to the mental health community and second was the role fear plays in not reporting incidents of abuse.
First is what seems obvious to me. Domestic violence has large physical and mental health repercussions. The abuse resulting from domestic violence often results in PTSD. The incidence of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and sleep disturbance is significantly higher in the population of men and women that have been abused.
The latter is important for me to talk about as well. The role of FEAR became apparent while watching the character Abby defend why she wouldn’t reveal that her ex-husband abused her. She not only talked about what her co-workers may think and how society would see her negatively, but also talked about how her abuser – with his money, family and political ties – would drag her name and reputation through the mud. Fear is possibly the largest factor for non-reporting. Fear of retaliation by the abuser. Fear of society’s judgement and condemnation. Fear of becoming isolated.
Perpetrators of domestic violence are abusers and abuse is about control. The main objective of the abuser is to exact control over their target. They increase control by installing fear both directly and indirectly.
Abby’s abuser, her ex-husband, showed up in the garage to “remind” her to fear him. She defended herself against her abuser’s confrontation. This was key in her recovery. It was the first step in her speaking her truth. Although she was not willing to speak up to the media, the strength she gained helped her begin to talk about what he had done to her to someone else.
Understanding the fear is a powerful tool to combating the non-reporting of domestic abuse. It is also a key factor in helping victims become survivors.
The CDC suggests 1 in every 2 women and 1 in every 5 men suffers from domestic violence. Of those women and men, it is estimated that over 65% do not report the violence.
The incidence of ongoing domestic violence is higher in individuals that are isolated and have little support. It is understood that the lack of support and the fear of society’s reaction are significant factors in victims not reporting incidents. Abusers gain more control when they isolate their victims and remove them from their support systems.
In order to report the abuse, survivors need support. Survivors need avenues to regain control of their lives. And, survivors need to establish safety to face their fears and regain control of their life.