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Domestic Violence: What It Is and How To Help

by Rachel Silkey

December 2020

A bruise in an odd place. An empty look in a friend or family member's eyes. These signs may be indicators of domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence (IPV). IPV occurs when an individual controls and powers over their partner through specific behaviors and actions. According to CAWS (Council on Abused Women Service) North Dakota, in 2019, there were over 6,000 incidents of domestic violence reported – for both men and women – to crisis intervention centers. In addition, this hits home for western North Dakota as a 2018 survey conducted by the Center for Rural Health showed over 50% of those in Dickinson and the surrounding area who took the survey reported that domestic violence is a community concern.

Having a better understanding of these difficult relationships can aid in identifying violence between partners. A partner may seem perfect in the beginning of a relationship, but after a while there are several red flags that can become more apparent. Warning signs can include behaviors such as extreme jealousy, unpredictability, bad temper, and demeaning of a partner privately and/or publicly. Although there is not one type of personality associated with those who do harm, there are traits that are common among partners who engage in domestic violence. One example is having low self-esteem which can produce a sense of powerlessness within the world leading to the individual causing harm to blame their actions on circumstances as well as their partner. Another example are individuals giving off the impression of being a perfect partner to the outside world but committing violent acts in a private setting.

Having a friend or family member or knowing someone in a domestic violent relationship can be a difficult and painful position to be in. What can help is to have a better understanding on how to provide emotional support to your acquaintance, friend, or family member. For instance, when talking to the person involved in IPV, instead of asking them why they don't leave the relationship, try having conversations that empowers the partner being harmed. These conversations will help them feel less overpowered and assist them to make their own decisions. Take care to not place blame and avoid saying things like “staying silent makes you partly responsible” or “I would have never stayed in a relationship like that.”

Along with being emotionally supportive, it is beneficial to the one who is harmed to have help with material things as well. Assistance with finding support for finances, groceries, and healthcare is immensely helpful. In addition, mentioning resource help like the Domestic Violence & Rape Crisis Center in Dickinson is useful. Assisting with putting together a “to-go” bag, a bag with important items like an ID/social security card and current medications, can take that added pressure off in critical moments.

Leaving a violent relationship is easier said than done. In addition to empowering those being harmed, providing support for that future action is also important. Even though it may be hard to grasp, that person knows themself and their relationship the best. When the person who is harmed feels safe enough to leave their relationship, one way of being supportive during that transition is volunteering to be a part of their personal safety plan. This is a personalized plan one can look to when violence escalates and is a way for the one who is harmed to protect themselves or others in times of crisis.

It's important to know that if the one who is harmed were to leave, it can be dangerous after separating. Because leaving a harmful situation can be dangerous and even lead to homicide, the assistance of qualified professionals at the National Domestic Violence Hotline can assist in a multitude of ways in critical situations. The hotline number, (800) 799-SAFE, can be called for specific guidance in regards to the needs of the caller.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a widespread impact on so many aspects of life, including domestic violence. This is thought to be due to more isolation, added stress from the pandemic, economic hardship, and increased barriers to reporting IPV. Being knowledgeable and understanding of the signs of domestic violence and knowing how to support someone going through IPV is extremely valuable. This can help remind the one who is harmed that every person is deserving of a happy and healthy future.


About the Author

Rachel Silkey is a third-year medical student at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences. She was selected as the Dickinson participant for the school's ROME program, or Rural Opportunities in Medical Education. Because the program includes teaching student doctors the importance of how rural newspapers can deliver health information, she has written this column for her ROME community. The information is not for diagnosis or treatment and should not be used in place of previous medical advice provided by a licensed practitioner.