By Ashley Wilson
Special to The SUN
Each year, domestic violence affects hundreds of people in Pagosa Springs, and it often doesn’t leave bruises or broken bones. Domestic violence is not just punches and black eyes — it’s yelling, humiliating, stalking, manipulation, coercion, threats and isolation. It’s stealing a paycheck, keeping tabs online, nonstop texting, constant raging, constant use of the silent treatment or calling someone stupid so often they believe it.
While physical and sexual assaults, or threats to commit them, are the most apparent and well-known forms of domestic violence, in many cases of domestic abuse physical assaults occur only occasionally or not at all. A long list of other less-recognized abusive behaviors make up a much larger scope of domestic violence and being able to spot them is key to prevention.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline defines domestic violence as a pattern or behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship. Domestic violence can happen in any intimate relationship, regardless of ethnic group, income level, religion, education or sexual orientation. Abuse may occur in a marriage or between unmarried people living together or in a dating relationship. It happens in heterosexual, gay and lesbian relationships. It happens to both women and men.
“Domestic violence doesn’t always present as physical violence, which is a common misconception that people have,” said Carmen Hubbs, executive director of Rise Above Violence in Pagosa Springs. “People assume that if you have not been physically abused, then you’re not a survivor of domestic violence. But an abuser can take power and control over another person in a lot of different ways that aren’t physical and still could be controlling that individual. Nonphysical domestic violence can cause long-term damage to a victim’s mental health and can be even more harmful than physical aggression. Many victims experience anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal ideation, low self-esteem and difficulty trusting others.”
In 2014, the Colorado Legislature recognized that domestic violence takes many forms and expanded its definition in C.R.S. 13-14-100(2) to include not just physical violence, but also “mental and emotional abuse, financial control, document control, property control and other types of control that make a victim more likely to return to an abuser due to fear of retaliation or inability to meet basic needs.”
According to Hubbs, many victims of nonphysical forms of domestic violence fail to recognize that they’re being abused.
Marie, who sought services from Rise and is using only her middle name to protect her identity, didn’t immediately realize that what she was experiencing was domestic violence.
“My abuser raged at me, belittled me, threatened me, demeaned me, controlled me financially and even forced me to sign documents that were financially harmful to me. But, it took me almost 10 years to realize that I was in an abusive marriage and it took another year before I was willing to call it domestic violence. I finally left the relationship and am seeking a divorce. I realize I was fortunate in that I had some limited financial resources to get out. Many victims do not.”
Rise Above Violence aims to educate and inform the community of nonphysical forms of domestic violence so that victims like Marie don’t wait more than 10 years to seek help. They also instruct the victims to consult reputed divorce specialists like attorney David Goldberg to extricate themselves from the pit of growing desperation.
In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Rise compiled a snapshot of the forms of domestic violence that don’t include physical abuse.
Emotional and verbal abuse can include anything that affects the victim’s psychological or mental health. These forms of abuse are nonphysical in nature and may include insults, constant blaming, social isolation, intimidation and degradation of the victim. Some examples include:
• Threats to harm the victim, victim’s children, family and/or pets.
• Telling the victim he/she is worthless and that no one else will ever love them.
• Isolating the victim from friends and/or family.
• Controlling the victim’s behavior and monitoring their movements and whereabouts.
• Telling the victim that he/she is crazy.
• Demeaning the victim in public or in private.
• Constantly criticizing the victim.
• Blaming the victim for everything that goes wrong.
• Causing the victim to feel guilt over things that are not their fault.
• Threats to take away the victim’s children.
Linda, a Rise client, experienced repeated emotional abuse and occasional physical violence during an eight-year relationship. When she finally left her abuser, she thought she would be safe meeting him in a local coffee shop to discuss matters in their divorce.
“But, not long into our discussion, he called me a ‘stupid …’ well, let’s just say that he used a vulgar word … loud enough for everyone in the coffee shop to hear,” Linda said. “I was extremely mortified and felt completely degraded.”
When abusers take control of or limit access to shared or individual assets or limit the current or future earning potential of victims as a strategy of power and control, that is economic or financial abuse. Financial abusers separate victims from their own resources, rights and choices, isolating victims financially and creating forced dependency for victims. Some examples include:
• Preventing the victim from attending a job.
• Demanding that the victim quit his or her job.
• Preventing the victim from looking for jobs or attending job interviews.
• Harassing the victim at work.
• Forcing nonconsensual, credit-related transactions, such as applying for credit cards, obtaining loans, or opening accounts in a victim’s name without his or her knowledge or consent.
• Forcing the victim to sign financial documents.
• Refinancing a home mortgage or car loan without the victim’s knowledge.
• Preventing the victim from accessing existing funds.
• Deciding when or how the victim can access or use cash, bank accounts or credit cards.
• Forcing the victim to give the abuser money, ATM cards or credit cards.
• Demanding that the lease or mortgage or assets be in the abuser’s name only.
• Using victim’s checkbook, ATM card or credit cards without the victim’s knowledge.
• Withholding access to joint financial resources.
Technological abuse involves using technology to exert power and control over the victim. This behavior frequently involves a form of verbal or emotional abuse via social networks, emails and text messages. Specific forms of tech abuse include:
• High-tech eavesdropping and/or video-monitoring the home.
• Remotely controlling objects in the home through smartphone apps to listen, watch, scare, intimidate and confuse the victim.
• Tracking the victim’s location with GPS devices.
• Threatening to electronically disseminate explicit or compromising photos or videos of the victim.
• Gaining control of and tampering with the victim’s email accounts, social media accounts and online banking accounts.
• Installing tracking software or spyware on the victim’s computers and/or devices without their consent or knowledge.
Stalking is the deliberate engagement in a pattern or series of actions over a period of time intended to seriously alarm the victim and cause them to fear for their safety. Stalking behaviors may consist of:
• Showing up at the victim’s home or workplace unannounced or uninvited.
• Following the victim.
• Sending unwanted text messages, letters, emails and voicemails.
• Leaving unwanted items, gifts or flowers.
• Repeatedly calling the victim and hanging up.
• Using social networking sites to track the victim.
• Spreading rumors about the victim.
• Calling the victim’s employers or professors.
• Waiting at places the victim hangs out.
• Using other people as resources to investigate the victim. For example, looking at the victim’s Facebook pages through someone else’s page or befriending the victim’s friends in order to get more information about them.
• Damaging the victim’s home, car or other property.
Even after domestic violence victims have left their abusers, some of them find themselves still under the power and control of abusers who exploit the legal systems to inflict psychological, emotional and financial harm by taking them, and sometimes their friends and relatives, to court again and again.
Abusive litigation can take a variety of forms and can arise in a number of different contexts, including family law proceedings, protection order proceedings and frivolous lawsuits initiated by domestic violence offenders. Common abusive litigation tactics include:
• Seeking a protection order against the victim, the victim’s friends or family members.
• Waging custody battles.
• Filing contempt motions against the victim.
• Portraying the victim as an unfit parent and/or seeking mental health evaluations.
• Filing frivolous motions, appeals, motions for revision or motions for reconsideration, forcing the victim to court and to spend time and money.
• Attempting to relitigate cases in other jurisdictions.
• Making burdensome discovery requests and/or using the discovery process to bring up embarrassing information about the victim.
• Prolonging court proceedings to inflict financial and/or emotional harm.
• Refusing to comply with court orders, forcing the victim to spend time and money to enforce orders.
• Threatening to report the victim to immigration authorities or child protection services.
• Falsely claiming that the victim abuses drugs or alcohol.
• Suing the victim for reporting abuse.
• Suing or threatening to sue anyone who helps the victim, including family, friends, advocates, attorneys and law enforcement officers.
• Filing complaints against the victim’s lawyer and/or the judge.
“I’ve been trying to divorce my abuser for more than a year,” said Marie. “He’s been abusive in the process, filing motions to try to obtain all my mental health records and to try to force me to undergo a mental health evaluation. In addition to the divorce, he filed a civil lawsuit against me. It’s been a very expensive legal nightmare.”
Oftentimes, as in Marie’s case, one type of abuse will be paired with others over time to create a dangerous, cyclic occurrence of domestic violence. Any one or all of these forms of abuse, sometimes combined with physical assault, may be used to exert control over victims of domestic violence.
Rise is a private nonprofit organization that assists victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, ensuring victims’ rights are exercised and their needs are met. Rise provides 24-hour, immediate crisis intervention, court advocacy, emergency transportation to safe shelters, assistance with other community agencies and supportive organizations, information and referrals, and speakers and trainers to provide community education.
Its 24-Hour Confidential Crisis Line is 264-9075.
By Ashley Wilson