October 5, 2020
In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the University of North Florida Women's Center and Alpha Chi Omega sorority will host their annual Take Back the Night event virtually on Wednesday, Oct. 14 from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. The program will feature a virtual campus and community resource fair, survivor stories, musical selections, meditation and a candlelight vigil. For more information and the Zoom link, view the Department of Diversity Initiatives events.
During COVID, domestic violence has increased in the home due to partners being isolated together. Domestic violence is a serious issue often affecting women, as they are much more likely than men to be victims at the hands of someone they know, particularly intimate partners. Crime patterns show that women are much more often victimized in the domestic sphere, while men are more often victims of "street crime."
Dr. Jennifer Wesely is a UNF professor of criminology and criminal justice and her academic expertise includes studies of gender, inequality and justice, intimate partner violence and at-risk populations of girls and women. In hopes to educate and create greater awareness within the community, Dr. Wesely shares the following information on how the criminal justice system approaches domestic violence, warning signs, dynamics and resources to get help.
Domestic Violence and the Criminal Justice System
Historically speaking, domestic violence was viewed as a private family matter and not "real" police work. For that reason, law enforcement officers were often reluctant to intervene. Vestiges of these attitudes remain and there is still much work to be done to improve how domestic violence is handled. Evidence suggests that the most effective approaches to domestic violence involve:
- Focusing more on violence prevention instead of justice system response after the fact
- Examining the social conditions that allow for domestic violence to continue
- Cross-agency and cross-community alliances and coordination of domestic violence shelters, social services and counseling along with the criminal justice and legal system interventions
- Harsher punishments and consequences for perpetrators as only severe physical abuse currently has the potential to be considered a felony and abusers facing only misdemeanors often ignore the minor consequences and repeat their behavior
- Greater focus on helping the victim through an often-painful process to minimize re-victimization from reporting and coming forward
At first many abusers come across as charming, loving and fun. They don't overtly abuse right at the start of a relationship. There are often warning signs and red flags of domestic violence early on in relationships. These are strategies to control the victim and/or make them more isolated and dependent on the abuser. Some warning signs that abusers show include:
- Extreme jealousy if the victim talks to someone else, has good friends, or expresses warm feelings for anyone else.
- Possessiveness where the abuser does not want the victim to give attention to anyone else
- Low self-esteem where the abuser guilts victim by saying life is nothing without them
- Unpredictable mood swings where abusers show a dramatic shift from being jealous, angry and controlling to sweet, charming and loving
- Explosive anger where the abuser can't control impulses towards anger and acts disproportionately angry about minor events by hitting walls, yelling or calling names
- Controlling the victim by telling them how to dress, act, look, walk, talk or where to go
Dynamics of Intimate Partner Violence
At the center of domestic violence is power and control where the abuser typically suffers from low self-esteem and engages in coercive tactics of control and use of excessive fear to avoid losing control of the victim and feelings of rejection. Many victims also describe some of the other dimensions of domestic violence as more harmful than the physical side. Tactics of power and control with some examples include:
- Using coercion and threats to hurt the victim, the children, the pets/animals or commit suicide
- Using intimidation to make the victim afraid by destroying property, displaying weapons or abusing pets
- Using motional/psychological abuse by putting down the victim, insulting, calling names, gaslighting or humiliating
- Using isolation by not allowing victim to see friends and family, controlling where the victim goes, who the victim interacts with or limiting outside interactions
- Using children or animals to manipulate the victim by threatening to harm, take away or use visitation to harass the victim
- Using economic abuse by controlling money, not allowing the victim to go to school, get a job, or have access to income
- Minimizing and denying the abuse or blaming the victim
- Using sexual abuse by raping or sexually assaulting a victim or physical abuse by beating, choking, kicking, slamming, punching or slapping
How to Get Help
One of the most dangerous times for a victim is when they try to leave the abuser and it is important to have a plan in place.
At UNF, the Victim Advocacy Program serves as a resource and support service for anyone in the University community who has been a victim of actual or threatened violence. The services offered range from emotional support to assistance navigating the criminal justice system. All members of the UNF community can utilize the 24-hour crisis intervention helpline by calling (904) 620-1010. Learn more about UNF's Victim Advocacy Program.
Jacksonville's domestic violence shelter for victims and children, Hubbard House, has a 24-hour hotline at (904) 354-3114. Hubbard House also partners with local service organizations to secure free boarding for pets while the victim is in the shelter. If a victim has access to computer or cell phone, they can log on onto www.hubbardhouse.org to reach out for help or make a safety plan; they should erase this search history on the computer, as abusers can track that.
Other Northeast Florida Resources:
- Micah's Place (Fernandina Beach): (904) 225-9979
- Betty Griffin Center (St. Augustine/St Johns County): (904) 824-1555
- Quigley House (Clay County): (904) 284-0061
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1(800) 799-SAFE
- Florida Domestic Violence Hotline: 1(800) 500-1119