Why Domestic Violence Goes Unreported
Domestic violence often goes unreported due to emotional abuse, mental abuse, fear, and lack of financial resources.
Only about half of all domestic violence incidents are reported to law enforcement. That’s according to the National Crime Victimization Survey. Many times, one partner is controlling the other through a pattern of physical, verbal, or mental abuse.
Domestic violence is a serious, sometimes life-threatening situation, often fueled by power or control. It affects people of all races, ages, sexual orientations, religions, genders, socioeconomic backgrounds, and education levels. Domestic violence is a universal problem, so why does it often go unreported?
Domestic violence often occurs in intimate or changing relationships
Many times, domestic violence happens to people in intimate relationships—those who are married, living together, or dating. The violence can be perpetrated by someone you care for or love, which can make it that much more challenging to accept, let alone tell others about. You may have built a life with this person. You may share friends and family. You may have children together.
At the beginning of a relationship, many abusers are not abusers at all. They may play the role of a loving, caring partner, and their abusive behaviors may not surface for months, or even years, into the relationship. When the abuse does surface, it’s easy for the abuser to make believable excuses—he or she was having a bad day at work, it was just a temporary loss of control, or he or she just had too much to drink.
Domestic violence is sometimes hard to identify
Domestic violence is not always easy to recognize. Physical violence such as punching or choking may be obvious, but more subtle forms of abuse, such as making you feel guilty all the time or making you think you are crazy, can be hard to identify. Over time, your abuser may use this emotional abuse to make you doubt yourself or whittle away at your self-esteem so he or she can gain more power and control over you.
Some of the warning signs of domestic violence that may not be as blatant as physical violence include the following actions:
- Frequent verbal put downs and making you feel bad about yourself
- Exhibiting extreme jealousy of your friends or family and preventing you from spending time with them
- Spying on you or monitoring who you see, where you go, and what you do
- Taking your money or refusing to give you money
- Forbidding you from working
- Forcing or manipulating you into having sex or performing sexual acts
- Threatening to hurt your children, family, or pets
- Making you take drugs or drink alcohol
Fearing the consequences of reporting domestic violence
Domestic violence is frequently unreported because of fear. What will happen if you report the situation to the authorities; will your abuser hurt you, your children, your pets, or other family members?
Some domestic violence victims are afraid that no one will believe them, especially if the abuse is happening behind closed doors, and their spouse behaves like the model partner in public. Some victims are afraid they will lose custody of their children, or they’re scared that their friends or family will judge them.
Other victims are afraid that they don’t have the financial resources to support themselves without their partner’s help, let alone potentially hire a lawyer for a costly divorce or custody battle. For victims with a disability, domestic abuse is especially challenging to report because they are dependent on their abuser for their care.
What can you do if you suspect domestic violence?
If you or someone you know is the suspected victim of domestic violence, there are resources that can help. It’s critical to seek professional assistance right away. Here are a few places you can turn:
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233, or visit www.thehotline.org
- International Domestic Violence Resource Guide (2023)
- Local Domestic Violence Hotlines or Organizations, such as the YMCA, YWCA, Battered Women’s Shelter, Women Helping Women, Legal Aid Society, or local church resources.
- Local law enforcement officials, therapists, or attorneys