A number of factors can dissuade or prevent survivors from reporting domestic violence, so it’s difficult to understand just how common it is.
Domestic violence is the broad term for behavior designed to manipulate, control, belittle, or otherwise harm.
“There are subcategories under the domestic violence umbrella that name more specific scenarios of harm,” explains licensed clinical social worker Kaytee Gillis, LCSW-BACS, author of “Breaking the Cycle: the 6 Stages of Healing from Childhood Family Trauma” and “It’s Not ‘High Conflict’ It’s Post-Separation Abuse.”
The relationship between the perpetrator and the survivor is usually romantic, sexual, familial, or otherwise intimate. Often, the perpetrator lives in the same household as the person they are carrying out violence against.
“Domestic violence is common and can strike any group, regardless of their demographic makeup,” says Michelle Giordano, community counselor and outreach specialist with Find Luxury Rehabs, a treatment center database.
“It can impact persons of all racial backgrounds, gender identities, ages, socioeconomic statuses, and sexual orientations,” she says.
Experts believe that statistics show lower than actual figures due to the various systemic, legal, social, and emotional roadblocks to reporting.
“Domestic violence of all kinds is incredibly underreported,” says Giordano. “Therefore, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how widespread it is.”
“Survivors may not report for a wide variety of reasons,” she says. For instance:
- fear of what the abuser might do if they report them
- lack of awareness of the resources available for support
- feelings of shame, embarrassment, or humiliation about what happened
- lack of access to phone, computer, or other ways to contact help
- financial dependence on the abuser
- lack of faith in the criminal justice system
“It’s complicated when a person still wants to or feels obliged to protect their abuser, who is a loved one,” explains psychotherapist Courtney Glashow, LCSW, owner of Anchor Therapy in Hoboken, New Jersey.
Survivors who belong to historically marginalized groups may be especially reluctant to report. Undocumented immigrants, for example, may not call the police out of fear that this will lead to them being deported.
“Further, some men may not report domestic violence because they’re from a culture or faith that shames men for having been abused,” says Gillis.
“Despite the obstacles standing in the way of accurate reporting, the statistics that we have offer important perspectives on the occurrence and effects of domestic violence,” says Giordano.
Data from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence suggests that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men have experienced some form of physical violence, sexual abuse, or stalking by an intimate partner.
However, a 2020 review found that transgender people were 1.7 times more likely to experience intimate partner violence than cisgender people.
“While intimate partner violence can affect men and women, more often than not, women are the targets of serious physical abuse and sexual assault,” says Giordano.
It’s possible that the widespread association of intimate partner violence with women is one of the things that keeps men and people of other gender identities from reporting their abuse, notes Glashow.
Prejudice and discrimination against LGBTQIA+ communities may also contribute to difficulties in reporting domestic violence or accessing support despite being at increased risk of intimate partner violence.
According to the National Children’s Alliance, children are the most vulnerable during the first year of their lives.
Infants make up an estimated 15% of child abuse survivors, with approximately 28% of child maltreatment survivors under the age of 2.
American Indian, Alaska Native, and African American children also experience disproportionately high levels of abuse.
“Adults who use violence against their partners may also have a higher propensity to abuse and neglect their own children,” explains Gillis.
“Children who witness intimate partner violence are more likely to have a variety of bad outcomes, including the emergence of violent tendencies, the development of mental health issues, and the perpetuation of violence in subsequent relationships,” says Giordano.
“Elder abuse isn’t reported as often as other forms of abuse,” says Glashow. This is likely because the people experiencing it depend on the perpetrators for access to the outside world and other forms of care.
Perpetrators may also prevent elders from having one-on-one visits with others, limiting an elder’s ability to report what’s happening to them.
“Elder abuse can also be hard to spot,” says Glashow. “For instance, financial abuse toward an elder may go unnoticed because it’s common for family members or caregivers to have access to their bank accounts.”
“If an adult child is abusive toward their elderly parent, likely, they are also abusive in their other family relationships,” says Glashow.
Some people might think that survivors of childhood maltreatment may be more likely to carry out elder abuse against the perpetrators later in life. But Glashow says that’s not the case.
“You can be on the receiving end of violence as a child, or witness violence as a child, and not become violent in adulthood,” she says.
It can be scary to identify patterns of domestic violence in your own life or in the life of someone you love.
You don’t have to shoulder the burden of this fear and knowledge on your own. Many resources are available for domestic violence survivors and those who want to help the survivors in their own lives.
- National Domestic Abuse Hotline (800-799-7233): This free, confidential, 24/7 hotline connects you with someone who can help you formulate a game plan. Advocates have access to service providers and shelters across the United States.
- The Eldercare Locator (1-800-677-1116): This hotline is a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging that can be used to report elder abuse and help you find proper care for elders.
- Love Is Respect (National Dating Abuse Hotline): Offers young adults a chance to chat online, call, or text with advocates about dating, safety, and healthy relationships.
- Break the Cycle: This org uses blogs, info, and events to help young people ages 12 to 24 build healthy relationships.
- DomesticShelters.org: This searchable database can help you find shelters and nearby safety services.
- The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: This center has an online Trauma and Child Abuse Resource Center that provides information on all your questions about finding care, reporting neglect, and more.
Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist who is committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Healthline, her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.