Please read this post about domestic violence at The Angry Black Woman's site. It's powerful stuff!
This comment on the post mentioned above, by a knowledgeable mediator, gives great insight into the phenomena of abusers who never actually raise a hand. The commenter works with domestive violence victims and abusers regularly.
Thanks for this post - these things can’t be reiterated enough. I work at a mediation center and spend a lot of time screening mediation referrals for domestic violence, and it is so much more about power and control than it is about actual violence. Not to say that violence isn’t a major issue -- it is, but many of the most effective abusers never/rarely have to raise a hand, because they have such a tight level of control on the victim, who often doesn’t even self-identify as a “victim of domestic violence” because of limited understanding of what domestic violence entails.
I’ve been doing domestic violence screening for nearly 4 years now, and often its obvious from a history of orders of protection and police calls that there is a problem, but for the other cases (where its never gotten on the radar of courts or law enforcement), an important “warning sign” that I’ve learned to recognize involves the way that the man (usually it IS a man, although I’ve seen it go the other way) engages in conversation. The power and control issues often come out - even in a seemingly casual conversation -- as domestic violence offenders authoritatively but subtly (artfully) control the course of the conversation, often speaking in absolutes that casually negate any other possible point of view than their own, shut down particular paths of dialogue (unilaterally switching gears without acknowledging why), and firmly and smoothly try to replace the options that are available with a different set of options that they are willing to consider. I’ve noticed this in my screening at work, and its made it a lot easier to spot potential power-n-control jerks outside of work too.
Knoxville, TN has a really great resource called The Family Justice Center. Back before the FJC was around, a DV victim seeking resources might have to make between ten and twenty stops to different places to get the different kinds of help she needs to get out of a bad situation. There was one place for the shelter, another for clothing and food, another for custody assistance, another for orders of protection, another for counseling, another to deal with the needs of traumitized children, another to develop a safety plan for leaving the home, another to deal with pets, etc. Basically, it was nearly logistically impossible for a woman who is being controlled and monitored to have made all those trips to all those places, and it was a major problem. The Family Justice Center now has 40 agencies under one roof, and the woman just has to show up and go through an intake, and she stays in one room and the service agencies all come to HER, while she gets to watch her children, who are looked after by staff, in the next room. It really is a model that works well, and is very victim-centric and takes into account the need for a woman to have a serious amount of support when she’s planning on leaving a bad situation (or if she’s having trouble AFTER or BEFORE leaving). I don’t know how many other places are using a model like that, but its an amazing resource.