- (Photo: Reuters/Fred Prouser)
One in four women can experience domestic violence in her lifetime.
Stunning estimates range from 960,000 incidents of violence against a current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend to 3 million women who are physically abused by their husband or boyfriend per year, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Between 600,000 and 6 million women are victims of domestic violence each year, and between 100,000 and 6 million are men.
Abuse - it can strike at any level of the social ladder and does not discriminate among the rich, poor, working class, even celebrity status.
From the outside looking in, it seems like celebrities lead a life that is full of wealth and happiness. Many people have preconceived notions about victims of domestic violence. But they often aren’t correct.
A woman is battered in the United States every 15 seconds and domestic violence can strike any household.
Unlikely victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and stalking crimes are coming forward with more frequency to tell their story. The stories we are hearing from Hollywood celebrities do not seem to fit any of the preconceptions.
Psychologists say besides beatings, battering can involve threats of violence, verbal abuse and/or sexual assault. Domestic violence is not something anyone enjoys, asks for, or deserves.
The problems with coming forward exist in the minds of the victim. They often feel isolated, powerless, fearful, guilty, and dependent financially and/or physically.
Abuse of any kind can leave victims feeling trapped and unable to help themselves. It stands to reason that once someone reaches a level of self-confidence and reassurance, they are able to tell their story.
Some Christians say, "A shared pain will cut it in half and a shared victory will double the blessings."
“Whenever a celebrity comes forward about the problem, it helps thousands of people across the country because now they have something to name what they are going through," Terri Heckman, executive director of Battered Women’s Shelter in Ohio, told The Christian Post.
"Many domestic violence victims don’t call it abuse because they think abuse is something that happens to other people. The victims themselves are the ones who have to reach out to recognize that what they are dealing with is domestic violence. So when a celebrity reaches out and says (the abuse) wasn’t their fault, it helps other people start healing. It takes a very brave person to do that.”
A few of the high-profile celebrities that have come forward to tell their story of abuse include Charlize Theron, Christina Aguilera, Halle Berry, Rihanna, Tina Turner, Oprah Winfrey, and most recently Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Taylor Armstrong.
Singing sensation Rihanna spoke at length for the first time about the night when ex-boyfriend Chris Brown beat her so severely she had to cancel her performance at the Grammy Awards the next day.
In interviews with Diane Sawyer and Glamour magazine, the pop star spoke about overcoming the shame of being in an abusive relationship, the humiliation of having a police photo of her injuries leaked to TMZ.com, channeling her anger into her new album, and being a role model to other women suffering at the hands of a loved one.
Halle Berry came forward about her story of abuse involving her childhood.
"My mother was a battered woman and that was my childhood for a good chunk of it," Halle told NBC's Natalie Morales.
The actress, who has been involved for years with fundraising and support for the Jenesse Center, a shelter for domestic violence victims in L.A., said she grew up watching her father abuse her mother and older sister and then repeated the pattern in her own life.
She told her life story in Ebony magazine including the time that a boyfriend's beatings had caused her to lose 80 percent of the hearing in her right ear.
"The minute he did that, I was gone," she told the Daily Mail.
"My mother always told me, 'If a man hits you, you leave.'" These days Halle is the mother of a baby girl, Nahla, and dedicates much of her charity work to helping other women recover from and flourish after domestic violence.
Daytime television icon Oprah Winfrey came forward announcing her past experiences as an abused child. She was sexually abused by several male family members when she was nine-years-old, and told to keep it a secret. Winfrey was pregnant in her early teens. The father was her older male cousin.
When the child died at child birth, Winfrey remained silent saying she was “confused and afraid of what might happen."
Winfrey finally told her story in front of millions during one of her daytime television shows. Afterwards, she said she received so many phone calls and letters from people thanking her because they had been abused as a child too and were suffering in silence.
Recently, she appeared on CNN as Piers Morgan's first guest and talked openly about the shame she felt after the abuse.
"My father said, 'I would rather see a daughter of mine floating down the Cumberland River, than to bring shame on this family and the indecency of an illegitimate child,'" Winfrey told Morgan.
“He’s saying that to me, and I know that I am pregnant. So I’m thinking, well, I’m just going to have to kill myself,” she said. "My life would have turned out completely different if I had that baby, completely different."
Today, Winfrey donated millions of dollars to victims of abuse and takes opportunities to bring help to those who suffered from the same crime.
Hollywood big hitter Charlize Theron is now a UN messenger of peace, but as a child in South Africa, she lived with an abusive, alcoholic father who threatened to kill her and her mother. When Theron was 15, her mother, Gerda, shot and killed her father in self-defense.
The actress told CNN Piers Morgan she doesn’t talk about the experience much. She founded the first of two rape-crisis centers in South Africa, which has very high rates of intimate partner violence. She has also participated in Eve Ensler's V-Day Project, which raises money and awareness to help abused women.
"Women stay in abusive relationships because it’s easier,” continues Heckman.
“They know what is going to happen. They know what sets their partner off and they think they can plan for it and hopefully avoid those kinds of situations.”
Heckman says a lot of abused partners stay because they don’t think there is a better alternative. Most of the time, the abused is told that they “are ugly, worthless or stupid” and after a while, they begin to believe it. A lot of the abused victims don’t think they can make it on their own.
“[Society] wants to believe that as soon as someone hits you, you leave. In reality, most of us go back to a relationship we left, whether it’s abusive or not. We go back because we’re comfortable and scared of the unknown," Heckman said.
“Most people don’t just end a relationship and move on with their life.” Often times when the abuser apologizes, the victim will accept the apology, forgive them reluctantly, and return to the household.
Heckman said she believes this is because we have been raised in a society that believes we must be forgiving.
In some cases, yes, we should forgive. However, when dealing with abuse one shouldn’t be a doormat. If it happened once and no professional help was sought, it is probable that it will happen again.
Records show there are more than three million cases of sexual abuse reported each year.
"The adverse childhood experiences have been proven to be the main determinant of the health and social well-being of our nation,” said Karen Costa, clinical director of the Center for Prevention of Abuse.
"Child abuse, particularly sexual abuse, can have long-term impact on a person well until after they’ve reached adulthood. People who have been abused show higher rates of aggression, anxiety, and depression. It can be hard for them to learn.”
Experts say the best way to treat sexual abuse is to recognize it and deal with it early. The victim should be sure to seek counseling from someone who focuses on trauma therapy.
Research shows that if a victim gets the help they need right after the incident - it can stop the cycle of abuse.
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network
Family Violence Prevention Fund
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Phone: 303 839 1852
National Battered Women's Law Project
Crime Victims HOTLINE: 800-621-4673
Rape and Sexual Assult & Incest HOTLINE: 212-227-3000
Domestic Violence Shelter Tour
24-hour hotline: 800-621-HOPE (4673)
National Resource Center on Domestic Violence
Battered Women's Justice Project
Phone: 800-903-0111, ext.1
Resource Center on Domestic Violence, Child Protection, and Custody
National Clearinghouse on Marital and Date Rape
Faith Trust Institute
(Formerly Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence)
Phone: 206-634-1903, ext. 10
Womenspace National Network to End Violence Against Immigrant Women
24 Hour Mercer County Hotline: 609-394-9000
(Sources used for this news story: YourTango.com, TMZ, U.S. Department of Justice, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, CNN Archives: Piers Morgan transcripts.)