(WOMENSENEWS)–Carissa Daniels is a terrorism survivor. For years she lived in a state of chronic fear and watchfulness, restricting where she went and what she did.
“My system is still in hyper-drive,” she said. “Terrorism changes your behavior in the moment and for the rest of your life.”
The terrorism that Daniels suffered did not take place in New York or London or Madrid. She wasn’t a victim of al-Qaida. The attacks took place repeatedly over nine years at her home in Washington state. They were physical, emotional and sexual, and inflicted by the man she lived with, the father of her child.
Although Daniels left her abuser more than a decade ago, he remains a threat to her safety and that of her daughter. Now 55 and 18, they struggle with long-term effects that include poverty and serious health problems.
“Even the simplest things are no longer simple,” Daniels said. The loss of freedoms, self-sufficiency, safety and emotional tranquility are the same outcomes that global terrorists aim for, though evidence suggests that abusive partners achieve them more effectively.
The stories of survivors from different countries and circumstances are strikingly aligned. A British study released in early July draws on such stories to make the case that domestic abuse functions psychologically in the same way as global terrorism.
“Framing domestic abuse as ‘everyday terrorism’ helps us understand how fear works,” writes Rachel Pain, the study’s author and a professor of geography at Durham University in England.
The report, “Everyday Terrorism: How Fear Works in Domestic Abuse,” confronts the assumption that, at some level, victims of domestic attacks choose their fates. Pain’s findings indicate that entrapment is not a byproduct of masochism or misguided love, but of women’s rational fear (validated by research) that they and their children are never so at risk as when separating from a violent partner.
The findings confirm what advocates for domestic abuse survivors have long known.
“This is where domestic abuse is the same as any other kind of terrorism. She is terrorized because he has conditioned her to be,” said Ruth Jewell, president of the board of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, based in Washington, D.C., in an email interview.
“Not only do the victims of both forms of terrorism share the same painful consequences–the terrorists use the same tactics,” said Trese Todd, president of the Thrivers Action Group, a Seattle nonprofit that addresses domestic violence.
Pain’s study underscores a powerful disconnect between public perceptions of these two types of terrorism. Global terrorism looms large as a defining horror of our times while its domestic counterpart is relatively overlooked. One is seen as an outcome of mass religious zealotry, the other as a matter of private melodrama and personal failings.
Our inadequate response to domestic abuse is satirized in a video starring Lauren Luke, a young British woman whose make-up technique videos have launched her international career. In a public service announcement released earlier this month by the British charity Refuge, Luke demonstrates how to conceal the bruises inflicted by a possessive boyfriend.
Domestic abuse is endemic in the U.S. Nearly one in four women is beaten or raped by a partner during adulthood, according to the National Violence Against Women Survey in 2000. This is fairly consistent with European rates.
This abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional or psychological, usually in combination. More than three women and one man are murdered by their current or former partner every day in the United States (in 2005, this meant a total of 1,182 women and 329 men, counting only direct homicides).
The floundering economy is said to have exacerbated the frequency and severity of domestic attacks.
Cost of Terrorism
Such statistics present domestic abuse as a series of incidents affecting individuals and our societal response, inadequate as it is, tends to be organized along these lines. But the processes that link those incidents cause far broader social harms. Domestic abuse is a major driver of the break up of families, the loss of self-sufficiency of victims, the perpetuation of poverty, intergenerational trauma and the rising public costs of housing, health care and legal services.
The cost of this “everyday terrorism” was estimated at $8.3 billion in 2003 by medical economist Wendy Max and her colleagues at the University of California San Francisco. But this is probably an understatement. The impact of domestic abuse is far-reaching and poorly delineated; such calculations involve numerous decisions about what to include. In 2009, the Academy of Violence and Abuse, an interdisciplinary organization based in Minnesota, assessed the annual U.S. health care costs arising from domestic abuse at $333 billion to $750 billion (between 16 percent and 37 percent of total health costs).
In Britain, which has a population a fifth the size of ours, the sociologist Sylvia Walby has estimated the cost per year at the equivalent of $25 billion.
“If these casualty figures and costs represented the impact of al-Qaida, they would generate media saturation and political drama,” said Pain, commenting on her study.
And also vast expenditure. The U.S. military response to 9/11 in Afghanistan and Iraq has cost up to $4 trillion, and homeland security an additional $1 trillion-plus. (In the same period, terrorists have killed 33 people in the United States.)
A ‘Perfect Storm’
The funding to organizations working with domestic abuse victims, meanwhile, has substantially declined, a trend highlighted in the Mary Kay Truth About Abuse survey this year of agencies nationwide.
“Across the U.S. we’re seeing a ‘perfect storm’ of funding challenges at the same time that demand is higher than ever,” said Cindy Southworth of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, based in Washington, D.C.
A national census of domestic violence agencies in September 2011 found that more than 67,000 victims were served in a single day. More than 10,000 requests for services, two-thirds of them for housing, could not be met. Terrorism survivor Daniels called shelters multiple times a day to find a spot and spent four months moving between refuges – a typical experience.
Yet the cost-benefits of such services have been demonstrated by research. (The advocates interviewed for this story emphasized that victims should keep calling shelters and help lines until they get a response.)
Despite the clear need for shelters and the other services offered by agencies, they cannot solve this problem. They are a “social placebo,” said Thrivers Action Group’s Todd, a poor substitute for our societal refusal to hold abusers accountable for their criminal behavior. But they remain the only option for thousands of women and children. While we relentlessly place the onus on the victims to get out, we’re closing off their precious few escape routes.