Spousal or Relationship Abuse
Abuse is a crime. Typically, relationship abusers threaten, verbally attack, pull hair, push, throw, pinch, choke, squeeze, and/or strike the person with whom they're in a relationship — many times the person they profess to love. Abuse often escalates, slowly conditioning the victim to accept each worsening threat or heightened attack.
The longer one remains in an abusive relationship, the more normal it feels. If the abused has been raised in an atmosphere of violence and abuse, her past experiences strengthen the sense of familiarity and normality of her present situation. In other words, to this person the dynamics of dys-function, while often frightening, can feel like home on some level.
Yet it's not only the person who has been abused in the past who stays in an abusive relationship; research shows that most people can be vulnerable to abuse. In addition, the longer the abused stays the more power the abuser gains and the more fear he instills. Although the abused may want to leave, leaving becomes increasingly difficult. Violence can increase so gradually that the abused can be conditioned to accept it until it rises to an unacceptable, even dangerous, level.
There are many reasons people become involved with abusers, and many reasons why they stay. Reasons are particular and unique to each person and each situation. While the investigator's responsibility doesn't extend to answering the whys, understanding the client can allow her to provide services to her client with sensitivity and respect.
Spousal or relationship abuse is not only hurtful, it's embarrassing. The abused person typically doesn't report it because of a fear of exposing his powerlessness and shame. Even close family members are often unaware until someone is arrested or hospitalized — or worse.
Males almost never report abuse to law enforcement. Self-report studies have shown that the main reason for this is because males are ashamed to report abuse at the hand of a woman. In addition, they don't feel that they'll be believed.
Because it's difficult to prove, reporting abuse doesn't always result in the offender being charged, even after she is arrested — at least until the abuse escalates to real damage. Without proof, it remains a he said-she said battle. In this situation, males and females alike will turn to a private investigator in hopes of gathering evidence to prove their claim.
Some PIs use hidden cameras to catch the abuser in the act. This eliminates most of the abuser's defense, as her crime is available on screen for everyone to see. Also, see the National Domestic Violence Hotline. The toll-free number is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), and the TTY for the hearing impaired is 1-800-787-3224.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Definition
The CDC defines relationship abuse in the following categories:
Physical Abuse — pinching, hitting, shoving, kicking
Emotional Abuse — threatening language, name-calling, teasing, bullying, belittling, and keeping the abused from family and other relationships
Sexual Abuse — forcing sex acts, which include fondling as well as rape
The CDC defines abuse as a public health problem, and it reports the numbers are rising close to epidemic level. What this means to the PI is that he can expect to receive more of these cases, and had better know something about them. It also means that there is a grave need for professionals to work within communities providing public awareness and education about this problem.
Teen Dating Abuse
Dating abuse can happen to anyone. Teens aren't the only age group at risk, but they are the most vulnerable due to inexperience and lack of power. Alarming numbers of abuse have been reported among teens — male and female — and as with all crimes of this nature, there are bound to be many more cases that go unreported. Many adolescents possess the erroneous belief that possessiveness, jealousy and even physical abuse is proof of love.
Like those locked in spousal abuse, many teens find it difficult to determine where argument ends and abuse begins. Research has shown that alcohol is present in 40–50 percent of all abuse cases.
According to research performed in March 2006 by Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU), the following numbers tell the disturbing tale:
One in five teens in a serious relationship report being slapped, hit, or pushed
One in three girls in a serious relationship report concern that they would be physically hurt
One in four teens in a serious relationship report that their partner has tried to keep them from family and friends and pressured them to spend time only with the partner
One in three girls between the ages of sixteen and eighteen report that sex is expected in a relationship
Half of these girls experiencing sexual pressure report that they fear the relationship will end if sex isn't provided
Nearly one in four girls reported going further sexually than they wanted because of pressure
The investigator who is hired to look into abuse must tread carefully. In the case of adolescents, he should always remember that the targets are children, although they may not look or act like it. Care must be taken to protect their rights while gathering evidence.
Liz Claiborne Inc., working with the National Domestic Violence Center, has launched the National Teen Abuse Helpline (1-866-331-9474, TTY 1-866-331-8453) and the website Love Is Respect. This site provides a live chat line, newsletter, bill of rights, and pledge. The bill of rights informs teens they have the right to be treated well, and the pledge is intended to underscore the importance of treating others with respect.
Surveillance is the best method of determining how someone is treated. Follow the teen and her suspected abuser. Use covert body cameras to follow them inside a party, restaurant, movie, or club. You can get excellent footage in low-light areas with black and white cameras; color is better during the day or in well-lighted areas.
Don't neglect the value of interviewing those around the suspected abused teen. Teachers, neighbors, relatives, and even friends may be so concerned that they're willing to speak with you about what they feel is demeaning and even possibly dangerous to the teen. Interviewing those close to the abuser is more difficult, but there are always people who don't approve of his actions, and you can find them.
Stationary hidden cameras can help in proving this type of abuse. If the client is a parent, suggest putting cameras in the home, in an area where the teen and her abuser may spend time. Outside cameras can be a wonderful method of catching arguments when the couple arrives. Many arguments occur in the car on the grounds before a teen enters the house. Cameras can be purchased in waterproof outdoor lights, tree stumps, plants, and other materials.