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Collateral victims: animals in domestic abuse

Animals feel the effects of abuse, too.
Animals feel the effects of abuse, too.

"My first cat started vomiting and he would kick it as punishment. I didn't know it was his violence that was causing the vomiting."

A brave domestic abuse survivor, who asked to remain anonymous, agreed to tell her story. For the duration of the article, will be referred to as "Jane". The above quote is only one of the startling, perhaps graphic, things that Jane, her children, and her pets were forced to endure.

When it comes to domestic abuse numbers, the figures are more than staggering. An estimated 24 people per minute are the victims of rape, physical violence and even relentless stalking by intimate partners in the United States alone. That's an unfortunate 12 million men and women in the course of a year. These statistics alone are sobering, but the tragedy does not end there. Family, children, friends, and even the victim's pets are often subjected to these terrors, and this creates a whole new set of horrifying numbers.

Approximately 1 million animals are abused or killed in connection with domestic violence every single year. Animal abuse in households is often a precursor for things that are to come. Anger is first projected towards the most helpless members of the family, and if an animal is present, it's likely that they will be the unwitting target of the abuser. Jane's case is no exception to this guideline.

Examiner: 'You mentioned before we started speaking privately that you had animals whilst living with him. Do you think you could tell me some of the ways he may have harmed them?'

Jane: 'He threw me out of the house after I'd had a nervous breakdown. He kept my children for four months, until social services finally removed them and brought them to me. That's when he fed them my duck.'

You did not read that wrong. Jane's abuser fed her pet duck to her unknowing children, and then subsequently used this information to taunt her. While this particular act is extreme, her abuser's actions are not atypical. Attacking the things, living or not, that mean most to their victims is a sure fire way to manipulate them emotionally. Jane tells me that she has never told her children what actually happened, but instead, shoulders the pain on her own to shield them from the truth.

Jane then goes on to share this, "My cats died. But I didn't know it was down to him until I was in the refuge. It's hard to explain, hon. It's like I was brainwashed. I couldn't believe someone I thought I loved could be so evil. When he hit me I believed it was my fault. There's so much I saw, but didn't see, if you know what I mean."

For someone who's never experienced abuse at the hands of someone they care for, this can be a hard concept to grasp. Seeing your children abused, or your animals brutally murdered by someone you are supposed to be able to trust can cause feelings of guilt, self hatred, and extreme fear. Their wicked machinations can become a sort of indoctrination, and after a time, the victim can begin to believe that everything that happens is a result of their own actions. This is often cited as one of the reasons that people are unable to break free from these horrible situations, and it's a very real condition.

But for victims of domestic abuse, there are new ways of getting help or coping. Social networking may seem fun, even frivolous at times, but it's also beginning to provide new outlets of self help. Pages such as Surviving Abuse can offer motivation, guidance, and a much needed support structure where a survivor may have had none. The admins of pages like this are volunteers who are happy to give their time to support people who have been through many of the same things they have, and assist people in removing themselves from toxic situations.

If you or someone you know is struggling with domestic abuse, or are a survivor in need of help, pages like the one listed above can help. You can also call this number for additional information or help:

The National Domestic Abuse Hotline - 1-800-799-7233

Remember, you don't have to do this alone.

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