Domestic Violence in the Suburbs
In communities of affluence and privilege, victims of domestic violence face special challenges. Some of the very characteristics that make the suburbs a desirable place to live may also create obstacles for victims when there is violence in the home. Kiersten Warning, the founder and former director of the Domestic Violence Victims Assistance Program has cited the following:
Isolation. In the suburbs, victims are more physically isolated from their neighbors. There is no one nearby who can hear or witness the abuse. There is also social isolation. Neighbors often don’t know each other, and each family is involved in its own activities.
High level of education. If a victim has a high level of education, this often increases the shame and self-blame people feel about being in an abusive situation. There is also the mistaken belief, even among some helping professionals, that domestic violence does not occur among well-educated people. This makes it difficult for victims to be readily believed. In instances of suburban domestic violence, advocates and community activists need to be trained well beyond the traditional domestic violence curriculum as referral systems in privileged communities often need to be much more extensive.
Elevated social status is one of the greatest barriers preventing victims from seeking help. Victims and abusers in affluent communities are the judges, doctors, lawyers, etc. who are held in high esteem by others. A victim must have great courage to identify herself as a victim of abuse. She must also accept that her friends and neighbors may not be willing to admit that domestic violence affects their community, let alone anyone they know.
Elevated income acts as another barrier to seeking help. Often victims are driving expensive cars without access to any money and are expected to put on a happy face while living in a hostage-like situation. They often do not have access to cash, credit cards, checkbooks, or even information about the amount and location of family assets.
Little support from family members. Family members tend to minimize the abuse because of the elevated social status and income of victims.
System-phobia. Most residents in affluent communities are unfamiliar and uncomfortable asking for help from traditional social service agencies and the police.
Systems warfare is one of the most common tools of privileged abusers. Victims often cannot afford to fight their partner’s abuse of the legal and social service system. Abusers’ threats that their victims will never have anything if they leave are very, very real. This factor alone contributes greatly to the number of silent victims.
Bizarre abuse. According to victims and to batterer intervention programs, bizarre acts of abuse are also characteristic of privileged communities. This bizarreness also becomes a barrier to seeking help as it can be shameful to admit and the risk of disbelief is high.