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Life After Abuse: Introduction

Life after Abuse is a series of articles discussing how domestic abuse, sexual assault, and child abuse impacts the lives of victims and survivors. This article explains the Abuse Cycle, why victims stay with abusers, and different forms of abuse.

     We’ve all seen the news stories about people who have been abused. The horror story about the Austrian woman who was held captive by her father and regularly assaulted exploded on to the scene in April of 2008. Other stories, while not as dramatic, are regularly in the police blotter for small towns and cities. Countless other situations where some one is being abused play out in silence behind closed doors. While abuse is clearly known to be wrong, the effects it has on the victims and survivors are not finished when the last blow is landed or the offender is in jail.

     There are many different forms of abuse that happen. Most forms of abuse have a pattern in common that is known as the Abuse Cycle. It has been described in several different ways. Presented below is one interpretation of this cycle.

  1. Honeymoon Phase: In this phase, the abuser acts in a fashion that is pleasant and kind to the victim. The abuser demonstrates a great deal of affection and, if this follows the battering phase, highly apologetic. The honeymoon phase lulls the victim into a false sense of security.
  2. Tension Building Phase: In this phase, the victim begins to feel fear and anxiety. This is because of the implied threat of harm from the abuser. The victim will attempt to appease or otherwise disarm the tension that develops between them and the abuser in an effort to prevent an outburst.
  3. Battering Phase: This phase is where the abuser will engage in the abusive behavior. In some situations, this is by battering or otherwise physically assaulting the victim. In other situations, it may be verbal or psychological violence against the victim. The objective of the abuser in the battering phase is generally to assert dominance and control over the victim.

     While the battering phase is obviously abusive and clearly unacceptable, victims will stay with the abuser because of the mixed signals given during the honeymoon phase. Often, the abuser presents a convincing enough facade to the victim, that the victim believes that the abuse perpetuated in the battering phase was an isolated incident. This is most commonly seen in situations of domestic abuse where the victim is romantically involved with their abuser.

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