The term “domestic” often refers to something that occurs within specified borders like a home or a country. In the case of domestic abuse, however, the repercussions reach far beyond the walls of a house or the borders of a country. It’s a pervasive concern that affects individuals, families and communities alike.

The effects of domestic abuse, or intimate partner violence, seep into our hospitals, our places of work and our schools. People who suffer from abuse are at higher risk for mental health challenges and often develop chronic health problems like asthma, heart disease, addiction and stroke. Abuse affects children’s ability to focus and learn in school. These children are also likely to have higher rates of hostility, anger, anxiety and mental health instability.

The stakes are high. Studies estimate this public health crisis costs the U.S. $5.8 billion annually in healthcare and productivity losses. The direct cost of health issues from domestic abuse totals more than $4 billion annually. Hospitals and the justice system are often unduly taxed. Domestic abuse is the most common cause of homelessness. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that victims of domestic violence lose nearly 8 million days of paid work per year resulting in a $1.8 billion loss in productivity for employers. A 2018 survey by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found 83% of respondents said abusive partners disrupted their ability to work. Of those, 70% were not able to have a job and 53% lost a job because of the abuse.

Fully 26% of children under the age of 18 are exposed to domestic abuse and are consequently more likely to experience learning and social delays, substance use disorders and trafficking. Children who live with abuse bring it to school every day. While highly resilient and capable of healing, these children may later become abusers or victims of abuse themselves. Low self-esteem, unpredictable behavior and sleep difficulties are common. These concerns may continue into adulthood and are often accompanied by stress-related medical disorders such as bronchitis, asthma, stroke and high blood pressure.

In addition to these concrete costs, domestic abuse also impacts quality of life. For many victims or survivors of domestic abuse, the opportunity to lead a meaningful life is overshadowed with homelessness, debt, injury, damaged credit, difficulties working and a host of mental health concerns. Victim-survivors who attempt to improve their lives often encounter barriers that can seem impossible to surmount: medical and mental health costs are high while debt mounts, educational choices may be limited due to affordability and lack of transportation, opportunities for promotion may be diminished due to lack of focus and missed work days and unwanted pregnancies may result from reproductive coercion. For many, concerns about their ability to provide for themselves and their children are a significant reason for staying in, or returning to, a relationship with an abuser.

For the millions of adults and children who experience domestic violence, connecting with resources is critical to promote healing. Studies show that it is especially helpful when services are wide-ranging, proactive, and available through one resource. New Hope Midcoast’s comprehensive services meet this need. A 24/7 helpline allows affected individuals to reach out at any time. Trained advocates provide trauma-informed services that are tailored to individual needs, promote empowerment and include legal support such as court accompaniment. Emergency and long-term housing options include resources to work on new life skills and debt reduction through our collaboration with New Ventures Maine.

Support groups can help survivors become more self-aware, recognize their experiences as abuse, address and explore fears and concerns, learn about safety planning and available resources and eventually address how best to move on. Groups at New Hope Midcoast serve this need through education, art, reading and discussions. Research also supports having young people exposed to domestic abuse prevention education. New Hope Midcoast offers student and teacher training throughout the year.

Communities simply can’t thrive when individuals and families are suffering. At New Hope Midcoast, our work is focused on addressing the suffering. We work in collaboration with schools, health care practitioners, law enforcement and other community agencies in the counties we serve. These partnerships help us prevent domestic abuse and advocate for our clients throughout their journey toward safety and self-sufficiency.

Domestic abuse costs us all dearly every day. But it doesn’t have to. With a network of support — from nonprofits, government agencies, and private organizations — survivors can find a path forward. The cycle of abuse can be broken. To learn how you can help ease suffering and support survivors, visit our website at newhopemidcoast.org/take-action/.

By Joan LeMole, development director, New Hope Midcoast

Advocates from New Hope Midcoast can be reached 24/7 via the helpline: 1-800-522-3304. 

New Hope Midcoast offers support to people in Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox and Waldo counties affected by domestic and dating violence and provides educational resources to assist our communities in creating a safer and healthier future.