Writing About Domestic Violence 25

Since October is Domestic Awareness Month, I want to help bring awareness to this issue while offering ways to write about how violence affects each of us personally.

It’s not a subject we like to think about. And when it happens publicly, as recent viral videos have shown, those of us who have not experienced that kind of violence personally express morbid fascination and outrage. We know that no one — man or woman — should have to endure that kind of treatment, but it’s so ubiquitous we don’t know what to do about it.

Domestic Violence Month grew out of the Day of Unity begun in 1981 as a day intended to connect battered women’s advocates in their efforts to end violence against women and children. In 1989 Congress passed the first Domestic Violence Awareness Month Commemorative Legislation, and it has been observed every October since then.

Here is the first paragraph of the President’s proclamation of this year’s awareness month:

Domestic violence affects every American.  It harms our communities, weakens the foundation of our Nation, and hurts those we love most.  It is an affront to our basic decency and humanity, and it must end.  During National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we acknowledge the progress made in reducing these shameful crimes, embrace the basic human right to be free from violence and abuse, and recognize that more work remains until every individual is able to live free from fear.

I think we can all agree with those words. We have made progress since 1989, but we have a long way to go. Here are some recent statistics from a variety of web sources (sources cited at end of post):

  • 10% of teenagers are intentionally harmed by someone they are dating. In 2013, that figure included 1.5 million high school students.
  • One woman is beaten by her husband or partner every 15 seconds in the U.S.
  • One in four women experiences domestic violence in her lifetime.
  • It’s not just women. Yes, they represent 85% of the domestic violence victims, but let’s not forget the other 15%.
  • Police are more likely to respond quickly if they think the offender is unknown to the victim.
  • Based on reports from 10 countries, between 55 percent and 95 percent of women who had been physically abused by their partners had never contacted non-governmental organizations, shelters, or the police for help.

Reading these statistics has made me wonder how far we have really progressed. Here in the U.S., we believe we are more aware and less tolerant of this kind of violence, so if these are our statistics, how much worse is it in countries where domestic violence is still considered acceptable?

Below, I offer a few journaling, memoir, and personal essay writing prompts to help you develop your thoughts on this issue. Not all the prompts will apply to everyone, so just use what works for you.

The Writing Prompts

Journaling prompts:

  1. Perform a word association exercise with domestic violence at the center. After you’ve finished the word association, set a timer and freewrite for 10 minutes.
  2. How do you feel about having a month every year devoted to awareness of this issue?
  3. What experience do you have with domestic violence (include emotional and verbal abuse in your answer)? Write about its impact on your decision-making processes, then and now.

Prompts for memoir and personal essay:

  1. Write about a time you experienced domestic violence, either as a victim or perpetrator. If you never experienced this personally, write a scene about the first time you heard about domestic violence happening to someone you know.
  2. How far have we come in the long journey to end domestic violence around the world? Perform some historical research on this subject and write a summary of your findings.
  3. Get on a soapbox: Write a speech about what needs to happen to eliminate domestic violence and what your “listeners” can do today.
  4. Write a letter:
    • If you have ever been or are a victim of domestic violence, write a compassionate letter to yourself (to the past or present you) offering advice and wisdom for the future.
    • If you have never been a victim of domestic violence, but know of someone who has, use your imagination and write a letter from that person’s perspective about why he or she stayed and what it took (or will take) to get out of the situation.

I realize that even if you have never experienced or know someone who has been embroiled in domestic violence, this is not an easy subject to write about — and it is extremely difficult if you have experienced it. To all who take this subject on: thank you for your courage.

This much I know — writing has the power to heal.

I invite your comments on this topic and on the power of writing.


Domestic Violence Statistics Organization
Domestic Awareness Violence ProjectThe Whitehouse.gov press office website
Clark County Prosecuting Attorney



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25 thoughts on “Writing About Domestic Violence

  • barbara toboni

    Good article, Amber. I did a word association and one of the words I came up with was a love-hate relationship. I had a couple friends years ago that fought constantly to the point of physical violence. We, their peers, called it a love-hate relationship. Now when I look back on it, that phrase seems a form of denial, a way for us to look the other way when it was really a much more serious issue. I hope young people today are more aware than we were.

    • Amber Lea Starfire

      Barbara, thank you for sharing this bit of insight. You’re right that using the term “love-hate relationship” was probably a way of normalizing the fighting, a way to shrug one’s shoulders and look the other way. I think there is more awareness today and less tolerance of physical violence within a relationship — at least I hope so.

  • DAVE Jones

    I have been interested in this issue for many years, both from a personal and professional view. I have written a short play and a short story monolgue about domestic violence from a couple of different perspectives. The play has been performed and the monolugue is due to be performed at the end of September. Thanks for addressing the issue on your website.

  • Irene Arizmendez Harami

    Domestic violence doesn’t always exhibit itself with bruises and blood. It permeates the soul, the self esteem, the “your stupid”, “your dumb”, :you re ugly”. Then, controlling your actions, what you say in front of others, being groomed in how to behave in public, control what you read(i.e, library books of your interest), not wanting you to expand your knowledge by going back to school. Hiding your keys just when your about to go to class or stating they will not care for you child as you are leaving the house with no time to find a sitter. The slapping when you don’t agreed, you no longer have a voice, no communication w/family members, Walking on egg shells, pretending to hit you buy stopping one inch from your face. Beating you up, no longer slapping your face but punching your face and jaw because you went to visit your mother on Mother’s Day. Take a rifle down and loads it so you cannot take your children out of the house. The Alhambra police called by neighbor but they only gave me10 minutes to get clothes for kids. they don’t even take his gun away, No arrest or a question of an arrest, This was in 1980 Alhambra California. Policemen will side with the man……it was humiliating. I was bruised but made to feel like a nothing. I missed 1 week of work because of the bruising, had to use makeup to hide the bruises for a few weeks. This was a professional , a man who would later run for city council of Alhambra (lost). Intelligent, charismatic and in control. Emotional abuse damages your esteem that lasts a lifetime, even after 40 years I still don’t wear skirt/dresses because of the critical comments of my legs that in the back of my mind I still feel like he was right. After hearing for 13 years how dumb you are you tend to start to believe it which lead me not to try to go back to school or improve my life. Your fight with domestic abuse physically and emotional doesn’t end when you leave, you are fighting everyday to change how you think about yourself, what you were lead to believe about your looks/intelligence, etc. Even a harder task if you do not have a support group.

    • Amber Lea Starfire Post author

      Powerfully written, Irene and so true. Every word. The physical abuse is bad. Horrible. But the emotional abuse can be the worst part, because its effects are invisible and, as you share, last a lifetime. You are strong. You are beautiful. You are smart. These are the true words you need to hear. Thank you for sharing your story in a way that every person who reads can feel personally.

  • Inshallah Dragna

    I wrote a 6 paged article I just started and it will be under 20 pages. Which sites do I submit this to be paid for it Its my own experiences
    surviving abuse in childhood and through adulthood and have found writing to be a release like singing is for me.

    • Amber Lea Starfire Post author

      Inshallah, I can’t tell you which sites to submit it to or even if it’s ready for publishing, but I can say that writing is like singing for the soul. I love that idea. Keep writing and keep sharing about your experiences so that others know they are not alone and there is a way out.

  • Allyson Mills

    I am a victem of domestic violence 2 years of being “free” im still not.. i need help.. ive had no luck in my life what so ever.. council wont help me im stuck everyday that goes by just seems to get harder and harder im now dealing with heart problems.. waiting on a epg at the doctors and even im having to wait on that because there struggling to get “pads”. My lifes a mess i try to be strong but it just seems i get strong then something hits me again :'( why is it they say it will be ok.. when really it wont.. dreams turn into nightmares, the light fades when the suns shining it just always seems like its raining.. but when its actually raining u can cry freely as no one can see a tear as its just like a rain drop. Im not affraid of being alone im scared for life its self. When i think im getting there its like the mountian i just climed has trippled insize, why at the age of 22 am i getting pannic attaks.
    Its only been recently i went to the doctors ive had my bloods and waiting on a epc, i feel like my heart is on fire in my chest like theres no one there to put out the flames. My family ask for money when i wish to see them i know in this world thats all this world is about. Im thinking of just getting a horse and carage and going bk in time. But this world has evolved and is getting worse by the day. Those who actually need help are alone and suffeing.. but were do they actually go to get help?

    • Amber Lea Starfire Post author

      Allyson, I am so sorry you’re struggling as you are. In many cities and towns, there are domestic advocacy groups that have regular support group meetings. In addition, they can often connect you with much-needed resources. See if you can find one near you. And for anyone else who reads this comment, if you have additional suggestions for Allyson, please reply. Thank you.

    • Catherine Mitchell

      Good morning Allyson
      I’m sorry you feel alone and no where to turn if you need someone to talk to I am here. My name is Catherine and I am a Victor of domestic violence it has been 8 years since I’ve been set free. There is more to talk about, I can help you and show you the steps that help me and my kids heal. We will get through this together. My email is farministry3@gmail.com

  • Derek

    Hello i am a 33 year old male and i have myself been physically and emotionally abused for 2 year by my noq ex spouse(female) I am looking to write of my experience as a victim behind closed doors but to the outside world i was portrayed as an abuser by many and all people especially law enforcement. I have learned as a male and my own experience Males cannot be victims. Sitting in a cold concrete cell with numerous injuries for many hours because police refuse to believe a woman can inflict such injuries on a man(im 6 foot 2 190lbs) even though there is not a scratch on my now ex spouse because her lies were chosen as the truth. This is just one example of many and i am now ready to take a stand for myself and others i know who suffer at the hands of there wife, girlfriend, or common-law and write a small book. I do lack the know how of writing a small book, any pointers would be much appreciated, Thank you for reading.

    • Amber Lea Starfire Post author

      Derek, thank you for choosing to tell your truth. It’s difficult enough for women to be believed when they speak up about abuse, and I can only imagine how much harder it is for a man to speak up in the same situation: he is judged as somehow being “unmanly” and, as you say, people cannot imagine that the woman can be the abuser. But abuse happens both ways, and I think it’s important as a culture that we recognize that and listen to anyone who claims they are physically or emotionally abused. In those situations, I know it’s difficult for people (and police) to know who is lying and who is not, as it is often one person’s word against another. We must find a way to deal compassionately with everyone who says they’ve been a victim of violence.

      Regarding writing your story, I suggest you start with a search of my site here. I have a series called “From Memories to Memoirs” and many posts on Journaling for Memoir which will help you get started putting your story on paper. Then, there are posts on writing craft that can help you take it further. In addition, of course, there are many books on the craft of writing memoir. The main thing is to just start writing.

  • Donna

    Writing does help..this is a very good approach for a writing prompt..thank u for inspiring me by giving me a creative way to express and share my experience with others..hopefully someone can heal reading my words as I can heal by writing them.

    • Amber Lea Starfire Post author

      Donna, I’m so glad you found inspiration here. Your voice deserves to be heard and, yes, others can heal by reading and hearing about your experiences and how you overcame abuse. Thank you for sharing.

  • Tania

    I have a voice but no one is listening. I am a mother but I am scared for my children. I have a voice but I am not heard or respected . I lived with a bully someone to intimidated me and my children but I am paying the price. No one is listening. My children think its normal but it isnt. Who tells their children they are pigs; who sends their children to bed without food because they want you to do more homework and who washes their children’s mouth with soap and frightens them a bully does over and over but it is supposedly jovial. I left my children because I became scared of a man who picked on me nothing was right. My children watched but I had no voice. . I was financially abused but I have no voice. I am tired and all I seem to do is scream but no one is listening. My former husband does not tell me where my children are. My former husband doesn’t tell me anything about my children.
    They see therapists but I am not consulted and its his opinion only I have no voice no respect as a mother.
    I just have to accept, that I cannot prove emotional abuse but I can prove financial but no one is listening.
    My children will more than likely be abusers and be abuse but I cannot stop it no one is listening.
    Please listen I was told today I am not burnt but charred . I have paid tens of thousands to a system that is failing my children and myself.
    I now have my sister in law and she too is suffering the cruel treatment that her husband does to her and her children. He is no different to his brother. I have one person who knows what I went thru. My children are still there and I am desperate to help them and others.
    Please help me.

    • Amber Lea Starfire Post author

      Tania, thank you for sharing your heart-wrenching story and the frustration of not being heard, of not having a voice — or, conversely, of speaking up but no one listens. This is far too typical a story. And contrary to the myth that women usually get the children or that women are protected by the courts, my experience is that the courts let us down and do not listen. They believe the abusers. I cannot help you from here, but please do reach out to a domestic violence organization if there is one near you. Women helping women — that is how we recover.

  • Ellen Chamberlin

    I was a victim of domestic violence and I want to get an essay published but I don’t want him to sue me or do anymore damage to me, how do I go about getting my writing published without putting myself in harms way?

    • Jess Owen

      Hi Ellen, I’d like to be in touch re your enquiry and hope you have found a way to be heard. Nearly four years since your post but please email me if you read this as I identify with your dilemma. Best wishes

  • Cindy McGoldrick

    I sat motionless on the bed, tears streaming down my face and clutching my abdomen, feeling the pain aroung my bruised neck and praying to God, that my unborn child would be ok. There in the darkness, I.knew that few would understand or even sympathize that I was a victim of domestic violence.

    My daughter was nearly two years old, when the clouds of life came crashing down, as not only was I living in a private hell at home, I was working in a toxic work environment and trying to be a loving mother to my two young children. I had a mental breakdown at Christmas time. I looked at the Christmas tree and Holiday decor and felt dead inside and two weeks later, my husband hit me in the back of the head, the contusion was the size if a golf ball, and I was in such despair, that I took over 10 anti depressant medication.

    My life was spared and my world changed nearly two years later, when fate intervened and saved my babies and myself. My husband was arrested and sent to prison for murder.

    It was 35 years ago since he was arrested and a year ago I was told that he was going to be released from prison and immediately, I started to have PSTD flashbacks until I came to the realization that he would be over 1000 miles away and in a wheelchair. He was subsequently denied parole and this past July my son was notified that his father was dying of cancer and my son went to see his father in a prison hospital. His father passed away in August.

    My heart and soul goes out to every person who has been and/or is in an abusive relationship. My daughter followed in my footsteps and she was a 4th Generation survivor of Domestic Violence.

    There were little to no resources available when I was being abused and he did threaten to kill my young children. He never accepted responsibility for his behavior and at the end, I prayed that he was free from pain and died in peace.

    • Amber Lea Starfire Post author

      Cindy, thank you for sharing your heartbreaking and courageous story. It’s so important that women know that help is available. There are more resources today than there were 35 years ago — and more empathy for women in that horrendous situation — but we still have a long way to go. Stories like yours help to raise awareness. So again, thank you.

  • Frances Lewis

    Why when you talk about domestic violence do you only talk about battered wives? I feel great empathy for them and believe that their cause is underfunded. However, the cause of domestic violence against men is UNfunded and even unpublicized.

    • Amber Lea Starfire Post author

      Thank you for your question, Frances. Domestic violence goes in all directions and all should be talked about and funded. That said, the vast majority of domestic violence is male-to-female violence, so it’s natural that this would get the most attention. Because of the stigma involved (the “male macho” standard), men who are beaten by their partners are less likely to come forward. Hopefully, we can begin to break down some of those double standards in our conversations about the issue.