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PTSD and the Link to Domestic Violence

June 3, 2024

Written by Kathryn Marsh, Prosecutor’s POV

“People think of battered women as unable to think for themselves, unable to do this,
not able to do that. In reality, they’re the most resourceful, resilient, kind, compassionate
people I think I’ve ever come across.” Kathy Jones 1

June is PTSD Awareness Month. Approximately 7% of people will develop PTSD in
their lifetime, 2 and approximately 12 million people are living with PTSD in the United
States. 3 It is important that we take time to understand the symptoms and support
individuals diagnosed with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, especially those whose
diagnosis is directly linked to the domestic violence they have suffered.
So, what is PTSD? PTSD is a mental health diagnosis that individuals can develop
after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic or life-threatening event. PTSD symptoms
can vary from person to person, however four main symptoms of PTSD involve:
Experiencing unwanted memories (nightmares or flashbacks); Avoidance (avoiding
reminders or triggers; avoiding crowds, avoiding former activities; detachment or
estrangement from others; or simply staying busy); Negative thoughts and feelings
(feeling guilt or shame, feeling that everything is dangerous; not being able to trust
others); and Feeling on Edge (Persistent fear; trouble sleeping, jittery, quick to anger). 4
While these are four main symptoms I encourage everyone to use the resources below
or articles linked in the endnotes to learn more.

There is a proven and established link between PTSD and domestic violence, and it’s
not a link for the abuser, but rather the victim. Domestic violence may include physical
abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, as well as verbal or psychological abuse.
Domestic violence may occur once or repeatedly over a significant period of time and
may be the traumatic or triggering event for PTSD. Victims of domestic violence may
experience an increased likelihood of developing PTSD if they sustain physical injury,
lack of a support system, or have a history or mental illness or addiction. 5 Studies in the
UK found that two thirds of domestic violence survivors experience PTSD. 6 And in the
US research has shown that between 31%-84% of domestic violence survivors will
develop PTSD. 7 But domestic violence trauma doesn’t just impact the intimate partner.
Children who witness domestic violence also experience trauma. 13% of youth who
were exposed to intimate partner violence in the home meet the diagnostic criteria for

There should be no shame or guilt for being diagnosed with PTSD. PTSD is a direct
result of the trauma inflicted on, or witnessed by, the individual. In cases of domestic
violence, PTSD is just as much of an injury as a broken bone or scar. In fact, courts
have recognized the psychological injury of a domestic violence victim when calculating
sentencing guidelines for the abuser.

One of the most important steps a victim of domestic violence or child witness of
domestic violence can do is develop a support system. This includes an emotional
support system which may be family, friends, counselors or a domestic violence shelter

or program. While it is easy to write, establish a support system, victims of domestic
violence who have PTSD may struggle with the concept of trusting others or accepting
help. “I know that the world is not my abuser. It’s a much kinder, more open place. But
it’s a paralyzing conflict. I adore people, but I find myself feeling more and more like an
outsider, which causes feelings of anxiety and self-consciousness.” Melanie 9 . Melanie’s
quote highlights why it is even more important for those who care for victims of domestic
violence to understand the symptoms of PTSD and be patient with survivors on their
healing journey.

In the past couple of weeks many have viewed the video of Sean “Diddy” Combs
abusing Cassandra “Cassie” Ventura in 2016. At the time of the abuse Combs was
quick to deny the violence, and many supported Combs in the immediate aftermath of
Cassie’s report. With the video coming to light Cassie has acknowledged the impact
domestic violence has had on her life – breaking her down to someone she never
thought she would be, while also acknowledging that she will always be recovering from
the abuse. 10

As we recognize June as PTSD Awareness Month. I urge everyone to follow the words
of Cassie when it comes to survivors of domestic violence. “My only ask is that
EVERYONE open your heart to believing victims the first time. It takes a lot of heart to
tell the truth out of a situation that you were powerless in. I offer my hand to those that
are still living in fear. Reach out to your people, don’t cut them off. No one should carry
this weight alone. This healing journey is never ending, but this support means
everything to me.” 11

PTSD Resources for Survivors and Friends and Family
National Center for PTSD:
Understanding PTSD: A Guide for Family and Friends –
PTSD Family Coach App –
Primary Care PTSD Screen (This is a preliminary at home screening tool only and not a
diagnosis) –
PTSD Coach online –
National Center for PTSD:
Understanding PTSD: A Guide for Family and Friends –
PTSD Family Coach App – Care PTSD Screen (This is a preliminary at home screening tool only and not a
diagnosis) –
PTSD Coach online –

1 Thompson, Zahara “What it’s Like to Live With PTSD After Escaping Domestic Violence” SELF, April 19, 2018
2 Source: Kreesler, R.C. Sonnega, A., Bromet, E., Hughes, M., & Nelson, C.B. (1995). Posttraumatic stress disorder in
the national comorbidity survey. Archives of General Psychiatry, 52(12), 1048-1060
3 Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); Anxiety & Depression Association of America.
4 National Center for PTSD, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Overview, Treatment and Resources, Veterans Health
Administration PPT January 2022
5 The Connection Between Domestic Violence and PTSD, Beaufort Memorial Hospital, November 2021,
6 Causes of PTSD: Domestic Violence, PTSDUK,
7 Linking PTSD and Domestic Violence; Connections for Abused Women and Their Children; March 8, 2023.
8 Causes of PTSD: Domestic Violence, PTSDUK
9 Thompson, Zahara
10 Rountree, Cheyenne and Dillon, Nancy “Cassie Breaks Silence After Sean Combs Attack Video: ‘Believe Victims
the First Time’ Rolling Stone, May 23, 2024
11 Id.

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