If you are being abused, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−SAFE (7233) or TTY 1−800−787−3224 or your local emergency services
What Is Domestic Abuse?
Domestic violence (also called intimate partner violence (IPV), domestic abuse or relationship abuse) is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.
Domestic violence does not discriminate. Anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender can be a victim – or perpetrator – of domestic violence. It can happen to people who are married, living together, or who are dating. It affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels.
Domestic violence includes behaviors that physically harm, arouse fear, prevent a partner from doing what they wish or force them to behave in ways they do not want. It includes the use of physical and sexual violence, threats and intimidation, emotional abuse and economic deprivation. Many of these different forms of domestic violence/abuse can be occurring at any one time within the same intimate relationship.
Domestic abuse takes many forms.
Read more about physical domestic abuse.
Read more about sexual abuse/intimate partner rape
Read more about emotional abuse.
Read more about economic abuse.
Read more about reproductive abuse.
There are no “better” or “worse” cases of domestic abuse and domestic violence. If you are victim of domestic abuse, it’s not okay. You may feel terrified; unsure of how to get help or how to get out of the situation.
Know this: there is help available.
What is the Cycle of Domestic Abuse?
First, understand the Cycle of Domestic Abuse:
Abuse: The abuser lashes out in a power play designed to show the victim who the boss is.
Guilt: The abuser feels guilt, not for what he’s done, but over being caught for his abusive behavior.
Excuses: The abuser rationalizes what he or she has done. The abuser may rationalize what he/she has done by making up excuses or blaming the victim. Anything but take responsibility for his/her actions.
“Normal” Behavior: Abuser tries to regain control of victim to keep victim in relationship. May act like nothing has happened. May turn on the charm. This may make the victim think that the abuser has really changed.
Fantasy/Planning: Abuser fantasizes about next abuse. Spends much time deciding what to punish victim for and how he’ll/she’ll make victim pay. Then he/she makes a plan to turn the abuse into a reality.
Set-up: Abuser sets victim up, puts plan into motion to create a situation to justify abuse.
What Are The Types of Abuse An Abuser May Inflict Upon Me?
It can be terrifically hard to determine the line between normal relationship disagreements and fight and what is abuse. It’s important to open your mind to see if your partner does any of the following:
Physical Abuse: You may be experiencing physical abuse if your partner has done or repeatedly does any of the following tactics of abuse:
- Pulling your hair, punching, slapping, kicking, biting or choking you
- Forbidding you from eating or sleeping
- Hurting you with weapons
- Preventing you from calling the police or seeking medical attention
- Harming your children
- Abandoning you in unfamiliar places
- Driving recklessly or dangerously when you are in the car with them
- Forcing you to use drugs or alcohol (especially if you’ve had a substance abuse problem in the past)
Emotional/Verbal Abuse: You may be in an emotionally/verbally abusive relationship if you partner exerts control through:
- Calling you names, insulting you, or continually criticizing you
- Refusing to trust you and acting jealous or possessive
- Trying to isolate you from family or friends
- Monitoring where you go, who you call, and who you spend time with
- Demanding to know where you are every minute
- Trapping you in your home or preventing you from leaving
- Using weapons to threaten to hurt you
- Punishing you by withholding affection
- Threatening to hurt you, the children, your family,or your pets
- Damaging your property when they’re angry (throwing objects, punching walls, kicking doors.)
- Humiliating you in any way
- Blaming you for the abuse
- Accusing you of cheating and being often jealous of your outside relationships
- Serially cheating on you and then blaming you for his or her behavior
- Cheating on you intentionally to hurt you and then threatening to cheat again
- Cheating to prove that they are more desired, worthy, etc. than you are
- Attempting to control your appearance: what you wear, how much/little makeup you wear, etc.
- Telling you that you will never find anyone better, or that you are lucky to be with a person like them
Sexually abusive methods of retaining power and control include an abusive partner:
- Forcing you to dress in a sexual way
- Insulting you in sexual ways or calls you sexual names
- Forcing or manipulating you into to having sex or performing sexual acts
- Holding you down during sex
- Demanding sex when you’re sick, tired ,or after hurting you
- Hurting you with weapons or objects during sex
- Involving other people in sexual activities with you against your will
- Ignoring your feelings regarding sex
- Forcing you to watch pornography
- Purposefully trying to pass on a sexually transmitted disease to you
Sexual coercion: Sexual coercion lies on the ‘continuum’ of sexually aggressive behavior. It can vary from being egged on and persuaded, to being forced to have contact. It can be verbal and emotional, in the form of statements that make you feel pressure, guilt, or shame. You can also be made to feel forced through more subtle actions. For example, an abusive partner:
- Making you feel like you owe them — Because you’re in a relationship, because you’ve had sex before, because they spent money on you or bought you a gift
- Giving you drugs and alcohol to “loosen up” your inhibitions
- Playing on the fact that you’re in a relationship, saying things such as: “Sex is the way to prove your love for me,” “If I don’t get sex from you I’ll get it somewhere else”
- Reacting negatively with sadness, anger, or resentment if you say no or don’t immediately agree to something
- Continuing to pressure you after you say no
- Making you feel threatened or afraid of what might happen if you say no
- Trying to normalize their sexual expectations: ex. “I need it, I’m a man”
Even if your partner isn’t forcing you to do sexual acts against your will, being made to feel obligated is coercion in itself. Dating someone, being in a relationship, or being married never means that you owe your partner intimacy of any kind.
Reproductive coercion is a form of power and control where one partner strips the other of the ability to control their own reproductive system. It is sometimes difficult to identify this coercion because other forms of abuse are often occurring simultaneously.
Reproductive coercion can be exerted in many ways:
- Refusing to use a condom or other type of birth control
- Breaking or removing a condom during intercourse
- Lying about their methods of birth control (ex. lying about having a vasectomy, lying about being on the pill)
- Refusing to “pull out” if that is the agreed upon method of birth control
- Forcing you to not use any birth control (ex. the pill, condom, shot, ring, etc.)
- Removing birth control methods (ex. rings, IUDs, contraceptive patches)
- Sabotaging birth control methods (ex. poking holes in condoms, tampering with pills or flushing them down the toilet)
- Withholding finances needed to purchase birth control
- Monitoring your menstrual cycles
- Forcing pregnancy and not supporting your decision about when or if you want to have a child
- Forcing you to get an abortion, or preventing you from getting one
- Threatening you or acting violent if you don’t comply with their wishes to either end or continue a pregnancy
- Continually keeping you pregnant (getting you pregnant again shortly after you give birth)
Reproductive coercion can also come in the form of pressure, guilt and shame from an abusive partner. Some examples are if your abusive partner is constantly talking about having children or making you feel guilty for not having or wanting children with them — especially if you already have kids with someone else.
Economic or financial abuse is when an abusive partner extends their power and control into the area of finances. This abuse can take different forms, including an abusive partner:
- Giving an allowance and closely watching how you spend it or demanding receipts for purchases
- Placing your paycheck in their bank account and denying you access to it
- Preventing you from viewing or having access to bank accounts
- Forbidding you to work or limiting the hours that you can work
- Maxing out credit cards in your name without permission or not paying the bills on credit cards, which could ruin your credit score
- Stealing money from you or your family and friends
- Using funds from children’s savings accounts without your permission
- Living in your home but refusing to work or contribute to the household
- Making you give them your tax returns or confiscating joint tax returns
- Refusing to give you money to pay for necessities/shared expenses like food, clothing, transportation, or medical care and medicine
Digital abuse is the use of technologies such as texting and social networking to bully, harass, stalk or intimidate a partner. Often this behavior is a form of verbal or emotional abuse perpetrated online. You may be experiencing digital abuse if your partner:
- Tells you who you can or can’t be friends with on Facebook and other social media sites.
- Sends you negative, insulting or even threatening emails, Facebook messages, tweets, DMs, or other messages online.
- Uses sites like Facebook, Twitter, foursquare and others to keep constant tabs on you.
- Puts you down in their status updates.
- Sends you unwanted, explicit pictures and demands you send some in return.
- Pressures you to send explicit videos.
- Steals or insists on being given your passwords.
- Constantly texts you and makes you feel like you can’t be separated from your phone for fear that you will be punished.
- Looks through your phone frequently, checks up on your pictures, texts and outgoing calls.
- Tags you unkindly in pictures on Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook
- Uses any kind of technology (such spyware or GPS in a car or on a phone) to monitor you
You never deserve to be mistreated, online or off. Remember:
- Your partner should respect your relationship boundaries.
- It is okay to turn off your phone. You have the right to be alone and spend time with friends and family without your partner getting angry.
- You do not have to text any pictures or statements that you are uncomfortable sending, especially nude or partially nude photos, known as “sexting.”
- You lose control of any electronic message once your partner receives it. They may forward it, so don’t send anything you fear could be seen by others.
- You do not have to share your passwords with anyone.
- Know your privacy settings. Social networks such as Facebook allow the user to control how their information is shared and who has access to it. These are often customizable and are found in the privacy section of the site. Remember, registering for some applications (apps) require you to change your privacy settings.
- Be mindful when using check-ins like Facebook Places and foursquare. Letting an abusive partner know where you are could be dangerous. Also, always ask your friends if it’s ok for you to check them in. You never know if they are trying to keep their location secret.
- You have the right to feel comfortable and safe in your relationship, even online.
Help! I Think I’m In An Abusive Relationship:
If you are in an abusive relationship, you may want to downplay the abuse, telling yourself “it’s not so bad,” or “so many other people have it so much worse.” But that’s irrelevant – if you’re being abused even a “little,” it’s too much. Why? Domestic violence often escalates from threats to verbal abuse to physical abuse. And NO ONE deserves to be abused.
Here are some tips for handling domestic abuse.
First, are you being abused? It’s REALLY hard to know what’s abuse and what’s not. Recognizing abuse as abuse is the first step to getting help.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
Does your partner:
Embarrass you or put you down?
Act in a way that scares you?
Isolate you from your friends and family?
Take your money or refuse to give you money when you ask?
Make all of the decisions for you?
Tell you you’re a crappy parent and threaten to take away your kids?
Prevent you from going to work or school?
Act like hurting you is no big deal?
Stop you from seeing you friends or family?
Intimidate you with guns or knives?
Shove you, hit you or slap you around?
Threaten to kill you or someone you love?
Use your pets and/or farm animals to control, punish, manipulate or exact revenge on you?
If the answer to even ONE question is “yes,” you may be in an abusive relationship.
Call the National Domestic Violence hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY: 1-800-787-3224.
What Are The Signs That Someone I Love Is Being Abused?
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, some warning signs include the following:
- Their partner insults them in front of other people.
- They are constantly worried about making their partner angry.
- They make excuses for their partner’s behavior.
- Their partner is extremely jealous or possessive.
- They have unexplained marks or injuries.
- They’ve stopped spending time with friends and family.
- They are depressed or anxious, or you notice changes in their personality.
If you think your friend or family member is being abused, be supportive by listening to them and asking questions about how they’re doing. The person being abused may not be ready or able to leave the relationship right now.
Help! I Think Someone I Love Is Being Abused!
Sometimes it can be hard to ascertain whether or not a person is being abused by his or her partner. Knowing or thinking that someone you care about is in a violent relationship can be very hard. You may fear for her safety — and maybe for good reason. You may want to rescue her or insist she leave, but every adult must make his or her own decisions.
Each situation is different, and the people involved are all different too.
Here are some ways to help a loved one who is being abused:
- Set up a time to talk. Try to make sure you have privacy and won’t be distracted or interrupted. Visit your loved one in person if possible.
- Let her know you’re concerned about his or her safety. Be honest. Tell her about times when you were worried about her. Help her see that abuse is wrong. She may not respond right away, or she may even get defensive or deny the abuse. Let her know you want to help and will be there to support her in whatever decision she makes.
- Be supportive. Listen to your loved one. Keep in mind that it may be very hard for her to talk about the abuse. Tell her that she is not alone and that people want to help. If she wants help, ask her what you can do.
- Offer specific help. You might say you are willing to just listen, to help her with child care, or to provide transportation, for example.
- Don’t place shame, blame, or guilt on her. Don’t say, “You just need to leave.” Instead, say something like, “I get scared thinking about what might happen to you.” Tell her you understand that her situation is very difficult.
- Help her make a safety plan. Safety planning might include packing important items and helping her find a “safe” word. This is a code word she can use to let you know she is in danger without an abuser knowing. It might also include agreeing on a place to meet her if she has to leave in a hurry.
- Encourage her to talk to someone who can help. Offer to help her find a local domestic violence agency. Offer to go with her to the agency, the police, or court. The National Domestic Violence Hotline (link is external), 800-799-SAFE (7233); the National Sexual Assault Hotline (link is external), 800-656-HOPE (4673); and the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline (link is external), 866-331-9474, are all available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They can offer advice based on experience and can help find local support and services.
- If she decides to stay, continue to be supportive. She may decide to stay in the relationship, or she may leave and then go back many times. It may be hard to understand, but people stay in abusive relationships for many reasons. Be supportive, no matter what she decides to do.
- Encourage her to do things outside of the relationship. It’s important for her to see friends and family.
- If she decides to leave, continue to offer help. Even though the relationship was abusive, she may feel sad and lonely once it is over. She may also need help getting services from agencies or community groups.
- Let her know that you will always be there no matter what. It can be very frustrating to see a friend or loved one stay in an abusive relationship. But if you end your relationship, she has one less safe place to go in the future. You cannot force a person to leave a relationship, but you can let them know you’ll help, whatever they decide to do.
How Do I Report Domestic Abuse or Violence?
If you see or hear domestic violence or child abuse in your neighborhood or in a public place, call 911. Don’t worry about whether the couple or person will be angry with you for calling. It could be a matter of life and death, and it’s better to be safe than sorry. You don’t have to give your name if you are afraid for your own safety.
If you want to report abuse but there is no immediate danger, ask local police or child/adult protective services to make a welfare check. This surprise check-in by local authorities may help the person being abused.
Domestic Violence and Safety Planning:
Safety planning is critical for someone involved in an abusive relationship. You can start planning while you’re still in a relationship with your abuser or after the relationship is over. If you’re in a domestically abusive relationship, your safety is VERY important.
Here are some tips for safety plans in an abusive relationship. Following these suggestions does NOT mean you’ll be 100% safe, but it can absolutely help.
Personal Safety With An Abuser:
- Be on the lookout for the red-flags that abuser is getting upset and may be ready to strike out in anger and try to come up with a couple reasons to get out of the house. These can be used at any time you’re in immediate danger.
- Identify your partner’s use of force so you can assess the danger to yourself and your children before it occurs.
- Try to avoid any episodes of abuse by leaving.
- Identify safe areas of the home where there are no weapons and ways to escape. Try to move to those areas if an argument occurs. Avoid enclosed spaces with no exits. If you can, get to a room with a phone or a window.
- Don’t run to the location of your children – your partner may hurt them too.
- Keep a phone accessible at all times if possible. Make sure you know the numbers (local women’s shelter, local police) to call for help.
- If violence is unavoidable, make yourself a small target: dive into a corner, curl up into a ball, protecting your face with both arms around the side of your head, entwining your fingers.
- Let friends and trusted neighbors know that you are in an abusive situation and develop a plan and visual signal for when you need their help.
- Teach children how to go and get help.
- Make sure your children know to NEVER get in the middle of violence between you and your partner.
- Develop a code word, gesture or symbol to use when the children should leave the house or go get help. Teach the code word to EVERYONE you know.
- Explain that violence – even if it’s committed by someone they love – is not right. Explain that the violence is not their fault and that when someone is violent, it’s important to stay safe.
- Practice a plan with your children (and yourself) for a safe escape.
- Plan for what to do if your children tell your partner of the escape plan.
- Keep weapons like guns and knives locked away and as inaccessible as possible.
- Make a habit of keeping the car backed into the driveway and full of gas. Keep the driver’s door unlocked.
- Don’t wear long scarves or jewelry that can be used to strangle you.
- Call a domestic hotline periodically to assess your options and get a supportive relationship.
- Find domestic violence shelters in your area and see which will accept your family. Here is a state-by-state list of Domestic Violence Shelters.
- Find out how to keep your pets safe, too. The Humane Society of the United States maintains a directory of the Safe Havens for Animals™ programs. Additionally, Sheltering Animals & Families Together (SAF-T) ™ maintains a directory of shelters equipped to accept families of domestic violence along with their pets and Ahimsa House maintains a directory of off-site housing options for pets.
Getting Ready To Leave Your Abuser:
- Keep any evidence of abuse – like pictures or voicemail messages.
- Keep a journal of all violent incidents, noting dates, threats, and events. Keep it in a safe place your abuser won’t find it.
- Know where to get help – tell someone what is happening to you.
- If you’re injured, go to the ER and report the abuse. Make certain they document your visit.
- Contact a local battered women’s shelter to find out about local laws and resources before you have to leave. Contact a family shelter for men, or for women with children.
- Plan with your children and identify a safe place for them – a room with a lock, or a friend’s house they can go for help. Reassure them that it is YOUR job to protect them, not theirs to protect you.
- Try to set some money aside (have friends or family hold it).
- Start getting together some job skills or take some classes at a local college so you can become self-sufficient.
- Have pets vaccinated and licensed in your name to establish ownership.
General Guidelines for Leaving An Abusive Relationship:
- You may ask for a police stand-by or escort while you leave.
- Ask for help from animal care and control officers or law enforcement if pets need to be retrieved from the abuser. Never reclaim animals alone.
- If you’re sneaking away, be prepared.
- Make a plan for how and where you will escape.
- Plan for a quick escape.
- Put aside emergency money.
- Hide an extra set of keys.
- Pack a bag – extra clothes, medications, documents – and store them at a trusted friend or neighbor’s house. Try not to use the homes of next-door neighbors, close family, and mutual friends.
- Take with you important phone numbers as well as these documents:
- Driver’s license
- Regularly-needed medication
- Pay stubs
If you have time, also take:
- Titles, deeds, other property information
- Medical records
- Children’s school and immunization schedule
- Insurance information
- Copy of birth certificates, marriage license, mortgage, and will
- Verification of social security numbers
- Welfare identification
- Pictures, jewelry or other personal possessions.
- Pet vaccination records, pet license, pet medical records, and other pet documents.
Creating a false trail may be helpful – call motels, real estate agencies, and schools in a town at LEAST six hours from where you plan to relocate. Ask questions that require a call back to the house to leave a record of phone numbers.
After You Leave An Abusive Relationship:
If you’re getting a restraining order and your abuser is leaving:
- Change locks and phone numbers.
- Change work hours and route taken to work.
- Change route you take you kids to school.
- Keep a certified copy of your restraining with you at all times.
- Because animals are considered property in all 50 states, include them in temporary restraining orders.
- Let friends, neighbors and employers know that you have a restraining order in effect.
- Tell people who take care of your children who is allowed to pick up your children. Explain the situation and provide a restraining order.
- Give copies of the restraining order to employers, neighbors and friends.
- Call law enforcement to enforce the restraining order.
Protect Your Privacy:
- You are safest on a computer outside your home.
- Be cautious on email and IM if you are seeking help for domestic violence that way. Your abuser may be able to access your account.
- Change usernames and passwords for all accounts. Even if you believe that your abuser doesn’t have access to them, there are keylogging programs that can easily determine that information.
- Get caller ID and ask the phone company to block so that no one will be able to see your phone number when you call.
- Use corded phones rather than cordless telephones. Corded phones are harder to tap.
- Use a prepaid phone card or call collect so that the charges don’t appear on your phone bill.
- Check your cell phone settings as there are many technologies that your abuser can use to listen in on your calls or track your location, even if you do not answer the phone.
- Get your own cell phone that your abuser doesn’t know about.
Safety After You’ve Left:
- Get an unlisted phone number.
- Use a PO Box rather than home address or use the address of a friend.
- Be careful of giving out your new address.
- Apply for state’s address confidentiality program (it will confidentially forward all mail to your home).
- Cancel all old bank accounts and credit cards. When you open new accounts, use a new bank.
- Be aware that addresses are on restraining orders and police reports.
- You may want to get a restraining order, BUT DO NOT FEEL FALSELY COMFORTED BY ONE. Not all states enforce restraining orders. Contact your state’s Domestic Violence Coalition.
- Replace wooden doors with steel or metal doors.
- If possible, install a security system.
- Consider changing your child’s school.
- Alert school authorities of the situation.
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Page last audited 8/2018