If you are in immediate danger, please call 911.
What Is Domestic Abuse?
Abuse is defined as any sexual, emotional, physical, economic or psychological actions, or threats of actions that influence a victim, including behaviors that terrify, frighten, manipulate, terrorize, hurt, humiliate, blame, or cause physical injury. It is still abuse, even if it only happens once. Domestic abuse is a pattern of behavior in any marriage or intimate partnership used to gain or maintain power, domination, and control over the other partner. Domestic abuse can happen to anyone of any age, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, marital status. It can happen to couples who are dating, living together, or married. Domestic violence affects all education levels and socioeconomic backgrounds.
There are no “better” or “worse” stories of domestic violence or abuse, If it has happened to you, you have been abused. Many people associate domestic abuse with domestic violence as it is the most recognizable form of abuse, however emotional, financial, verbal, social, or neglect are also types of incredibly damaging behaviors. While domestic violence is often blamed, by the abuser, on losing control of their emotions, as a direct result of the victim’s actions, or outside forces, this is false: abuse is always a deliberate choice made by the abuser to control, silence, guilt, shame, intimidate, scare, humiliate, to hurt their victim.
It’s important to note that domestic violence and abuse do not discriminate: abuse occurs in hetero, homo, and other sexual relationships. The bottom line remains: abuse is never acceptable, whether it’s coming from a woman, a man, a teenager, or an older adult. Every partner in the relationship should feel respected, safe, and valued. Unfortunately, domestic abuse often escalates from threats and other types of verbal abuse and leads to violence. While physical injury may be the most feared type of domestic abuse, the physiological and emotional consequences of exposure to domestic abuse are very serious. They can cause a victim’s self-esteem and self-worth to erode, making them feel helpless and alone, and isolate them from their support system.
While it is often less-reported, men can also become domestic violence victims. It’s been estimated that one in every three domestic violence victims are indeed, male. Regardless of your gender, no one deserves to be abused by someone they love.
Why Does An Abuser Abuse?
It’s easy to dismiss episodes of domestic abuse as a “temporary loss of control” or as a “bad temper,” however you must remember that domestic abuse and violence are a deliberate choice by the abuser to control their victim. The domestic abuser engages in abusive behavior in order to gain control over their victim, which is done through a number of methods, including:
- Humiliation: is done by an abuser to make their victim feel bad – or defective – about themselves by name-calling, shaming, public insults, and many other abuses all designed to make their victim feel powerless. If the victim’s self-esteem is eroded and they begin to feel worthless, they will begin to obey their abuser.
- Isolation: As a means to increase the victim’s dependence on their abuser, a domestic abuser will try to cut you off from the rest of the world. This may include prevention of the victim from seeing their families, prevent the victim to go to school or work, and prevent the victim from the outside world. Isolated domestic abuse victims must ask specifically to do anything, see anyone, or go anywhere.
- Dominance: Abusive individuals need to feel that they control the relationship. In order to achieve that, the abuser will make executive decisions for the victim, their family and expect their partner to do exactly as they say and obey the abuser at all costs. Sometimes abusers treat their victims like a servant, child, or even as their possession.
- Denial and Blame may be the hardest for abuse victims to distinguish as abuse. Abusers are incredibly good at making excuses for things that simply aren’t excusable. Domestic abusers may blame their behavior on a bad day or upon something the victim (or victims) did to deserve their abuser’s wrath. An abusive partner often will deny or minimize that the abuse happened and shift the responsibility for their abuse onto the victims.
- Threatening: in order to prevent their victims from leaving their abuser or frighten them to drop any domestic violence charges, the abuser may turn to threats, including killing the victim, the victim’s children, pets, or other family members. Abusers may even threaten suicide, report their victim to child services, or file false police reports against their victim.
- Intimidation is a means by which an abuser uses intimidation tactics to scare their victim into submission. Intimidation may include threatening looks, breaking possessions, smashing things, threatening gestures, destroying property, putting weapons on display, or hurting children or pets. The message from the abuse is clear: if the victim doesn’t obey, there will be violent consequences.
Can The Abuser Control Their Abuse?
Many people believe that abuse occurs simply because the abuser “can’t control it.” This could not be further from the truth; here’s why:
- An abuser picks and chooses those they abuse and don’t assault, threaten, or hurt every single person who gives them grief in their lives. Generally, abusers abuse their closest family members as their victim
- Violent abusers are able to control their temper and land any abuse in places where others cannot see them; the torso, upper legs, and other areas generally covered by clothing
- As an abuser chooses when and/or where they will abuse their victim(s) meaning that they can coordinate their behavior and assault their victim(s) when they are alone so that no one else is able to see the abuse. Often, in public, abusers behave perfectly to their victim(s)
- Abusers are not out of control; they can stop the abuse when it benefits them.
Types of Domestic Abuse:
Physical Domestic Abuse: physical abuse is the use of force in a manner that injures or endangers the victim as a means to exert control of the victim. Physical abuse may involve kicking, slapping, punching, or choking or some combination of physical tactics, all aimed at control and power. It can be hard to draw the line at what physical domestic abuse is. It is still domestic abuse even if:
- The episodes may seem minor when they’re compared to other people’s stories, things you’ve seen on TV, or heard other people discuss. There is no better or worse circumstance form of domestic physical abuse: all incidents can severely injure the victim.
- If you stop engaging and behave passively during a bout of physical abuse by giving up your right to express your feelings or self, to give up your rights as a person, make decisions, and stop whatever behavior is upsetting your partner, you are not assaulted.
- The episodes of abuse have only occurred a couple of times in the relationship. If your loved one has hurt you physically once or twice, studies say that it’s very likely they will continue to do abuse their partner physically.
Emotional /Psychological/ Verbal Domestic Abuse may not leave physical scars on its victims, which can make domestic abuse victims that they are not, in fact, being abused. However, it has become evident that even if your abuse is emotional/verbal abuse, it is just as damaging to your self-esteem, self-worth, and feelings of independence. Emotional domestic abuse is often hard to identify for the victim, as it often occurs slowly and steadily, increasing in voracity as the years progress. Emotional abuse can include verbal abuse, isolation, controlling behavior, shaming, blaming, and name-calling on the part of the abuser.
- Sometimes, abusers who use emotional/psychological to threaten their victims by threatening actual physical violence, in order to get their partners to do as their abuser pleases
- The scars of emotional abuse are incredibly real and they run very deep within their victims. Many victims assume that if they’re not being beaten it’s not abuse, however, emotional abuse can leave scars that run deeper than those from physical abuse.
- Emotional abuse does include verbal abuse: yelling, blaming, shaming, isolation, name-calling, intimidation, and controlling behaviors on the part of the abuse
Sexual Domestic Abuse is a form of physical abuse in which a victim is forced to participate in unwanted sexual activity, involving the genitals, anus, and/or mouth. The old way of thinking was that partners could ALWAYS demand sexual intimacy from their partners, however, it is important to note that intimate partners do not have to right to force non-consensual sex upon their partner. Sexual abuse is an act of violence and aggression, not an act of love or passion.
Economic Domestic Abuse: Many abusers are hyper-controlling when it comes to finances and they often use money and finances as a means of control their victim. Examples of economic domestic abuse include:
- Insisting their partner account for every penny spent
- Setting an allowance for their partner
- Withholding money from their partner
- Insisting their partner open credit cards and run up the bills
- Insisting their partner commit fraud
- Prevention of the victim from gainful employment or sabotaging the victim’s job, preventing them from “moving up in the company”
- Withholding basic necessities
Cycle of Violence in Domestic Abuse:
Generally, there is a cycle of violence and abuse in a domestically abusive relationship and it tends to follow this order:
- Abuse: The abuser lashes out in a power play designed to show the victim who is in control of their relationship. Afterward, the abuser feels:
- Guilt: The abuser feels guilt, not for what he’s done, but over the idea that they may get caught by authorities, friends, or family. After that, the abuser begins to make:
- Excuses: The abuser fully rationalizes what they have done to the victim, and may rationalize their behavior by making up excuses “I just had such a bad day, I’m sorry” or victim-blaming, “Look what you made me do.” Abusers will say and do anything to avoid taking responsibility for the abuse. This leads to:
- “Normal” Behavior: In this part of the cycle, the abuser attempts to regain control of their victim in order to keep the victim from leaving their abuser. Sometimes, the abuser turns on the charm, loads his victim up with expensive gifts, and makes the victim feel loved and cherished. Or, the abuser may behave as if nothing has happened. No matter the form, this “Normal” behavior is an attempt of the abuser to make their victim feel as though the abuser has truly changed. They have not changed, as the next in this cycle of violence is:
- Fantasy and Planning: In this cycle, the abuser begins to have fantasies about his next violent abuse of the victim; how to punish the victim, and how to make the victim(s) pay. This begins the next cycle of domestic abuse:
- The Set-Up occurs when the abuser has decided to “set the victim up” for the next cycle of abuse. The abuser puts his diabolical plan in motion in order to abuse, then justify WHY the abuser opted for violence. Then, we return to #1 in the domestic violence cycle.
Am I Being Abused?
Sometimes it’s really hard to figure out what’s normal in a relationship, especially if it’s a relationship you’ve been in for a long time. But some may start to wonder, am I being abused? If you answer “yes” to any of the following (even if it is just one), you may be a victim of domestic abuse. Does your partner:
- Embarrass you or put you down?
- Behave in a way that scares you?
- Take your money or refuse to give you money when you ask?
- Make all of the decisions for you?
- Tell you that 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 your friends or family?
- Intimidate you with guns or knives?
- Shove you, hit you or slap you around?
- Threaten suicide in order to keep you around? Threaten to kill you or someone you love?
- Use your pets and/or children to control, punish, manipulate or exact revenge on you?
If you answered yes to any of these, you may be in an abusive relationship.
Recognizing abuse for what it is is the first step to getting help.
For support, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY: 1-800-787-3224.
Potential Warning Signs of Domestic Violence:
It’s very hard to spot all the red flags of domestic abuse, but here are some common concerns:
The victim may:
- Talk about their partner’s temper or possessiveness
- Check-in excessively with their partner when alone
- Spend excessive worn and concern with pleasing their partner
- Do everything their partner says to do
- Receive frequent harassing phone calls from partner
Possible signs of domestic abuse:
- Seem scared or anxious to please their partner
- Be overly agreeable to everything their partner says and does
- Check in often with their partner to report on their activities
- Frequently receive harassing phone calls from their partner
- Talk about their partner’s temper, jealousy or possessiveness
Possible signs of financial abuse:
- Have limited access to money or credit cards
- Have their spending tightly monitored
- Worry excessively how their partner will respond to what are typically considered simple, everyday purchases
Possible signs of physical abuse:
- Frequently miss work, school and social obligations without notice or explanation
- Make seemingly odd clothing choices in an effort to conceal bruises or scars, for example: wearing long sleeves or turtlenecks in the summer and sunglasses indoors
Possible signs of isolation:
- Have low self-esteem, even if they were once very confident
- Show significant changes in personality, such as an extroverted person becoming withdrawn
- Show signs of depression, anxiety or being suicidal
If you see any signs of domestic violence in a friend, loved one, co-worker, take them aside and talk to them about domestic violence.
If You Suspect Someone Is Being Abused:
- If you suspect someone is being abused and you’re hesitating, please, open your mouth and ask. The victim may not want to talk about it and may tell you that you’re wrong, and maybe you are wrong, but sometimes, expressing concern may save a life. How do you talk to someone you suspect is being abused? Simple:
- “I’ve noticed, this, this, and this (your reasons for suspecting domestic violence) and I’m concerned about you. Can I help?”
- Maybe they won’t want to talk to you then, but knowing someone cares about them, sometimes that’s a port in a storm.
- If you ask, be ready to support the person in a positive way.’
- Talk to this person privately
- Let go of all your preconceived notions of domestic violence and people who are abused.
- Remember, as frustrating as it is, there is no quick fix solution to domestic abuse.
- To empower this person, learn a little about domestic violence. Find out the services in your area that may be available.
When you are listening, remember:
- Support and respect this person and the decisions he or she makes. Even if you do not agree with them.
- Believe this person and tell them so.
- Validate his or her feelings. “Your feelings are very normal.”
- Do not judge this person when responding to what he or she says.
- Offer specific forms of help. “I can help you find a counselor” versus, “Let me know what you need.”
- Point out ways that he or she has been strong and courageous.
- Tell the victim that the abuse is not her fault and avoid bashing the abuser.
- Call 911 for all emergencies
How Do I Prepare For Leaving My Abuser?
Help If You’re Not a Citizen:
According to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), immigrant women who are experiencing domestic violence — and are married to abusers who are US Citizens or Legal Permanent Residents — may qualify to self-petition for legal status under VAWA. Get more information here. Domestic violence is against the law regardless of your immigration status. Learn more at Casa De Esperanza about your rights as an immigrant. Call the hotline for resources in your area that can help: En Español: 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)
If you’re an immigrant, you may be hesitant to seek help out of fear that you will be deported. Language barriers, lack of economic dependence and limited social support can increase your isolation and your ability to access resources. Laws in the United States guarantee protection from domestic abuse, regardless of your immigrant status. Free or low-cost resources are available, including lawyers, shelter and medical care for you and your children. You may also be eligible for legal protections that allow immigrants who experience domestic violence to stay in the United States.
Call a national domestic violence hotline for guidance. These services are free and protect your privacy.
If you’re an older woman, you may face challenges related to your age and the length of your relationship. You may have grown up in a time when domestic violence was simply not discussed. You or your partner may have health problems that increase your dependency or sense of responsibility.
If you’re in a same-sex relationship, you might be less likely to seek help after an assault if you don’t want to disclose your sexual orientation. If you’ve been sexually assaulted by another woman, you might also fear that you won’t be believed.
Prepare for Emergencies:
- 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 of reasons to get out of the house if you feel in imminent danger.
- Establish a code word, phrase or symbol for “call the police.” Teach it to everyone you are in contact with.
- Plan and identify a safe place your children can go to be safe, a locked room, a neighbor’s house. Be sure to remind them that it is not their job
- Establish the safe areas of the house that you can retreat to if the abuser attacks. Avoid enclosed spaces with no exits. If you can, get to a room with a phone or a window.
- Keep evidence of physical abuse (pictures), a diary of the abuse, and any medical documentation of the abuse
- Please call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for local resources for domestic violence victims with resources for legal help.
- Find out about local resources in your area: Women’sLaw.Org also provides state-by-state legal information
- Try to gain employable skills /take community college courses so that you are able to support yourself when you are free
- Squirrel some money away as you can and keep it in a safe place
Have an Escape Plan:
- Be ready to go at any time. Have the car gassed up, driver’s door unlocked, keys handy. Have emergency cash, documents, and clothing stashed somewhere safe.
- Have a packed bag ready and keep it in a secret place that is easy to reach. Leave money, an extra set of keys, extra clothes and, if you can, copies of important documents with someone you trust.
- Practice your escape – especially with children
- If your abuser will likely become violent to whomever you stay with, you are better off in a domestic violence shelter
- Memorize a list of emergency contacts including local shelters, police, and domestic violence hotlines.
- Find domestic violence shelters in your area and see which will accept your family.
- Here is a state-by-state list of Domestic Violence Resources
- Decide and plan where you will go if you have to leave home (even if you do not think you will need to). This should be a safe place from which you can call for further assistance.
- Figure out who’d let you stay with them and/or lend you some money.
- Have a packed bag ready and keep it in a secret – yet easy to reach – place.
- Leave money, an extra set of keys, extra clothes and, if you can, and copies of important documents with someone you trust.
- Open a savings account in your own name to start to establish or increase your independence.
- Keep some change or a calling card on you at all times for emergency phone calls.
- Be mindful that a GPS locator can be easily hidden in a very small item, so be wary of any new “gifts” from your abuser
- Take the car to a trusted mechanic to locate the GPS and you can opt to remove it. Keep in mind, your abuser may track you to the repair shop and discover your escape plan. You can also buy counter-surveillance equipment to jam the GPS, but it may also jam the frequency of your cellphone.
Important Documents to Gather Prior to Leaving Your Abuser:
- All bank account numbers, credit cards, credit union, and 401(k) information
- Copies of outstanding loans, amount of monthly payments, a current budget
- Joint and individual credit cards with balances. Get your name removed from joint cards if possible
- Pay stubs for at least 2 months
- Extra key for the safe deposit box
- Copies of your car title(s)
- The past 3 years’ worth of income tax returns
- Deeds to joint or individual property
- Copies of your and the abuser’s signature cards at the bank, CDs, and bonds
- Copy of any Personal Protection Order (PPO) – if one is in place
- Copies of all insurance policies, wills, trust funds, or pension fund information
- Abuser’s Social Security number, driver’s license number, work address, and number
- Addresses and phone numbers of friends; criminal history; license plate number, and recent pictures
- Unless an attorney advises you not to, if you leave, take all personal assets and half of all joint assets (for example, bonds, savings accounts, checking account, credit card)
Protect Your Privacy:
- Most computer browsers (Google, Firefox, Safari, AOL, Microsoft Edge) track the pages that you visit when you are online, so you should clear your “cache” after every time you use it. Learn more about erasing your browsing history.
- You are safest on a computer outside your home. Try your local library or college for access to free computers
- Be cautious with what you say in emails, texts, and messages. Your abuser may be able to access your account.
- Expect that everyone – even your abuser – will find out about your social media accounts. Close your social media accounts.
- Remove all information about yourself from online, including old blogs, old social media accounts, and email accounts.
- Make sure that your Twitter account is not set to tweet out your location. Here’s additional information about Twitter and privacy
- If you can’t delete certain pages of personal information, contact the “webmaster” or “host” of the site and explain why you need your information taken down
- Delete the Facebook App off your mobile device, tablet, and computer – this site frequently “follows you” around and your ex may be able to track you through it. Here’s how to remove your Facebook page.
- Change usernames and passwords for all accounts frequently and do not write them down. Change them into nonsensical series of numbers, symbols, and letters. Even if you believe that your abuser doesn’t have access to them, there are keylogging programs that can easily determine that information.
- Disconnect GPS from your phone, computer, and tablets. Learn how to disable geotagging on your smartphone.
- If you use a computer-based email program like Outlook, Outlook Express, Eudora or Apple Mail, anybody who has access to your computer can read your email.
- Make certain that your computer does not “save” your email address and/or password and make certain to log out of your email each and every time you are finished using it.
- Be mindful of what you buy and where you buy it from – you don’t want to be tracked.
- Use landlines rather than cordless telephones, if you are able to find one as 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.
- Obtain a new cellphone before you leave if possible – you want to make sure your phone is in no way connected to your partner.
- Check your cellphone settings – as there are a large number of social media site and other technologies that your abuser can use to listen to 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. If you are purchasing a pay-as-you-go plan, pay cash so it cannot be connected to you
- Set a lock code onto your phone or use fingerprint sensing technology to ensure that no one can access your phone
- Turn off “Locate My Phone” if your phone has this
- Turn off the GPS on your phone and leave it on E-911
- Log yourself out of any apps you’re not using and consider deleting apps off your phone that show your location (Facebook, for example)
- Turn off Bluetooth when you’re not using it
- You can get a donated phone through a low-income program such as Safe Link Wireless – it is important to know that Verizon’s Hopeline will no longer be participating in donating phones to victims as of December 2018.
- If you had to bring your old phone with you: when you’re not using your cellphone, take out the battery and wrap it in tinfoil, however, the minute it powers on, it will signal your location if someone is watching it
If You Have Pets:
- Have your pets vaccinated & licensed in your own name in order to establish ownership.
- Contact your local humane society, SPCA, animal control agency, boarding facility, or veterinarian to check if they have temporary foster care facilities for pets belonging to battered women. Check out a list of all the emergency housing for your pets available in all 50 states.
- Animals are considered property in all 50 states so be sure to include them in temporary restraining orders.
- Prepare the pets for a quick departure. Collect vaccination records, pet license, medical records, & other documents.
- Ask for help from animal care & control officers or law enforcement if your pets need to be retrieved from the abuser. Never reclaim animals from your abuser alone.
Safety After You’ve Left:
- Get an unlisted phone number
- Change locks and phone number and make sure your phone has caller ID and ask for it to be blocked so that when dialing out, your phone number does not appear
- Alert your employer and ask if they can have someone screen your calls
- Keep printouts of any online harassment, a diary of any stalking behaviors – including time, date, and what the abuser did
- Use a PO Box rather than using a home 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.
- 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 to see what is legal in your state.
- If you do have a restraining order, keep a certified copy of it with you at all times, and inform friends, neighbors, and employers that you have a restraining order in effect
- Call local law enforcement to enforce the order, see how they can help you keep safe, and give copies of the restraining order to employers, neighbors, and schools with a picture of the offender.
- Be aware that your addresses will be on your restraining order and any police reports, and be extremely careful who you give them to
- Tell people who take care of your children, drive them/pick them up from school, and activities. Explain your situation to them and provide them with a copy of the restraining order and a picture of your abuser and have them alert the police if they see anything suspicious
- Change your routine – new work hours, new routes, new places to frequent
- Change the route to school for your kids – or transfer them to a new school
- Make certain all the school staff are aware of this situation
- Change the stores you frequent, any appointments you have had on the calendar, and different social places
- Ask your neighbors to call the police in the event they see your abuser or feel that you are in danger
- Install a security system with video if possible
- Install metal doors to the outside
- Install motion-activated security lights outside
Additional Information For Domestic Abuse:
For those in the US, please call or visit the National Domestic Hotline (RAINN) at 800.656.HOPE (4673)
Visit ShelterSafe to find the helpline of a women’s shelter in Canada
In The UK, call Women’s Aid UK at 0808 2000 247.
If you’re in Ireland, call Women’s Aid at 1800 341 900. This company works to make women, men, and children safe from domestic violence, offer support, provide hope to those affected by abuse and work for justice and social change.
If you’re in Australia, please call 1800RESPECT at 1800 737 732 – this is a hotline open 24/7/365
The International Directory of Domestic Violence Agencies has a global domestic violence network with country and state-specific information. They offer domestic violence hotlines and resources in over 110 different languages and are an invaluable resource for those around the world.
Last edit 11/2018 BSH