Your partner apologizes and says the hurtful behavior won't
happen again. But you fear it will. At times you may start
to doubt your own judgment, or wonder whether you're going
crazy. You may even feel like you've imagined the whole thing.
But the emotional or physical pain you feel is real. If this
sounds familiar, you may be the victim of domestic violence.
Also called domestic abuse, intimate partner violence or battering,
domestic violence occurs between people in intimate relationships.
It can take many forms, including emotional, sexual and physical
abuse. Men are sometimes abused by female or male partners,
but domestic violence is most often directed toward women.
It can happen in heterosexual or lesbian relationships.
Unfortunately, domestic violence against women is common.
It happens to teenage girls and women of all backgrounds.
As many as 4 million women suffer abuse from their husbands,
ex-husbands, boyfriends or intimate partners in the United
States each year.
Recognizing abuse: Know the signs
It may not be easy to identify abuse, especially at first.
While some relationships are clearly abusive from the outset,
abuse often starts subtly and gets worse over time. For example,
abuse may begin with occasional hurtful comments, jealousy
or controlling behavior. As it gets worse, the abuse may become
more frequent, severe or violent. As the cycle of abuse worsens,
your safety or the safety of your children may be in danger.
You may be a victim of abuse if you're in a relationship
with someone who:
- Controls finances, so you have to ask for money
- Looks at you or acts in ways that scare you
- Acts jealous or possessive, or accuses you of being unfaithful
- Tries to control how you spend your time, who you see
or talk to, where you go or what you wear
- Wants you to get permission to make everyday decisions
- Gets angry when drinking alcohol or using drugs
- Scares you by driving recklessly
- Threatens to kill him or herself
You are very likely in an abusive relationship if you have
a relationship with someone who does even one of the following:
- Hits, kicks, shoves, slaps, or chokes you or threatens
you with violence or a weapon
- Forces you to have sexual intercourse or engage in sexual
acts against your will
- Calls you names, insults you or puts you down
- Prevents you from going to work or school
- Stops you from seeing family members and friends
- Hurts, or threatens to hurt you, your children or pets
- Destroys your property
- Controls your access to medicines
- Blames you for his or her violent behavior or tells you
that you deserve it
- Says that his or her abusive behavior is no big deal
or even denies doing it
- Tries to force you to drop charges
- Tries to prevent you from calling the police or seeking
Pregnancy, children and abuse
Pregnancy is a particularly perilous time for an abused
woman. Not only is your health at risk, but also the health
of your unborn child. Abuse can begin or may increase during
Abusive relationships can also be particularly damaging
to children, even if they're just witnesses. But for women
in an abusive relationship, chances are much higher that their
children also will be direct victims of abuse. Over half of
men who abuse their female partners also abuse their children.
You may worry that seeking help may further endanger you
or your children, or that it may break up your family. But
in the long run, seeking help when you safely can is the best
way to protect your children and yourself.
An abusive relationship: It's about power
Though there are no typical victims of domestic violence,
abusive relationships do share similar characteristics. In
all cases, the abuser aims to exert power and control over
Although a lot of people think domestic violence is about
anger, it really isn't. Batterers do tend to take their anger
out on their intimate partner. But it's not really about anger.
It's about trying to instill fear and wanting to have power
and control in the relationship. In an abusive relationship,
the abuser may use varying tactics to gain power and control,
- Emotional abuse. Uses put-downs, insults, criticism
or name-calling to make you feel bad about yourself.
- Denial and blame. Denies that the abuse occurs
and shifts responsibility for the abusive behavior onto
you. This may leave you confused and unsure of yourself.
- Intimidation. Uses certain looks, actions or gestures
to instill fear. The abuser may break things, destroy property,
abuse pets or display weapons.
- Coercion and threats. Threatens to hurt other
family members, pets, children or self.
- Power. Makes all major decisions, defines the
roles in your relationship, is in charge of the home and
social life, and treats you like a servant or possession.
- Isolation. Limits your contact with family and
friends, requires you to get permission to leave the house,
doesn't allow you to work or attend school, and controls
your activities and social events. The abuser may ask where
you've been, track your time and whereabouts, or check the
odometer on your car.
- Children as pawns. Accuses you of bad parenting,
threatens to take the children away, uses the children to
relay messages, or threatens to report you to children's
- Economic abuse. Controls finances, refuses to share
money, makes you account for money spent and doesn't want
you to work outside the home. The abuser may also try to
sabotage your work performance by forcing you to miss work
or by calling you frequently at work.
Breaking the cycle: Difficult, but possible
Domestic violence is part of a continuing cycle that's difficult
to break. If you're in an abusive situation, you may recognize
- Your abuser strikes using words or actions.
- Your abuser may beg for forgiveness, offer gifts or promise
- Your abuser becomes tense, angry or depressed.
- Your abuser repeats the abusive behavior.
Typically each time the abuse occurs, it worsens, and the
cycle shortens. As it gets worse, you may have a hard time
doing anything about the abuse or even acknowledging it. Over
time, an abusive relationship can break you down and unravel
your sense of reality and self-esteem. You may begin to doubt
your ability to take care of yourself. You may start to feel
like the abuse is your fault, or you may even feel you deserve
This can be paralyzing, and you may feel helpless or as
though your only option is to stay in the abusive situation.
It's important to recognize that you may not be in a position
to resolve the situation on your own.
But you can do something - and the sooner you take action
the better. You may need outside help, and that's OK. Without
help, the abuse will likely continue. Leaving the abusive
relationship may be the only way to break the cycle.
A number of government and private agencies provide resources
and support to women who are abused and their children. These
resources include 24-hour telephone hot lines, shelters, counseling
and legal services. Many of these services are free and can
provide immediate assistance.
Create a safety plan
Leaving an abuser can be dangerous. You're the only one
who knows the safest time to leave. You may know you are in
an abusive relationship and realize you need to leave as soon
as you safely can. Or, you may be concerned about your partner's
behavior and think you may need to get out at some point in
the future. Either way, being prepared can help you leave
quickly if you need to. Consider taking these precautions:
- Arrange a safety signal with a neighbor as an alert to
call the police if necessary.
- Prepare an emergency bag that includes items you'll need
when you leave, such as extra clothes, important papers,
money, extra keys and prescription medications.
- Know exactly where you'll go and how you'll get there,
even if you have to leave in the middle of the night.
- Call a local women's shelter or the National Domestic
Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233 to find out about legal
options and resources available to you, before you need
- If you have school-age children, notify the school authorities
or school counselor about custody arrangements and warn
them about possible threats.
Keep your communication private
It isn't uncommon for an abuser to monitor mail, telephone
and Internet communication. Take precautions to help maintain
your privacy and safety by following these steps.
- Avoid making long-distance phone calls from home.
Your abuser could trace the calls to find out where you're
- Be cautious when using a cell phone. Your abuser
may be able to intercept conversations using a scanner.
Switch to a corded phone if you're relaying sensitive information.
- Be aware of controlling use of your cell phone.
Your abuser may use frequent cell phone conversations or
text messages as a way to monitor and control your activities.
An abuser may also check your cell phone to see who has
called, or attempt to check your messages.
If you think your abuser is monitoring your computer use,
the safest bet is to access a computer at a friend's house
or at the library. If you do use a shared home computer, there
are several steps you can take to help maintain your privacy:
- Use a Web-based program for e-mail. Programs such
as Outlook Express, Netscape Mail and Eudora store sent
and received e-mails on your computer. A Web-based e-mail
service is safer. Most of these services - such Gmail, Hotmail
and Yahoo mail - offer free e-mail accounts.
- Store files on the Internet. You can store files
online and access them from any computer. A few companies
that offer this service are IBackup and HyperOffice. You
can also store documents as attachments in e-mail programs.
- Change your password often. Choose passwords that
would be impossible to guess. The safest passwords contain
at least six characters, both numbers and letters. Avoid
easily guessed numbers and sequences.
- Clear your Web-browser history. Browsers such
as Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator keep a record
of the Web pages and documents you have accessed. They also
store graphics of images you look at. You can also use a
program such as AbsoluteShield Internet Eraser or Speed
Tracks Eraser to clear your Internet records.
- Clear your document history. Applications such
as Word or Excel keep a record of edited documents. Don't
store or edit any documents you don't want your abuser to
see on a shared computer.
Where to find help
No one deserves to be abused. If you think you may be in
an abusive situation, seek help or advice as soon as you safely
can. There are many resources available to help you. The first
step to getting out of an abusive situation may be as easy
as making one phone call. In an emergency situation, call
911, your local emergency number or your local law enforcement
agency. If you aren't in immediate danger, the following resources
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: (800) 799-SAFE,
or (800) 799-7233. Provides crisis intervention and
referrals to in-state or out-of-state resources, such as
women's shelters or crisis centers.
- Your doctor or hospital emergency room. Treats
any injuries and refers you to safe housing and other local
- Local women's shelter or crisis center. Typically
provides 24-hour, emergency shelter for you and your children,
advice on legal matters, advocacy and support services,
and evaluation and monitoring of abusers. Some shelters
have staff members who speak multiple languages.
- Counseling or mental health center. Most communities
have agencies that provide individual counseling and support
groups to women in abusive relationships. Be wary of advice
to seek couples or marriage counseling. This isn't appropriate
for resolving problems of violence in intimate relationships.
- Local court. Your district court can help you
obtain a court order, which legally mandates the abuser
stay away from you or face arrest. These are typically called
orders for protection or restraining orders. Advocates are
available in many communities to help you complete the paperwork
and guide you through the court process.
- Books and online resources. Learning more about
how to cope with your situation and communicating with others
who understand what you're going through can help you make
Source: Mayo Clinic