Domestic violence is an epidemic that affects individuals in every community, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, race, religion, or nationality. Domestic violence can result in physical injury, psychological trauma, and in some cases, even death. The devastating physical, emotional, and mental consequences of domestic violence cross generations and last a lifetime.
However, by understanding the various ways that domestic abuse occurs, you can be prepared to respond to situations safely, both for your own sake and for those of others.
What is domestic violence?
Domestic violence is willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior. Domestic violence is part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. The frequency, severity, and type of domestic violence can vary dramatically. However, one consistent component of domestic violence is one partner’s constant efforts to maintain power and control over the other.
It’s critical to remember that domestic violence is not physical violence alone. Domestic violence is considered any behavior that exerts power and control over a spouse, partner, girlfriend/boyfriend, or any intimate friend or family member. And domestic violence is a learned behavior—it is not caused merely by anger, mental problems, drugs or alcohol.
There are many forms of domestic violence, which include physical abuse, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, and financial abuse, among other abusive behaviors.
What is physical abuse?
Physical abuse is any physically aggressive behavior, withholding of physical needs, indirect physically harmful behavior, or threat of physical abuse.
You may be experiencing physical abuse if your partner has done or repeatedly does any of the following:
- Pulls your hair or punches, slaps, kicks, bites, chokes, or smothers you
- Throws objects at you
- Uses weapons against you, including firearms, knives, bats, or Mace
- Harms your children or pets
- Drives recklessly with you in the vehicle or abandons you in unfamiliar places
- Prevents you from contacting emergency services, such as law enforcement or medical services
- Forces you to use drugs or alcohol
- Prevents you from taking prescribed medication
- Forbids or prevents you from eating or sleeping
- Traps you in your home or prevents you from leaving
- Denies you necessary medical treatment
What is emotional abuse?
Emotional abuse is any behavior that exploits another person’s vulnerability, insecurity, or character. Such behaviors include degradation, intimidation, manipulation, brainwashing, and gaslighting.
Emotional abuse can often be just as extreme as physical abuse. Lack of physical violence does not mean the abuser is any less dangerous to the victim, nor does it mean the victim is any less harmed by the abuse.
You may be experiencing emotional abuse if your partner has done or repeatedly does any of the following:
- Constantly criticizes you
- Acts unreasonably jealous or possessive
- Refuses to trust you
- Isolates you from family, friends, or other people in your life
- Monitors your activities with or without your knowledge, including where you go, who you talk to, and how you spend your time
- Attempts to control what you wear, including clothing, makeup, or hairstyles
- Humiliates you in any way, especially in public or in front of others
- Pretends not to understand or refuses to listen to you
- Questions your recollection of facts, events, or sources
- Trivializes your needs or feelings
- Denies things s/he previously said, did, or promised
- Threatens you, your children, your family, your friends, or your pets
- Damages your belongings
- Blames you for his or her abusive behavior
- Threatens to cheat or actually cheats on you to intentionally hurt you
What is verbal abuse?
Verbal abuse is any abusive language used to denigrate, embarrass, or threaten the victim.
You may be in a verbally abusive relationship if your partner has done or repeatedly does any of the following:
- Insults you
- Threatens to hurt or kill you, your children, your family, your friends, or your pets
- Calls you names, such as “ugly” or “stupid”
- Tells you that you are unattractive or undesirable
- Tells you that s/he is better than you
- Tells you that you’re lucky to be with him or her and that you’ll never find someone better
- Yells, screams, rampages, or terrorizes
- Refuses to talk for extended periods of time
What is sexual abuse?
Sexual abuse occurs when the abuser uses sex in an exploitative way or forces sex on the victim. Sexual abuse can involve verbal, emotion, and physical abuse at the same time.
You may be in a sexually abusive relationship if your partner has done or repeatedly does any of the following:
- Forces you to dress in an overly sexual way or a way that you’re uncomfortable with
- Laughs or makes fun of your body or sexuality
- Makes offensive statements in relation to your sexual preferences, behaviors, or history
- Insults you in sexual ways or calls you explicit names
- Exhibits overly jealous behavior in an attempt to control you
- Limits or monitors your interactions with others
- Forces or manipulates you into having sex or performing sexual acts, especially when you’re sick, tired, or physically injured from his or her abuse
- Sexually exploits you when you are unable to consent to involvement in sexual activity, because you’re asleep, intoxicated, drugged, or afraid of and/or dependent upon your abuser
- Chokes or restrains you during sex without your consent
- Holds you down during sex without your consent
- Hurts you with weapons or objects during sex
- Involves other people in your sexual activities against your will
- Forces you to watch or make pornography
- Forces you to engage in prostitution
- Intentionally gives you or attempts to give you a sexually-transmitted disease (STD)
- Ignores your feelings regarding sex
Sexual coercion lies on the continuum of sexually abusive behavior. It may vary in practice from begging and persuasion to forced sexual contact. It may be verbal and emotional, through statements made to pressure or shame, or it may appear more subtle in form.
Even if your partner isn’t forcing you to perform sexual acts against your will, making you feel obligated to do them is coercion. Being in a healthy relationship means that you never owe your partner intimacy of any kind. Anything other than that is coercion and sexual abuse, which is a type of domestic violence.
Examples of sexual coercion include behaviors such as:
- Implying that you “owe” your partner something sexually because of previous actions, gifts, or prior consent
- Giving you drugs or alcohol to “loosen” you up
- Using your relationship status as leverage for sex, either by demanding sex as a way to “prove” your love or by threatening to cheat or leave
- Trying to use sadness, anger, or resentment to manipulate or persuade you if you say no or don’t agree to a sexual act
- Trying to normalize his or her sexual demands
- Continuing to pressure you after you say no
- Intimidating you into fearing what will happen if you say no
Reproductive coercion is another type of domestic violence. It is a form of power and control where one partner strips another of the ability to control his or her own reproductive system. This form of coercion can be extremely difficult to identify; it’s often less visible than other types of abuse occurring at the same time. It may appear as pressure, guilt, or shame about having or wanting children–or not having or wanting them.
Other examples of reproductive coercion include behaviors such as:
- Refusing to use birth control
- Breaking or removing a condom before or during sex
- Lying about methods of birth control
- Removing birth control methods
- Sabotaging methods of birth control by poking holes in condoms or tampering with pills
- Withholding money to buy birth control
- Forcing a partner to have unprotected sex or intentionally becoming pregnant against a partner’s wishes
- Not supporting a partner’s decisions about when or if to have children
What is financial abuse?
Financial abuse is when an abuser extends their power into your financial situation. This serves as a way to control you through the manipulation of economic resources.
You may be in a financially abusive relationship if your partner has done or repeatedly does any of the following:
- Provides an allowance and closely monitors how you spend it
- Demands receipts for your purchases
- Deposits your paycheck into an account you can’t access
- Prevents you from viewing or accessing bank accounts
- Prevents you from working, limits the hours that you work, gets you fired, or forces you to work certain types of jobs
- Uses or maxes out your credit cards without permission, doesn’t pay credit card bills, or otherwise lowers your credit score
- Steals money from you, your family, or your friends
- Withdraws money from your savings account or your children’s savings accounts without permission
- Lives in your home but refuses to work or contribute to the household bills
- Refuses to provide money for necessary or shared expenses, such as food, clothing, transportation, or medical care/medicine
What are some signs of an abusive partner?
At the start of a new relationship, it is not always easy to tell if the relationship will later become abusive. An abusive partner can be difficult to spot. Oftentimes, abusers will seem pleasant at the beginning of a relationship. In fact, many abusive people appear as ideal partners in the early stages of the relationship.
Domestic violence warning signs don’t typically appear overnight; instead, they may emerge and intensify as the relationship evolves over time, with the abuser becoming more controlling and aggressive as the relationship continues. Keep in mind that every relationship is different, and domestic violence doesn’t always look the same. However, one characteristic shared by most abusive relationships is that the abusive partner attempts to establish or gain power and control through many different methods, at many different moments.
While signs of abuse vary from person to person, there are some common tendencies. Domestic abuse usually begins with behaviors that can be dismissed and excused, such as possessiveness, jealousy, distrust, or name-calling. Many abusers justify their actions as acts of love and later apologize profusely for any red-flag behaviors. The control almost always intensifies, however, and violence can quickly follow.
Some common signs of abusive behavior in a partner include:
- Showing extreme jealousy when you spend any time away from him/her
- Preventing you from spending time with friends, family, or peers
- Insulting, demeaning, or shaming you – especially in front of others
- Preventing you from making your own decisions, including decisions about work or attending school
- Controlling finances, including taking your money or refusing to provide money for shared expenses
- Pressuring you to have sex or perform sexual acts you’re uncomfortable with
- Forcing you to use drugs or alcohol
- Intimidating you through threats, looks, or actions – or with weapons
- Destroying your belongings, your home, or your vehicle
- Making you feel as though you must rely on him/her for everything
Research has also shown that high-risk behaviors, such as heavy drug and alcohol consumption, can contribute to relationship violence. If you notice your partner engaging in heavy drinking or drug usage, you may want to reconsider whether he or she is the best person to be involved with in a relationship. Though it is true that not all alcohol and drug use leads to violence, studies have repeatedly shown a correlation between high-risk behaviors and an increased risk of violence, domestic or otherwise.
Why do some victims stay with their abusive partners?
There are many reasons why some victims stay with their abusive partners, sometimes remaining in abusive relationships for years, and all of the reasons are deeply complex. Abusers often go to drastic measures to prevent their victims from leaving. Sometimes victims no longer believe that leaving is truly an option. Regardless of what kind of abuse they’re inflicting, abusers almost always have the power to convince their victims that the consequences of leaving are far worse than the consequences of staying. Ultimately, leaving can become a choice between life and death for a victim of domestic violence.
Even if the victim has a viable means of escape, he or she may still choose not to leave. The victim fears that the abuser’s behavior will become even more dangerous, potentially risking the lives of the victim’s loved ones. The reality is that victims of domestic violence are in the most danger when they are in the process of separating themselves from the abuser and the abusive situation.
Statistics about Domestic Violence
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), these are some of the statistics you should know about domestic violence:
- In the United States, more than 10 million adults experience domestic violence each year
- 2% of women and 13.9% of men have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner during their lifetime
- 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men experience physical violence, sexual violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime, and as a result, are injured, need victim services, have symptoms of PTSD, and/or are concerned for their safety
- On a typical day, domestic violence hotlines nationwide receive over 19,000 calls
- An abuser’s access to a firearm increases the risk of intimate partner homicide by 400%
- 19% of domestic violence involves a weapon
- From 2016 to 2018, the number of intimate partner violence victimizations increased by 42%
- In 2018, domestic violence accounted for 20% of all violent crime
Since 2018, and in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced many abusers and victims into prolonged periods of isolation together, statistical trends regarding domestic violence have begun to emerge. Many reports display an alarming rise in domestic violence incidents in recent years, and in April 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that, “although data are scarce, reports…suggest an increase in domestic violence cases since the COVID-19 outbreak began.”
How can I support survivors of domestic violence?
There are many ways to support survivors of domestic violence.
Here are five simple steps you can take to help victims of domestic violence:
- Know the Signs. Familiarize yourself with common red flags that can indicate if someone is being abused or if someone is an abuser.
- Talk in a Safe Setting. Avoid addressing the matter in a place where you could be overheard, and reassure the victim that you are here to help.
- Believe Victims. Victims often feel that they will not be believed and need your support.
- Be Understanding. Refrain from judgment of any kind, and simply offer your assistance. It can often be hard for someone outside of the situation to understand why a person who is being abused would choose to stay. It is especially important to refrain from judgment in this situation and to simply show your support, in whatever form that takes.
- Connect to Resources. There are free resources available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. You may want to call for the victim, but you shouldn’t. Allowing them to own the process of making the call restores a sense of power and control that they probably haven’t experienced in the relationship. You can help them connect with resources, but ultimately, know that it’s their call to make. However, in life-threatening situations, call 911.
National Domestic Violence Hotline
RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline
If anyone is in immediate danger, call 911.
Course Highlight: Conflict Wise
If you or someone you love wants help managing the conflict that life puts in your path, we recommend 3rd Millennium Classrooms’ Conflict Wise, a stress and anger management course that enables individuals to act with self-awareness and self-control, regardless of the situation they’re in. Conflict Wise helps people recognize the impact of their abusive behaviors on themselves and others, and it addresses how high-risk behaviors contribute to their patterns of abuse.
In Conflict Wise, the individual learns to identify their behavior style and thinking style, and they will explore how their identity and values affect their interactions with others. They are taught to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy responses to conflict and to identify the various types of harassment that exist. Other learning outcomes include an understanding of conflict resolution strategies and additional life skills that diffuse anger triggers.
Conflict Wise requires completion of an action plan that includes students’ preferred anger and stress management skills, acquired through the duration of the course and its activities. Individuals walk away from Conflict Wise with concrete tools to use in their daily lives to mitigate risk and/or violence and to build healthy relationships. There are both adult and juvenile versions of Conflict Wise available. You can either sign up today, or learn more at 3rd Millennium Classrooms.