He says he's sorry and that it won't happen again. But
you fear it will. Angry outbursts, hurtful words, sometimes a slap or a
punch. You may start to doubt your own judgment, or wonder whether
you're going crazy. Maybe you think you've imagined the whole thing.
But you haven't. Domestic violence can and does happen
to people of all ages, races, and socioeconomic and educational
backgrounds. Domestic violence happens to men and to same-sex partners,
but most often domestic violence involves men abusing their female
partners. In fact, the Department of Health and Human Services estimates
that as many as 4 million women suffer abuse from their husbands,
ex-husbands, boyfriends or intimate partners in the United States each
Domestic violence — also called domestic abuse, intimate
partner violence or battering — occurs between people in intimate
relationships. It takes many forms, including coercion, threats,
intimidation, isolation, and emotional, sexual and physical abuse.
Without help, abuse will continue and could worsen. Many
resources are available to help you understand your options and to
support you. No one deserves to be abused.
|An abusive relationship: It's about power and
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 his partner.
"A lot of people think domestic violence is about anger,
and it really isn't," says Diana Patterson, a licensed social worker and
violence prevention coordinator at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.
"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."
But anger is just one way that an abuser tries to gain
authority. The batterer may also turn to physical violence — kicking,
punching, grabbing, slapping or strangulation, for example. The abuser
may also use sexual violence — forcing you to have sexual intercourse or
to engage in other sexual activities against your will.
In an abusive relationship, the abuser may use varying
tactics to gain power and control, including:
- 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
- Coercion and threats.
Threatens to hurt other family members, pets, children or self.
- 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 or
make you feel like you're going crazy.
- 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.
- Emotional abuse.
Uses put-downs, insults, criticism or name-calling to make you feel bad
- Intimidation. Uses certain looks,
actions or gestures to instill fear. The abuser may break things,
destroy property, abuse pets or display weapons.
- 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
- 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.
|Recognizing abuse: Know the signs
It may not be easy to identify abuse. An abusive relationship can start
subtly. The abuser may criticize your appearance or may be unreasonably
jealous. Gradually, the abuse becomes more frequent, severe and
"It's important to know that these relationships don't
happen overnight," says Patterson. "It's a gradual process — a slow
disintegration of a person's sense of self."
However, many characteristics signify an abusive
relationship. For example, you may be abused if you:
- Have ever been hit, kicked, shoved or threatened with
- Feel that you have no choice about how you spend your
time, where you go or what you wear
- Have been accused by your partner of things you've
- Must ask your partner for permission to make everyday
- Feel bad about yourself because your partner calls
you names, insults you or puts you down
- Limit time with your family and friends because of
your partner's demands
- Submit to sexual intercourse or engage in sexual acts
against your will
- Accept your partner's decisions because you're afraid
of ensuing anger
- Are accused of being unfaithful
- Change your behavior in an effort to not anger your
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 pregnancy.
|Breaking the cycle: Difficult, but doable with
Domestic violence is part of a continuing cycle that's difficult to
break. If you're in an abusive situation, you may recognize this pattern:
- Your abuser strikes using words or actions.
- Your abuser may beg for forgiveness, offer gifts or
promise to change.
- Your abuser becomes tense, angry or depressed.
- Your abuser promises to stop but repeats the abusive
Typically each time the abuse occurs, it worsens, and
the cycle shortens. Breaking this pattern of violence alone and without
help is difficult.
"When you live in an environment of chaos, stress and
fear, you start doubting yourself and your ability to take care of
yourself," says Patterson. "It can really unravel your sense of reality
So it's important to recognize that you may not be in a
position to resolve the situation on your own. 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.
|Getting ready to leave: Use a safety plan
Leaving an abuser can be dangerous. You're the only person who knows
the safest time to leave. Make sure you prepare a safety plan so that
you can act quickly when the time is right. Consider taking these
- 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
- 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 them.
- If you have school-age children,
notify the school authorities about custody arrangements, warn them
about possible threats and advise the school on what information to keep
As part of a safety plan, avoid making long-distance
phone calls from home because the abuser could trace the calls to find
out where you're going. And the abuser may be able to intercept your
cell phone conversations using a scanner. Switch to a corded phone if
you're relaying sensitive information.
Also, be aware that the abuser may be able to monitor
your Internet activities and access your e-mail account. Change your
passwords, get a new e-mail account or access a computer at a friend's
house or a local library.
|Where to find help: Options abound
In an emergency situation, call 911 or your local law enforcement
agency. If you aren't in immediate danger, consider contacting one of
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 resources.
- 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 anyone who advises couples or marriage
counseling. This isn't appropriate for abusive 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.
"There are many resources available to help you if you
are being abused." says Patterson. "You can have and you deserve a