Domestic violence is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. It includes physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, and emotional abuse. The frequency and severity of domestic violence can vary dramatically; however, the one constant component of domestic violence is one partner’s consistent efforts to maintain power and control over the other.
. What may start out as something that was first believed to be harmless (e.g., wanting the victim to spend all their time only with them because they love them so much) escalates into extreme control and abuse (e.g., threatening to kill or hurt the victim or others if they speak to family, friends, etc.). Some examples of abusive tendencies include but are not limited to:
- Telling the victim that they can never do anything right
- Showing jealousy of the victim’s family and friends and time spent away
- Accusing the victim of cheating
- Keeping or discouraging the victim from seeing friends or family members
- Embarrassing or shaming the victim with put-downs
- Controlling every penny spent in the household
- Taking the victim’s money or refusing to give them money for expenses
- Looking at or acting in ways that scare the person they are abusing
- Controlling who the victim sees, where they go, or what they do
- Dictating how the victim dresses, wears their hair, etc.
- Stalking the victim or monitoring their victim’s every move (in person or also via the internet and/or other devices such as GPS tracking or the victim’s phone)
- Preventing the victim from making their own decisions
- Telling the victim that they are a bad parent or threatening to hurt, kill, or take away their children
- Threatening to hurt or kill the victim’s friends, loved ones, or pets
- Intimidating the victim with guns, knives, or other weapons
- Pressuring the victim to have sex when they don’t want to or to do things sexually they are not comfortable with
- Forcing sex with others
- Refusing to use protection when having sex or sabotaging birth control
- Pressuring or forcing the victim to use drugs or alcohol
- Preventing the victim from working or attending school, harassing the victim at either, keeping their victim up all night so they perform badly at their job or in school
- Destroying the victim’s property
Sign of an Abusive Partners
Anyone can be an abuser. They come from all groups, all cultures, all religions, all economic levels, and all backgrounds. They can be your neighbor, your pastor, your friend, your child’s teacher, a relative, a coworker — anyone. It is important to note that the majority of abusers are only violent with their current or past intimate partners. One study found 90% of abusers do not have criminal records and abusers are generally law-abiding outside the home.
There is no one typical, detectable personality of an abuser. However, they do often display common characteristics.
- An abuser often denies the existence or minimizes the seriousness of the violence and its effect on the victim and other family members.
- An abuser objectifies the victim and often sees them as their property or sexual objects.
- An abuser has low self-esteem and feels powerless and ineffective in the world. He or she may appear successful, but internally, they feel inadequate.
- An abuser externalizes the causes of their behavior. They blame their violence on circumstances such as stress, their partner’s behavior, a “bad day,” on alcohol, drugs, or other factors.
- An abuser may be pleasant and charming between periods of violence and is often seen as a “nice person” to others outside the relationship.
Red flags and warning signs of an abuser include but are not limited to:
- Extreme jealousy
- A bad temper
- Cruelty to animals
- Verbal abuse
- Extremely controlling behavior
- Antiquated beliefs about roles of women and men in relationships
- Forced sex or disregard of their partner’s unwillingness to have sex
- Sabotage of birth control methods or refusal to honor agreed upon methods
- Blaming the victim for anything bad that happens
- Sabotage or obstruction of the victim’s ability to work or attend school
- Controls all the finances
- Abuse of other family members, children or pets
- Accusations of the victim flirting with others or having an affair
- Control of what the victim wears and how they act
- Demeaning the victim either privately or publicly
- Embarrassment or humiliation of the victim in front of others
- Harassment of the victim at work
WHY VICTIMS STAY
A victim’s reasons for staying with their abusers are extremely complex and, in most cases, are based on the reality that their abuser will follow through with the threats they have used to keep them trapped: the abuser will hurt or kill them, they will hurt or kill the kids, they will win custody of the children, they will harm or kill pets or others, they will ruin their victim financially — the list goes on.
A recent study of intimate partner homicides found 20% of homicide victims were not the domestic violence victims themselves, but family members, friends, neighbors, persons who intervened, law enforcement responders, or bystanders.
Additional barriers to escaping a violence relationship include by are not limited to:
- The fear that the abuser’s actions will become more violent and may become lethal if the victim attempts to leave.
- Unsupportive friends and family
- Knowledge of the difficulties of single parenting and reduced financial circumstances
- The victim feeling that the relationship is a mix of good times, love and hope along with the manipulation, intimidation and fear.
- The victim’s lack of knowledge of or access to safety and support
- Fear of losing custody of any children if they leave or divorce their abuser or fear the abuser will hurt, or even kill, their children
- Lack of means to support themselves and/or their children financially or lack of access to cash, bank accounts, or assets
- Lack of having somewhere to go (e.g. no friends or family to help, no money for hotel, shelter programs are full or limited by length of stay)
- Fear that homelessness may be their only option if they leave
- Religious or cultural beliefs and practices may not support divorce or may dictate outdated gender roles and keep the victim trapped in the relationship
- Belief that two parent households are better for children, despite abuse
ESCAPING A VIOLENT RELATIONSHIP
In addition to individual obstacles victims face when escaping violent relationships, society in general presents barriers. These include:
- A victim’s fear of being charged with desertion, losing custody of children, or joint assets.
- Anxiety about a decline in living standards for themselves and their children
- Reinforcement of clergy and secular counselors of “saving” a couple’s relationship at all costs, rather than the goal of stopping the violence.
- Lack of support to victims by police officers and law enforcement who may treat violence as a “domestic dispute,” instead of a crime where one person is physically attacking another person. Often, victims of abuse are arrested and charged by law enforcement even if they are only defending themselves against the batterer.
- Dissuasion by police of the victim filing charges. Some dismiss or downplay the abuse, side with the abuser, or do not take the victims account of the abuse seriously.
- Reluctance by prosecutors to prosecute cases. Some may convince the abuser to please to a lesser charge, thus further endangering victims. Additionally, judges rarely impose the maximum sentence upon convicted abusers. Probation or a fine is much more common.
- Despite the issuing of a restraining order, there is little to prevent a released abuser from returning and repeating abuse.
- Despite greater public awareness and the increased availability of housing for victims fleeing violent partners, there are not enough shelters to keep victims safe.
- Some religious and cultural practices that stress that divorce is forbidden.
- The socialization of some made to believe they are responsible for making their relationship work. Failure to maintain the relationship equals failure as a person.
- Isolation from friends and families, either by the jealous and possessive abuser, or because they feel “ashamed” of the abuse and try to hide signs of it from the outside world. The isolation contributes to a sense that there is nowhere to turn.
- The rationalization of the victim that their abuser’s behavior is caused by stress, alcohol, problems at work, unemployment, or other factors.
- Societal factors that teach women to believe their identities and feelings of self-worth are contingent upon getting and keeping a man.
- Inconsistency of abuse; during non-violent phases, the abuser may fulfill the victim’s dream of romantic love. The victim may also rationalize the abuser is basically good until something bad happens and they have to “let off steam.”
YOU THINK YOU ARE BEING ABUSED?
Look over the following questions. Think about how you are being treated and how you treat your partner. Remember, when one person scares, hurts, or continually puts down the other person, it is abuse.
Does your partner …
- Embarrass or make fun of you in front of friends or family? Put down your accomplishments or goals?
- Make you feel like you are unable to make decisions? Use intimidation or threats to gain compliance?
- Tell you that you are nothing without them?
- Treat you roughly — grab, push, pinch, shove or hit you? Threaten or abuse your pets?
- Call you several times a night or show up to make sure you are where you said you would be?
- Use drugs or alcohol as an excuse for saying hurtful things or abusing you?
- Blame you for how they feel or act?
- Pressure you sexually for things you aren’t ready for?
- Make you feel like there “is no way out” of the relationship?
- Prevent you from doing things you want, like spending time with your friends or family?
- Try to keep you from leaving after a fight, or leave you somewhere after a fight to “teach you a lesson?”
Do you …
- Sometimes feel scared of how your partner will act?
- Constantly make excuses to other people for your partner’s behavior?
- Believe that you can help your partner change if only you changed something about yourself?
- Try not to do anything that would cause conflict or make your partner angry?
- Feel like no matter what you do, your partner is never happy with you?
- Always do what your partner wants you to do instead of what you want?
- Stay with your partner because you are afraid of what your partner would do if you broke up?
Without help, the abuse will continue.
YOU THINK YOUR PARTNER MIGHT BE ABUSIVE?
The following signs often occur before manifestation of full abuse and may serve clues to one person in a relationship becoming abusive of the other. Think about the following questions and apply them to your partner. If you can identify with one or more of the scenarios or answer “yes” to any of the questions below, you may be with an abusive partner.
- Did your partner grow up in a violent family?
- Does your partner tend to use force of violence to “solve” their problems?
- Does your partner have a quick temper? Do they over-react to little problems and frustration? Are they cruel to animals? Do they punch walls or throw things when they are upset?
- Do they abuse alcohol or other drugs?
- Do they have strong traditional ideas about “roles” in relationships? For example, do they think all women should stay at home, take care of their husbands, and follow their wishes and orders?
- Are they jealous of your other relationships — anyone you may know? Do they keep tabs on you? Do they want to know where you are at all times? Do they want you with them all of the time?
- Do they have access to guns, knives or other lethal weapons? Do they talk of using them against people or threaten to use them to get even?
- Do they expect you to follow their orders or advice? Do they become angry if you do not fulfill their wishes or if you cannot anticipate what they want?
- Do they go through extreme highs and lows almost as though they are two different people? Are they extremely kind one time, and extremely cruel another?
- When your partner gets angry, do you fear them? Do you find that not making them angry has become a major part of your life? Do you do what they want you to do, rather than what you want to do?
- Do they treat you roughly? Do they physically force you to do what you do not want to do?
- Do they threaten or abuse your pets?
YOU ARE IN THE RELATIONSHIP
Plan ahead where you can go if the abuser shows signs of escalating. Make a list of safe people to contact (DV program, friends, relatives, attorney, and important persons/services). Have numbers for local domestic violence programs. Pack and have ready a bag or suitcase of essentials, including medications.
Obtain and secure personal documents and information for you, and if you have children, for them as well: birth certificates, driver’s license, social security cards, immunization records, passports, licenses, bank accounts, debit and credit cards, checkbooks, W-2s, paystubs, insurance cards and policies, school records, clothing, and keys. Any documentation that you might have about the abuse, including pictures, recordings, medical records, and police reports are also very important to have. Include cash if you can and any other valuable that you don’t want to leave behind. Keep in mind that large items like furniture might not be possible to hide.
Find a safe place to hide these — with a friend, relative, and/or another place the abuser cannot access.
YOU ARE IN THE HOME DURING AN INCIDENT:
- Avoid rooms with no exits, like bathrooms and closets. Also, avoid rooms with weapons, like the kitchen.
- Get to a room with a door or a window to escape.
- If it is possible, lock the abuser outside. Call 911.
- Get medical attention if you are hurt.
- If you have contact with the police, get the name and badge number of the officer(s).
- Contact a domestic violence program, the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-7233), or go to a safehouse.
YOU HAVE CHILDREN:
- Create a safety plan appropriate for their age. If children are old enough, have them get out of the house and alert a neighbor (that you have already contacted, is safe, knows about your situation, and is willing to help), and call 911.
- Practice the safety plan with your children.
- Instruct them not to get physically involved in the incident and instead “go” to their safe place (already established).
- If going to a safe place or neighbor’s house is not possible, teach them to call 911.
- Have older children take younger children to a safer room in the house, already established.
YOU HAVE PETS:
If you are planning to stay with the abuser:
- Keep emergency provisions for your pet in case your abuser withholds money. Keep the phone number of the nearest 24-hour emergency veterinary clinic.
- Establish ownership of your pet by creating a paper trail (i.e., obtain a license, have veterinarian records put in your name).
If you have left the abuser:
- Keep pets indoors (if possible). Do not let the pet outside alone.
- Pick a safe route and time to walk your pet. Do not exercise/walk your pet alone.
- Change your veterinarian.
YOU ARE NOT IN THE RELATIONSHIP
- Change your phone number and other contact information.
- Consider getting a restraining/protective order. Speak to an advocate and find out if that is a good option for you—every situation is different.
- Screen your calls.
- Save and document all contact, messages, injuries, or other incidents involving the abuser.
- Change your locks.
- Avoid being alone.
- Plan how to get away if confronted by the abuser.
- If you have to meet the abuser do it in a public place.
- Vary your routine.
- If you have a restraining or protective order, always have a copy with you. Leave a copy at work. If you have children, leave a copy at your children’s school and every place your children might spend time (childcare center, grandparents, friends, etc.).
- Find out if there is a domestic violence response policy at your work place and ask questions if you don’t understand how it works.
- Consider joining a support group at a local domestic violence program.
The important to take with you the documents that you will need to get the resources and help you will require.
You will need your driver’s license, passport, and birth certificate to verify your identity. Other important documents you will need include: social security cards (for yourself and any children), leases and deeds (that have your name attached), credit and debit cards, pay stubs, w-2s, insurance policies, bank statements, and check books.
Also, take any documentation that you might have about the abuse including pictures, recordings, medical records, and police reports.
Never take the risk of being alone with the abuser when retrieving your things; ask for a police escort or bring friends with you\
PERSONALIZED SAFETY PLAN
It is your decision if and when you tell others that you have being abused, or that you are still at risk. Friends, family, and coworkers can help with your safety plan if they are aware the situation and want to help.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- When I have to talk to the abuser, I can ____________________.
- When I talk on the phone with the abuser, I can ____________________.
- I can make up a “code word” for my family, co-workers, friends and counselor so they know when to call for help for me. My code word is ____________________.
- When I feel a fight coming on, I will try to move to a place that is lowest risk for getting hurt, such as ____________________ (at work), ____________________ (at home) or ____________________ (in public).
- I can tell my family, co-workers, boss, counselor or a friend about my situation. I feel safe telling ____________________.
- I can screen my calls, texts, emails, and visitors. I have the right to not receive harassing phone calls, texts or emails. I can ask friends, family members or co-workers to help me screen my contacts. I can ask these people for help: ____________________.
- I can call any of the following people for assistance or support if necessary and ask them to call the police if they see the abuser harassing me.
- When leaving work, I can ____________________.
- When walking, riding, or driving home, if problems occur, I can ____________________.
- I can attend a victim’s/survivor’s support group with the Domestic Violence program, like ____________________.
- Contact Information I Need To Have:
Police Department: ____________________
Domestic Violence Program: ____________________
Sexual Assault Program: ____________________
Spiritual Support/Clergy: ____________________
Probation Officer: ____________________
HELP FROM LAW ENFORCEMENT
During an incident:
- Speak clearly and give your location.
- After the police arrive and they have secured the area and taken your information, get the names and badge numbers of the officers you talked to. If they have business cards, get those.
- Ask questions about what is going to happen next.
- If there was an arrest, ask if they will notify you when the defendant bonds out of jail. Get the jail phone number so you can find this out yourself too.
- If the defendant is at large, ask if they are they going to notify you when he is arrested.
- Ask if they can facilitate you going into a safehouse.
- Ask if there is an advocate from the police department who will follow up with you and offer services and referrals.
- Ask if you are you required to appear in court for the defendant’s arraignment. Some jurisdictions with fast-track domestic violence protocols require that you be present.
- Write down all information given to you by the officers. Ask for copies of any pictures they take or any reports of the incident.
SEEKING LEGAL ASSISTANCE
Questions to ask before you hire an attorney
- Have you or any members of your firm ever represented my partner or anyone else associated with my partner?
- Do you handle divorce or custody cases?
- Did any of these cases involve an expert witness?
- How many were before the judge who will hear my case?
- What kind of decisions does this judge usually make?
- What are your fees? What work do these fees cover? Is this an hourly fee or a flat fee for the entire case?
- How much experience have you had with cases involving domestic violence? Which party did you represent (the victim, the abuser, or the children)?
- Do you have a working relationship with any batterer intervention program? If so, which one(s)?
- How helpful is the prosecutor’s office in handling domestic violence cases?
- Do you generally believe women who tell you that they have been battered?
- Do you go to court with women wanting to obtain orders of protection against their abused?
- What kind of custody and visitation arrangements do they usually recommend in cases involving domestic violence?
- If none of the abuse allegations have been reported yet, what do you recommend about whether to report it now, and how to keep my children safe?
SAFETY PLAN FOR A FRIEND, RELATIVE, OR CO-WORKER WHO IS BEING ABUSED BY AN INTIMATE PARTNER
Remember: You Are There for Her
- Don’t judge the victim (you are not in her situation).
- Avoid telling the victim that she needs to leave (she already knows that she needs to leave but she does not feel she can); instead discuss a safety plan.
- Don’t tell her that the abuser is a jerk, that you never liked him, etc. (That might drive her away or make her feel she has to defend him.)
- Become the victim’s confidante. Listen to everything she tells you. (You could be a good witness later by backing up her story.)
- Assure her you will keep what she tells you confidential. (This will help you gain her trust so she will be more likely to call you if she finds herself in a very serious situation, e.g., trying to escape.)
- Ask her what the situation is like for her. (Her abuser may: physically abuse her; make rules that are forever changing; punish her for breaking his rules; criticize her; humiliate her; prevent her from seeing friends or family, or from going to school, work or her place of worship; accuse her of lying or being unfaithful; force her to do things she does not want to do or that make her uncomfortable; monitor what she does; monitor how much money she spends, make her beg for money or demand to see every receipt; destroy the things she cares about; spy on her; blame her for his misdeeds; insult her, call her names or spit on her; tell her friends, family or neighbors nasty things about her; threaten to hurt or kill her, the children or those she loves (including pets), or to kill himself; threaten to abduct (kid- nap) the children, get custody of the children, and/or threaten that she will never see her children again; threaten to put her in a mental hospital; falsely accuse her of drinking or using drugs; or force her to do illegal things.)
- Let her know that:
- You are afraid for her safety.
- You are afraid for the safety of her children.
- This is not her fault; no one deserves to be abused.
- Even if her abuser apologizes, it does not mean he will stop abusing her.
- Alcohol does not cause abuse; many alcoholics never abuse, and most abusive alcoholics who stop drinking continue to abuse.
- There is a good chance the abuse will only get worse.
- She is not alone; you will be there to help her, or to help her find others who can help her (be realistic). Pick a code word for her to use to have you call the police (or pick up her children from school).
- Let her know that abusers usually snoop on their victims to learn what they are doing and who is supporting them. He may well check her car to see how many miles she has driven, and/ or check her phone or computer for messages and contacts. With today’s electronic security he may even have bugged her phone, computer, or put GPS on her car so that he will know everywhere she goes. (See Resources.)
- Let her know that her abuser will most likely try to isolate her from anyone who is supportive of her (including her children, and even you) by driving her and her supporters away from each other. Common tactics are to disparage one (or both) to the other, to make it very difficult for her to see supporters, and, if all else fails, threaten her or those supporting her. Tell her if you know he is doing such things. (Be aware that he may be talking to your friends and family, or even snooping on you to find out what you are doing to support her.)
- Let her know that women who are abused by their male partners are three times as likely to get infected with HIV, and that her risk is much higher if her abuser is engaging in risky activity or causing her to engage in risky activity. She may want to get tested for HIV, and get treated if she tests positive.
- If it is safe for you to do so (and nobody in your household will tell her abuser), offer to let her store some emergency things in your home in case she (and, ideally, her children) need to leave quickly. These should include information about her abuser’s driver’s license, car registration and workplace address (often needed to get or register an order of protection), and his and her financial data (like credit cards, bank accounts, insurance policies), her emergency and important phone numbers, prescription information (and even an emergency supply of medications), and her children’s immunization records. It should also include information about any firearms he has. (For safety plans, see No. 18, and Resources at the end.)
- If she has children:
- Let her know that most people who abuse their partners are not good parents, that most of them physically or sexually abuse the children, and that, if nothing else, they are poor role models for the children, and they often become worse as the children grow older.
- Let her know that you know it is hard for the children to be in this situation, and that children are much more harmed by living in a home with domestic violence than they are by divorce or separation.
- Let her know that, unless she has court permission to relocate, she may lose custody if she flees with the children to another state. She should work with domestic violence advocates or a lawyer if she plans to leave with the children.
- Let her know that if she leaves with- out one or more of her children and wants custody of them or to protect them, she should talk to a lawyer or domestic violence advocate about getting an order of protection and/ or custody order, and the sooner she does this the better.
- She, you or somebody should tell the children that abuse is wrong.
- She, you or somebody should teach the children that they should never get in the middle when one parent is abusing the other, that they should go somewhere where they will be safe and, if they can do so safely, call the police.
- She, you or somebody should teach the children how to call the police for help, how to give their name, the address where they are calling from, and a brief explanation of why help is needed (e.g., daddy is beating up mommy). They should know that dialing 911 on a cell phone may not get the local police.
- If she does not have children, let her know that:
- It is easier to get out of a bad relationship when there are no children, and that abusers control their women through the children;
- Abusive men often sabotage their female partners’ use of birth control to get them pregnant;
- Having children almost always makes abusers more possessive and abusive.
- Encourage the victim to document everything that happened, including an accurate account of how she was injured. Suggest that she get medical treatment.
- If she has injuries, ask her if you can take pictures of them to keep at your home or other safe place. (Assure her it is to document the injuries when she is ready to call the police or go to court. Date the pictures and keep them with notes about when, where and how she got the injuries. She may need several copies or enough pictures to use to get an order of protection, if criminal charges are brought, and to use in a divorce and/or custody case.)
- Document all the dates and times that you see injuries on the victim, even if she denies he caused her injuries. The victim may have gone to the hospital but did not tell you or was too ashamed to tell you.
- If the abuser has destroyed or damaged household property, with her permission, have the police, you or somebody else take pictures of the damage. Store the pictures in a safe place with the date, time and description of what each picture shows so she can use them in court if she wants.
- Tell the victim about her local domestic program and give her its phone number or that the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) for help in developing a safety plan and obtaining information about emergency shelter/relocation, restraining orders and advocacy programs in or out of her area.
- Be aware that clergy vary, and while some clergy are really helpful in cases of domestic violence, many others are not. The local domestic violence program is likely to know who will be helpful if the victim wants to talk to a member of the clergy.
- If the victim is going to leave her abuser, tell her not to tell her abuser or anyone who might tell him in advance.
- Offer her a safe place, if this is realistic, or help her find one.
- If the victim leaves the relationship, do not disclose her location, especially to mutual friends or family members of the abuser. (Her safety is paramount.)
- If the victim is suicidal this is an indication of just how desperate she feels; she needs help (ideally without letting her abuser know).
NATIONAL CRISIS ORGANIZATIONS AND ASSISTANCE:
The National Domestic Violence Hotline
National Dating Abuse Helpline
Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center
International Toll-Free (24/7)
Futures Without Violence: The National Health Resource Center on Domestic Violence
National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health
1-312-726-7020 ext. 2011