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Domestic violence is abuse that happens in a personal relationship. When domestic violence occurs between a former or current partner or spouse, it is called intimate partner violence.
Most relationships have difficult times, and almost every couple argues now and then. But intimate partner violence is different from common marital or relationship problems. It is a pattern of abuse that a partner may use to control the behavior of another.
In some relationships both partners abuse each other. One partner may be more abusive, or the abuse may be equal.
Abuse affects people of every gender, ethnicity, race, age, sexual orientation, social status, and religion.
The abuser may use fear, bullying, and threats to gain power and control over the other person. The abuser may act jealous, controlling, or possessive. These early signs of abuse may happen soon after the start of the relationship and might be hard to notice at first.
After the relationship becomes more serious, the abuse may get worse.
It's important to get help. Talk with someone you trust, such as a friend or your doctor. Or get help from a center for victims of domestic violence. Talking with someone can help you make the changes you need.
You can get help by contacting a local advocacy group for support, information, and advice on how to stay safe. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233 ) for the nearest program. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in English, Spanish, and other languages.
You can also see the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence website at https://ncadv.org/resources to find programs that offer shelter and legal support.
Here are some other things you can do:
Domestic violence often starts with threats, name-calling, and slamming doors or breaking dishes, and it can build up to pushing, slapping, and other violent acts. But not all signs of domestic violence are physical. If you are concerned about your relationship, ask yourself the following questions.
Does the person:
Do you have a friend, coworker, relative, or neighbor who you think may be in an abusive relationship?
Here are some signs to watch for:
Other warning signs:
Be supportive, and let your friend know that you are there to listen and help.
Intimate partner violence affects people of every gender, ethnicity, race, age, sexual orientation, social status, and religion.
Here are some things you should know:
Other things that can put you at risk include having a partner who has lost a job or who has medical or mental health conditions.
After abuse starts, it usually continues. And it's likely to get worse over time. For example, abuse that starts with a slap may build up over time to kicking and shoving and finally choking.
The repeated injury and stress of living with someone who is abusive can cause long-lasting health problems, such as:
Those who are abused have a higher risk of health problems. They are also more likely to smoke or drink a lot of alcohol, which can also lead to health problems. Other health problems linked to sexual abuse include sexually transmitted infections (including HIV/AIDS) and unintended pregnancies.
Pregnancy can be an especially dangerous time for people who are in abusive relationships. Abuse can cause or increase the risk of problems during pregnancy, such as low weight gain, anemia, infections, and bleeding.
Abuse can happen more often and get worse when you are pregnant. It is dangerous for both you and your baby. It can raise your baby's risk of low birth weight, premature birth, and death.
When there's violence in the home, children are always affected, even if they're asleep or not in the room when the abuse happens. The longer you live in a violent situation, the harder it will be for your children.
When abuse happens, your children may feel scared and ashamed, or they may even think that they caused the problem. Worse, they can grow up thinking that it's okay to hurt others or let other people hurt them.
Abuse can affect your family in other ways, too.
Children who live in homes where domestic violence occurs are more likely to have depression, anxiety, poor school performance, behavior problems, trouble sleeping, or chronic health problems.
Spouses who abuse their partners also often hurt the children in the relationship. Violence or the threat of violence toward a victim's children is often used to control the partner who is being abused.
Teens who witness abuse are at increased risk for depression, drug and alcohol use, and behavior problems.
Teens who witness abuse at home attempt suicide more often.
Children who see one partner hurting or threatening the other are more likely to be in abusive relationships themselves when they grow up, either as victims or abusers.
People who are not abused might find it hard to understand why anyone would stay in an abusive relationship. Victims are often blamed. Some people falsely believe that if a person stays, they must be weak or needy. This is not true.
Changing or ending any relationship is hard. It can be even harder when the relationship is abusive. People stay for many reasons.
Abusers use verbal, emotional, and physical violence along with apologies, promises, and affection to control their victims. A victim may hold on to the hope that the abuser will change. Along with painful times, there may be loving moments. The abuser may also be the only one providing financial support for the family.
Victims often feel a lot of shame and embarrassment and use denial as a way of coping with the abuse.
In many cases, the abuser has threatened to kill their partner, themself, or the children if their partner tries to leave.
Money is often tightly controlled, so a victim may fear losing financial support and may question how they will be able to support themself and their children. People who are elderly or have disabilities may not feel that they have any other options than to stay with the abusive partner.
Abuse can leave victims depressed and emotionally drained. This can make it hard to act. And abusers try to isolate victims from family and friends so that the victims do not have anyone to support them if they do leave.
In some cases, friends, relatives, or faith leaders may encourage victims to stay to keep the family together no matter what.
A person may worry about losing custody of their children if they leave.
Victims that are immigrants might stay in an abusive relationship because their partners have threatened to have them deported. Not being fluent in English might also be a challenge.
In some relationships, both partners abuse each other. The abuse may be equal, or one partner may be more abusive than the other. A partner may worry about things like losing custody of their children or going to jail if they report the abuse.
Be careful giving your friend written information. It may not be safe for them to take it home. See if you can keep it for them. Your friend should be careful online too. Their online activity may be seen by others. They shouldn't use their personal computer or device to search for these programs. Offer to let your friend use your computer or device. Or they could use a safe computer at work or a library.
Some victims of domestic violence are willing to talk about their relationship when they are approached in a kind and understanding way. But don't confront the person if they are not ready to talk. Let them know you are willing to listen whenever they want to talk. Be understanding if the person is unable to leave. They likely know the situation best and when it is safest to leave.
Reassure the person that the abuse is not their fault and that no one deserves to be abused. If the person has children, gently point out that you are concerned that the violence is affecting them. Sometimes it's hard for people in abusive situations to see the harm it has on their children.
Be willing to help in any way you can with transportation, money, or child care. Encourage your friend to talk with a health professional.
Remind the person that domestic violence is against the law and that help is available. In some cases of domestic violence, both partners abuse each other. The abuse may be equal, or one partner may be more abusive than the other. If this happened, you may be able to help the person understand their options.
The most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence can be when the person is leaving an abusive relationship, so any advice about leaving must be knowledgeable and practical. Encourage the victim to get advice from an advocacy agency with experience in the area of domestic violence.
Helping a person contact local domestic violence groups is an important step. If you know someone who is being abused, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233) or see the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence's website at https://ncadv.org/resources to find programs that offer shelter and legal support. There are many programs across the country that provide options for safety, advocacy, support, and needed information and services.
Here are some things you can do to help:
Here are some other ways to help:
A violent relationship puts you and your children at risk for injury and even death. Developing a plan will help provide for your safety and the safety of your children.
There are steps you can take to protect yourself. Your first step is to contact a local advocacy group for support, information, and advice on how to stay safe. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline toll-free at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233) or visit www.thehotline.org for the nearest program. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in English, Spanish, and other languages.
Your local advocacy group can help you get in touch with legal and social services in your area. This group may also provide information on counseling and support groups that can help you recover emotionally from your abuse.
Many people worry about calling the police when they have been hurt. Victims may fear things like their partners hurting them again or police officers not believing them. If a victim used violence to protect themself from their partner, they may fear that they will get in trouble with the police. But many communities have made great progress in educating police officers and other people in the criminal justice system about domestic violence.
Many states require that police officers arrest the abuser if they believe domestic violence has occurred. In some communities, help from local victim's advocacy groups and state social services are requested at the same time. Along with these services, the law can also help you increase your safety and independence.
In many states, police officers can help you get a temporary protective order (or restraining order) at the scene of the crime. These orders usually last until a permanent protective order can be issued.
In general, protective orders require the abuser to stop harming or threatening you. The abuser has to stay away from you, your home, your workplace, or your school. They have to stop all contact with you, including calling, texting, emailing, or writing notes. You can request a protective order at any time. An abuser can be arrested for violating a protective order, which is considered contempt of court and a minor (misdemeanor) criminal offense.
Protective orders are available in all states, but each state has its own laws governing them. Many states allow you to obtain a protective order without an attorney. The court can also extend the protective order to your children and order the abuser to have no contact with them, your children's doctors, day care, or school.
Keep your protective order with you at all times, and keep a copy in a safe place. If you travel to another state, check to see if your protective order is valid in that state. Some states enforce protective orders from other states, but many do not.
At work, tell your supervisor and the human resources manager about your situation. Discuss scheduling options and other safety precautions to provide for your well-being. Give a recent photo of the abuser to your human resources manager and, if possible, ask to prohibit the abuser's access to your workplace. Tell human resources if there is a current restraining order in place.
Protective orders may not automatically prevent abuse. But they can help create a safer situation for you. Abuse victims who get permanent protective court orders are less likely to be physically or psychologically abused than those who do not get permanent protective orders.
Contact your local domestic violence group, legal aid society, or family court for help. See the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence's website at https://ncadv.org/resources to find programs that offer shelter and legal support. Also, the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233) can provide you with contacts.
The court may also award temporary custody of children to you, along with child support, spousal support, and use of the home and car along with the protective order. The court may be able to order the abuser to pay your legal costs and fees. As a victim of a crime, you may also be eligible for additional financial support from the court.
Many states require that abusers attend abuser intervention programs. These programs try to make abusers accountable for their behavior and educate them about healthy alternatives to their abuse. Most experts believe that these programs are most effective when the abuser recognizes that their behavior is abusive, and wants to change.
Teens who abuse their partners do the same things as adults who abuse their partners. Teen dating violence is just as serious as adult domestic violence. And it's common.
Abusive relationships have good times and bad times. Part of what makes dating violence so confusing is that feelings like love or affection are sometimes mixed with the abuse. This can make it hard to tell if you're really being abused.
You deserve to be treated in a loving, respectful way at all times by your partner.
Ask yourself these questions. Does your partner:
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be in an abusive relationship. Talk to your parents or another adult family member, a school counselor, or a teacher. Or you can get help from the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233) or go to www.thehotline.org or the National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline at 1-866-331-9474 (www.loveisrespect.org).
Remember, you're not alone. Talking really does help. And without help, the violence will only get worse.
Current as of:
June 25, 2023
Author: Healthwise StaffClinical Review Board: All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.
Current as of: June 25, 2023
Clinical Review Board:
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2023 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
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