Signs of Domestic Violence Abuse
Domestic violence may not look the same in every relationship because every relationship is different. But one thing most abusive relationships have in common is that the abusive partner can take many different actions to exert more power and control over their partners or family members.
Abuse consists of a repetitive pattern of behaviors that are geared toward maintaining power and control over an intimate partner or family members who live together. These are behaviors that physically harm, arouse fear, prevent a partner from making their own choices or force them to behave in ways they do not want.
If you’re beginning to feel as if your partner is becoming abusive, there are a few behaviors you can look out for:
- Keeping you or discouraging you from seeing friends or family members.
- Acting excessively jealous or possessive.
- Insulting, demeaning or shaming you with put-downs.
- Taking your money or limiting your access to your money, phone, car or any other belongings.
- Seeing you as a sex object or property, rather than a person.
- Controlling who you see, where you go, or what you do.
- Preventing you from making your own decisions.
- Checking up on you constantly.
- Threatening to commit suicide if you leave.
- Telling you that you are a bad parent or threatening to harm or take away your children.
- Preventing you from working or attending school.
- Withholding basic necessities (such as food, shelter, medication).
- Destroying your property or threatening to hurt or kill your pets.
- Ignoring or putting down your opinions or accomplishments.
- Intimidating you with guns, knives or other weapons.
- Pressuring you to have sex when you don’t want to or do things sexually you’re not comfortable with.
Is your relationship based on power and control? The Power & Control Wheel is a helpful tool for understanding the overall pattern of abusive behavior.
Types of Abuse
When someone mentions domestic violence, they are often referring to physical abuse of a spouse or intimate partner. It is the use of physical force against another person in a way that ends up injuring the person, or puts the person at risk of being injured.
- Examples: Pushing, kicking, slapping, hitting, choking, restraining, burning, murder, assault with a weapon.
Sexual abuse is often linked to physical abuse; they may occur together, or the sexual abuse may occur after a bout of physical abuse. Sexual violence involves the violation of an individual's bodily integrity, including any unwelcome sexual behavior or behavior which limits reproductive rights.
- Examples: sexual assault or forcing someone to engage in unwanted sexual activity (groping, rape, molestation), sexual harassment, sexual exploitation (including forced prostitution or pornography), preventing use of contraceptive methods, forcing abortion.
Mental, psychological, or emotional abuse can be verbal or nonverbal. Verbal or nonverbal abuse of an intimate partner consists of more subtle actions or behaviors than physical abuse.
- Examples: name-calling, constant criticism, diminishing a partner's accomplishments, embarrassing or mocking the victim, yelling, humiliating, threatening to harm a pet, excessive possessiveness (isolating the victim from family and friends), making the victim feel there is no way out of the relationship, controlling what the victim does and with whom they speak.
Economic abuse involves making or attempting to make the victim financially dependent on the abuser.
- Examples: preventing an intimate partner from working, withholding access to economic resources, stealing from a partner.
Stalking is harassing or threatening another person, especially in a way that haunts the person physically or emotionally in a repetitive and devious manner. Stalking can turn into violence even if the stalker has no history of violence or did not threaten violence. Women stalkers are just as likely to become violent as are male stalkers. Cyber-stalking may be an additional form of stalking, or it may be the only method the abuser employs.
- Tactics: repeated phone calls, following, suddenly showing up where the victim is (home, school or work), sending unwanted gifts/letters, contacting the victim's friends, family or co-workers to find the victim, damaging the victim's property, threatening to hurt the victim or their family, friends or pets, sending harassing emails or texts.
What to do if you think someone is in an abusive or unhealthy relationship
Are you worried a friend or family member may be involved in an abusive relationship? Once you recognize the warning signs that a situation might be abusive, you can respond in a way that feels appropriate and comfortable. Talk privately with the victim and express concern.
Allow the victim/survivor to make their own decisions.
- Personal style, culture and context of the survivor's life may affect their reactions. A victim/survivor may not be comfortable with being identified as a victim or with naming their experience as abuse or assault. It is important to respect each person's choices and style of coping with this traumatic event.
- Listening without judgment may make them feel comfortable opening up, and if they do disclose abuse, let them know you believe them. You can reassure them that they are not alone, this is not their fault and that you are here to help. Some useful things to say might be, "No one deserves to be treated this way," "You are not to blame," or simply, "What's happening is not your fault."
- Do not accuse, diagnose, or judge your loved one's choices; do not draw conclusions about what they may be experiencing or feeling; and do not judge or criticize their abuser.
Do not pressure your friend to leave the abusive relationship.
- There are many reasons they may be choosing to stay. It is possible their abuser has threatened to hurt them or their children if they try to leave. The abuser may control all of their finances and may have isolated the victim from friends and family, leaving the victim with very few resources of their own. The abuser may have promised to change, and the victim may still love him/her. It is never as simple as encouraging a victim to "just leave"—but by all means, communicate to your loved one that help does exist, and that people in their community care about them and their children and want them to be safe.
- Offer options by letting them know free, confidential resources are available and that you are here to support them in whatever choices they make. The 24 hour Crisis Hotline and the Coordinated Victim Assistance Center can offer you guidance and point you to local resources in your area that will help keep them (and any children that may be present in the home) safe.
Offer to let them use your phone or computer to look up Local resources or contact someone who can help them and any children involved.
- Do not feel the need to be an expert. Do not try to provide counseling or advice, but do connect your friend to trained people who can help. In Miami-Dade County, the best place to start is the 24-hour Crisis Hotline.
Miami-Dade County Coordinated Victims Assistance Center
Florida Domestic Violence 24-hour Crisis Hotline