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Understanding Domestic Abuse

Through domestic violence, an abuser establishes power and control over another person. Such behavior occurs when the abuser feels entitled to control his or her victim. Although the most common form of abuse is males abusing female partners, females can abuse male partners, and abuse also takes place in same-sex relationships.

Acts of such violence generally fall into one or more of the following categories:

  • Physical battering. Hitting, slapping, shoving, kicking, pushing, choking, or being held or tied down are examples of physical battering.

  • Sexual abuse. Physical attack by the abuser is often accompanied by, or culminates in, sexual violence, with the victim forced to have sexual intercourse with the abuser or to take part in unwanted sexual activity. Sexual abuse also includes sexual activity with a person who isn't fully conscious, hasn't given consent or said no, or is afraid to say no.

  • Psychological battering. The abuser's psychological or mental violence can include constant verbal abuse; harassment; excessive possessiveness, such as monitoring the victim's activities; isolating the victim from friends and family, deprivation of physical and economic resources; humiliation, yelling, blaming, making someone feel inferior; and destruction of personal property. The abuser may also threaten to abandon the victim or threaten to harm or take the children.

Domestic abuse often begins with behaviors such as threats, name calling, violence in the victim's presence (such as punching a fist through a wall), and/or damage to objects or pets. It may escalate to restraining, pushing, slapping and/or pinching—and, ultimately, punching, kicking, and sexual assault. It may even become life-threatening, with serious behaviors such as choking, breaking bones, or using a weapon.

Abuse checklist

Study the following questions. Think about how you're being treated and how you feel. Remember, it's abuse when one person scares, hurts, or continually puts down the other person.

Does your partner:

  • Embarrass or make fun of you in front of your friends or family?

  • Threaten you with abuse or a weapon?

  • Make you feel like you can't make decisions?

  • Use intimidation or threats to gain compliance?

  • Hurt your pets, destroy something important to you, or objects in your home?

  • Tell you that you're nothing without him or her?

  • Treat you roughly—grab, push, pinch, shove, or hit you?

  • Call you several times a night or show up to make sure you're where you said you'd be?

  • Interfere with you getting or keeping a job or going to school?

  • Not allow you to have money when you need it?

  • Use drugs or alcohol as an excuse for saying hurtful things or physically abusing you?

  • Blame you for how he or she feels or acts?

  • Pressure you sexually for things you aren't ready to do?

  • Make you feel like there's no way out of the relationship?

  • Prevent you from doing things you want, such as 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?

If any of these are happening in your relationship, seek help immediately. You can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline for information and assistance at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) 24/7.If your life is in danger, call the police, 911, or your local emergency number.