Domestic Violence Can End with Support - You Are Not Alone
What Is Domestic Violence?
The National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) defines it as “a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.” Domestic violence also is referred to as intimate partner violence (IPV), family violence, dating abuse, or relationship abuse. Regardless of the term or relationship, it involves behavior that is intended to harm, intimidate, manipulate or pressure a partner.
When we think about abusive relationships, we usually think of domestic violence. However, abuse can take other forms:
Emotional abuse occurs when a partner uses language that is meant to scare you, control you, make you feel less worthy, or doubt yourself—for example, telling you that you are crazy. Emotional abuse also is known as verbal abuse.
Sexual abuse occurs when your partner forces you to engage in any sexual acts you are not comfortable with. Sexual coercion is when your partner pressures you to engage in sexual activity.
Financial abuse is when the partner attempts to control all of the money, including information about your financial holdings.
Stalking occurs when someone watches, follows, or harasses you constantly.
Digital abuse is a newer form of activity. Your partner may use the internet to harass, threaten, or verbally attack you. Social media platforms are particularly accessible for abusers.
As a result of all these forms, it is possible to be in an abusive relationship without your partner ever laying a hand on you.
How Common is Domestic Violence?Domestic violence does not discriminate. People of all races, ages, and backgrounds have been victims—and perpetrators— of family violence and abuse. Women are more likely to be victims of domestic violence, but men can be victims as well. As a result, violent relationships are tragically quite common. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCDV) reports the following statistics:
- Approximately 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by a partner.
- Approximately 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner.
- In the U.S., more than 10 million women and men are physically abused by an intimate partner each year. This averages out to about 20 people each minute.
What are the Signs of an Abusive Relationship?Abusive relationships come in many forms. The NDVH identifies the following common signs of a dangerous relationship:
- Telling you that you never do anything right.
- Showing extreme jealousy of your friends or time spent away from them.
- Preventing or discouraging you from spending time with friends, family members, or peers.
- Insulting, demeaning, or shaming you, especially in front of other people.
- Preventing you from making your own decisions, including about work and school.
- Controlling finances in the household without discussion, including taking your money or refusing to provide money for necessary expenses.
- Pressuring you to have sex or perform sexual acts you’re not comfortable with.
- Pressuring you to use drugs or alcohol.
- Intimidating you through threatening looks or actions.
- Insulting your parenting or threatening to harm or take away your children or pets.
- Intimidating you with weapons like guns, knives, bats, or mace.
- Destroying your belongings or your home.
How Are Abusers Able to Get Away With It?Why isn’t domestic violence stopped immediately? One reason is that most abusers are not always violent. In fact, they often can be very loving and kind. Unfortunately, this hot-and-cold treatment is a type of emotional abuse in itself. It creates confusion and doubt for the victim; “See? He’s not always that way. Maybe it’s just me.” In addition, a very common ploy of abusers is to isolate the victim. For example, the abuser may move you far away from your support group of family and friends. Or the person may restrict who you can have contact with, monitoring your phone and internet use. These tactics make it easier for the perpetrator to hide the domestic violence and physical abuse—and harder for you to reach out to the friends, family members, or the emergency shelter that could provide help. Isolation increases the risk of a family violence and emotional abuse crisis.
Why Do People Stay in Abusive Relationships?Clearly, abusive relationships, and family violence specifically, can be very damaging to a person’s well-being. You may have heard someone say “Why doesn’t she just leave him?” Or you may have wondered this yourself. There are many reasons why people stay in these unhealthy situations. These include:
- The victim is not informed about physical and emotional abuse, and thinks that what is going on is “normal.” (This is more common if the individual grew up in a home where there was domestic violence.)
- The victim may be embarrassed or ashamed to admit what is happening.
- Religious and/or cultural reasons can discourage some victims from leaving, or convince them that they are better off staying together “for the children.”
- The victim may blame himself or herself, for example, “If I just hadn’t burned the dinner,” or “If I hadn’t dressed that way.”
- The victim may make excuses for the partner, for example, “He’s just under a lot of pressure at work,” or “She’s worried about our finances.”
- They may say that you “made” them commit the violence. They also may minimize the abuse, or deny it altogether. The abuser may make excuses for his or her behavior.
- The victim may be convinced that the partner is going to “change” eventually.
- The victim may feel “trapped,” because they have children, don’t have money, or are not sure where they would go.
Leaving an Abusive Relationship Can Be Difficult and Dangerous
One of the most common reasons why victims do not leave the relationship also is the most serious: They are afraid to leave. As the National Coalition on Domestic Violence states, “leaving an abuser is the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence.” This is because abusers frequently go to extremes to prevent the victim from leaving. In fact, one study found that 26 percent of women murdered by their spouse were killed after they had left the relationship.
In addition, a victim may not only fear for his or her life; they also may fear for their children and for other family members. Even if the victim goes to an emergency shelter, there is still some level of risk. So we can understand why someone might ask, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” But often, the answer is because it is so difficult and dangerous to do so. Do our short worksheet on Dealing with Change.
What Can I Do If I Suspect Someone is in a Domestic Violence Situation?
People who have experienced physical or emotional abuse are likely to have very conflicting emotions. On the one hand, they may be eager to end the relationship or at least the abuse. On the other hand, they may be reluctant to take action.
If you suspect someone is a victim of family violence or abuse, approach them cautiously. Remember that the abuser is probably trying to control them. Some tips:
- Don’t preach or lecture the person. Instead, say something like, “I’m worried about you.”
- Offer solutions. There are a number of services available locally and nationally to help people who are in crisis.
- Don’t blame them, or tell them what to do, for example, “You need to break up with him right now.”
- Don’t criticize the partner. Instead, say something like, “He just called you a bunch of bad names. How do you feel about that?”
Where Can I Get Help for Domestic Violence?
In Tarrant County and nationally, there are a number of services available to help people who are in struggling to deal with domestic violence. These include:
- One Safe Place. Phone: 817-916-4323
- SafeHaven of Tarrant County has an emergency shelter. 24 hour hotline: 877-701-7233
- The Family Place. Hotline: 214-941-1991.
- The Women’s Center. 24 hour rape crisis hotline: 817-927-2737
National Domestic Violence 24 Hour Hotline is 800-799-SAFE (7233) or text 88788. You can also use this site to search for an emergency shelter and other domestic violence services near you. And the Battered Women’s Foundation in Richland Hills helps women transition out of family violence shelters.
Regardless of where you live or your circumstances, support is available to help get you to safety.
Dealing with Domestic Violence is Part of Maintaining Mental Health
It can take time to understand and recognize physical abuse and an unhealthy relationship. It can also take time to break free from the abuser. But with the right information and support, you can escape the abuse and move on to a better life. Being in a healthy relationship also is a part of protecting your mental health. If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic violence or other forms of abuse, we encourage you to act today. Because everyone deserves to feel loved, respected, and safe.