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Domestic violence is abuse that happens in a personal relationship. It can happen between past or current partners, spouses, or boyfriends and girlfriends. Domestic violence affects men and women of any ethnic group, race, or religion; gay or straight; rich or poor; teen, adult, or elderly. But most of its victims are women. In fact, 1 out of 4 women will be a victim at some point.footnote 1
The abuser may use fear, bullying, and threats to gain power and control over the other person. He or she 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.
Money troubles and problems with drugs or alcohol can make it more likely that abuse will happen.
Abuse is also common in teens who are dating. It often happens through controlling behaviors and jealousy.
It's important to get help. Talk with someone you trust, such as a friend, a help center, or your doctor. Talking with someone can help you make the changes you need.
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 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:
Here are some things you can do to help:
Keep in mind that the person may not want or be ready to leave. He or she probably knows the abuser best and knows what options are safest. But it is important for victims of abuse to know where they can get help.
People who are not abused might find it hard to understand why anyone would stay in a violent relationship. Some people think that if a person stays in an abusive relationship, she or he must be weak or needy. This is not true.
There is more to this issue than simply leaving or staying. A woman may fear that the abuser will hurt her and her children or take her children away. She may have limited financial options. She may blame herself. She may stay for religious reasons or because she does not want to break up the family. Also, she may still love her abuser and hope that things will get better. The abuser may threaten self-harm or suicide. Men who are being abused may have similar feelings.
Domestic violence hurts victims as well as their families. Don't ignore it.
People who suffer from abuse can be badly hurt. They are also likely to have long-lasting (chronic) health problems, such as depression, headaches, and post-traumatic stress disorder. This is because of the repeated injuries and stress from living with abuse.
Abuse can happen more often and get worse when women are pregnant. It is dangerous for both the mother and the baby. It can raise the baby's risk of low birth weight, premature birth, and death. The pregnant woman is at higher risk of problems with her pregnancy.
And abuse has a big effect on children. Children who live in a home where abuse happens see violence as a normal way of life. It also raises their chance of being in a violent relationship as adults, either as abusers or as victims. Teens are at greater risk for depression, drug and alcohol use, and unsafe behavior.
Most relationships have difficult times, and almost every couple argues now and then. But violence is different from common marital or relationship problems. Domestic violence is a pattern of abuse that a partner—former or current partner, spouse, or boyfriend or girlfriend—uses to control the behavior of another.
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. If you are concerned about your relationship, ask yourself the following questions.
Does your partner:
If any of these things or other types of abuse are happening, you need to seek help. It's important to know that you are not alone. The way your partner acts is not your fault. Help is available.
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. For more information, see How To Help.
Domestic violence affects all types of people, regardless of gender, ethnicity, race, sexual identity, 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 problems.
Domestic abuse is also a big problem among the elderly. For more information, see Elder Abuse.
Domestic violence is the most common cause of injury to women. 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 in a violent relationship can cause long-lasting health problems, such as:
Those who are abused have a higher risk of health problems. Abuse victims are also more likely to smoke or abuse 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 women who are in abusive relationships. Problems during pregnancy, such as low weight gain, anemia, infections, and bleeding, are higher for these women.
There's no excuse for abuse. If you are being abused, it's time to get help. You deserve to be safe. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
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 also affects:
Asking for help is hard. But it's important for you and your children that you get the support you need. You and your children deserve to be safe. When you leave an abusive relationship, you show by example that violence is wrong and that it's possible to make healthy choices.
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, she or he 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, such as:
Many victims of domestic violence are willing to talk about their relationship when they are approached in a kind and understanding manner. But don't confront a victim if the person is not ready to talk. Let the person know you are willing to listen whenever he or she wants to talk. Be understanding if the person is unable to leave. He or she often knows the situation best and when it is safest to leave.
Reassure the person that the abuse is not his or her 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. Many victims do not understand that their children are being harmed until someone else voices the concern.
Remind the victim that domestic violence is against the law and that help is available. You may be able to help a victim understand his or her options. Be willing to assist in any way you can with transportation, money, or child care. Encourage your friend to talk with a health professional.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
After you have left, you may need to take extra measures to stay safe. 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 women and men are reluctant to call police when they have been hurt. Victims fear that their partners will retaliate or that police officers will be insensitive and embarrass them, among other concerns. 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 automatically arrest the abuser if they believe domestic violence has occurred. In some communities, assistance from local victim's advocacy groups and state social services are requested at the same time. Along with these services, the law can be another tool you can use to increase your safety and independence.
In many states, police officers can help you obtain 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 stay away from you, your home, your workplace, or your school—to stop all contact, whether by telephone, notes, email, or other means—and to stop harming or threatening you. 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.
While protective orders do not automatically prevent you from being abused, they do deter abusers. 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 batterer 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 batterer intervention programs. These programs try to make abusers accountable for their behavior and educate them about healthy alternatives to their abuse. Batterer intervention programs report varying degrees of success, although so far, studies have not verified that success. Most experts believe that batterer programs are most effective when the abuser recognizes that his or her behavior is abusive, and wants to change.
Teens who abuse their girlfriends or boyfriends 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.
In adult domestic violence, women are more often the victim. In teen relationship abuse, both boys and girls report abuse about equally. But boys tend to start the violence more often and use greater force.footnote 2
Abusive relationships have good times and bad times. Part of what makes dating violence so confusing is that there is love mixed with the abuse. This can make it hard to tell if you're really being abused. If you're not sure, see Signs of Domestic Violence.
You deserve to be treated in a loving, respectful way at all times by your boyfriend or girlfriend.
Ask yourself these questions. Does your boyfriend or girlfriend:
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 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.
- Family Violence Prevention Fund (2004). National Consensus Guidelines on Identifying and Responding to Domestic Violence Victimization in Health Care Settings. Available online: http://endabuse.org/programs/healthcare/files/Consensus.pdf.
- Roberts TA, Klein J (2003). Intimate partner abuse and high-risk behavior in adolescents. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 157(4): 375–380.
Other Works Consulted
- Bonomi AE, et al. (2006). Intimate partner violence and women's physical, mental, and social functioning. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 30(6): 458–466.
- Bonomi AE, et al. (2007). Intimate partner violence in older women. Gerontologist, 47(1): 34–41.
- Campbell JC (2007). Prediction of homicide of and by battered women. In JC Campbell, ed., Assessing Dangerousness: Violence by Batterers and Child Abusers, pp. 85–104. New York: Springer.
- Casteel C, Sadowski L (2010). Intimate partner violence towards women, search date September 2009. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
- Hilton NZ, Harris GT (2007). Assessing risk of intimate partner violence. In JC Campbell, ed., Assessing Dangerousness: Violence by Batterers and Child Abusers, pp. 105–125. New York: Springer.
- Sheridan DJ, et al. (2007). Prediction of interpersonal violence: An introduction. In JC Campbell, ed., Assessing Dangerousness: Violence by Batterers and Child Abusers, pp. 1–23. New York: Springer.
- Thompson RS, et al. (2006). Intimate partner violence: Prevalence, types, and chronicity in adult women. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 30(6): 447–457.
- Tolan P, et al. (2006). Family violence. Annual Review of Psychology, 57: 557–83.
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