Abuse isn’t always obvious, which is why it’s important to know the signs, one expert says.Getty Images
Domestic violence is a type of abuse that can happen within any intimate relationship. It can take several forms, including physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.
According to a study published in January 2019 in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, an estimated 142 million people in the United States have experienced domestic violence from an intimate partner at some point in their lives.
A pervasive public health crisis, domestic violence can cause physical and mental trauma — and in severe cases, death — according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Knowing the warning signs of abuse and how to reach out for help can help stop the cycle of violence.
Signs of Abuse
One challenge is that abuse may not always be obvious, as domestic violence researcher Christine Murray, PhD, points out.
“One of the defining characteristics of an abusive relationship is that one partner is trying to control and hold power over the other person, and they use various forms of abuse to gain and maintain that control,” says Murray, who is the director of the Center for Youth, Family, and Community Partnerships at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the following behaviors by a partner can be signs of an abusive relationship:
Blaming you anytime something goes wrong
Demeaning you either privately or in front of other people
Controlling how you act or what you wear
Threatening or harming you, family members, or pets
Embarrassing you at work or sabotaging your ability to get work done
“The decision when to seek help is a very personal one, and there are many reasons why people may not be ready or want to reach out for help,” Murray says. “For example, their partner may have told them that they’d hurt or kill them if they told anyone about the abuse,” she says.
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When you decide it’s time to get help, many organizations and professionals are available. Some groups can provide a victim advocate to help you navigate the system or find shelter.
“Most organizations that support survivors do not require extensive evidence or proof that violence has occurred before they will help,” Murray says. But she recommends documenting abuse and its consequences, in case that information is ever needed for a court case or for law enforcement proceedings.
“A video of abuse is likely not often available, but other types of evidence could include threatening voicemails, text messages, or emails, photographs of bruises, and written timelines of abusive incidents,” Murray says.
Additional ways to document evidence of abuse include seeing your doctor about any physical injuries and reporting abuse to law enforcement officers, if you feel comfortable doing so.
Resources We Love
These organizations and websites offer information about domestic violence and can provide help online or in person:
Safe Horizon is the largest group in the country that helps victims of violence. It provides assistance to more than 250,000 children, adults, and families in New York City each year. It also offers legal help, relocation services, and counseling. You can reach its 24-hour hotline at 1-800-621-HOPE (4673). Not sure what to expect when you reach out? Here’s a guide for calling the hotline.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) is an organization that supports survivors of domestic violence and aims to hold abusers accountable. The NCADV also engages in advocacy to help change conditions that contribute to domestic violence, such as patriarchal attitudes, racism, sexism, classism, and various kinds of privilege. On its website, you can get a better understanding of abusive behaviors and read personal stories of survival.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers free around-the-clock phone hotlines for people who are in an abusive situation and need help. You can contact the live chat line for a confidential, online conversation with an advocate, or dial 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 to reach the hotline by phone. You can also text “START” to 88788 to get help.
Love Is Respect is a project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Its website offers an online chat and relationship quizzes, as well as information about setting boundaries and understanding consent. You can reach this organization by phone at 1-866-331-9474 or by texting “LOVEIS” to 22522.
The National Sexual Assault Online Hotline is a confidential national network that provides live help for victims of domestic violence from trained support specialists. You can find local referrals for long-term support, as well as information about resources and laws in your area. Chat with a member of their staff online or call them at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
WomensLaw.org provides legal help from experts and information about state laws pertaining to domestic violence. Check out its national directory of advocates and shelters, as well as its directory of lawyers who provide free or low-cost services to victims of domestic violence.
The National Network to End Domestic Violence offers a variety of resources for people experiencing domestic violence, including the Independence Project — a program to help survivors improve their credit scores — and a survivors’ toolkit for technology safety.
Pandora’s Project is a nonprofit group staffed by volunteers who are survivors of sexual violence. Its services for victims of sexual abuse include a message board and chat room, as well as an article library with stories about breastfeeding after sexual trauma, medical information for rape survivors, and more