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Domestic Violence: Recognizing the Signs and How to Get Help

Updated: Nov 24, 2023

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Domestic violence affects more than 10 million men and women in the United States each year [1]. People of any age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status are at risk of being victims of domestic violence. However, women are at an increased risk for domestic violence, and make up 85% of domestic abuse victims; about one in four women have experienced some form of domestic violence. [2]. Additionally, the impacts of this abuse can have a devastating domino effect on families, children, and communities.

What is Domestic Violence?

While physical harm is frequently present in domestic violence, it is not the only form of domestic violence. Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior used to gain control or power over a romantic partner or spouse, child, or other family member.

According to the Office of Justice Programs, these behaviors “can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person." [3]. Abusive tactics can include stalking, intimidating, blaming, humiliating, isolating, injuring, and isolating someone. Other forms of domestic violence include actions that prevent a partner from making their own decisions such as attempting to control their access to finances, children, family, or other resources. [4]

What are the Signs of Domestic Violence?

Because this abuse can take on many forms, it may be hard for some people to identify if they are a victim of domestic violence.

Common signs of domestic violence may include [5]:

  • Extreme jealousy or discouraging you from spending time with friends or family.

  • Insulting, shaming, or embarrassing you.

  • Pressure to have sex or perform sexual acts you aren't comfortable with.

  • Intimating you with actions, looks, weapons, or other objects.

  • Destroying your valuables or personal belongings.

  • Threatening to take away your children.

  • Pressuring you to use drugs or alcohol.

  • Emotional abuse can include frequent outbursts, manipulation, withholding affection, neglect, insults, gaslighting, and more. [6]

The most important thing to remember is that no one should ever attempt to control and demean you or force you to do anything against your will. This is considered abuse, and you should seek help immediately by dialing 911 or calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

What is the Effect of Domestic Violence?

Abusive behaviors s can cause victims to withdraw from social circles, lose interest in hobbies or activities they used to enjoy, or experience symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other health issues. [6] In fact, this abuse can also lead to reproductive health challenges, increased substance abuse, and even suicide. [7

Additionally, those who experience domestic violence may suffer from a lack of motivation at work, job loss, and a strained relationship with their children and loved ones.

Children also bear long-term and short-term consequences of domestic violence, including a higher risk for physical and mental health problems. According to the Office of Justice Programs, "frequent exposure to violence in the home not only predisposes children to numerous social and physical problems, but also teaches them that violence is a normal way of life—thereby increasing their risk of becoming society's next generation of victims and abusers.”

Leaving an Abusive Relationship

It t can be extremely challenging to decide and actually leave a relationship where domestic violence is present. In fact, leaving an abuser is the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence [8]. Because the abuse tactics can be complex and are often accompanied by threats, victims may feel trapped in the relationship or be concerned for the safety of themselves or others. Victims may also not have the resources or ability to leave if they depend on their partner financially, physically, or emotionally. In addition, societal pressures often present barriers to escaping a violent relationship, including a lack of support for victims, fear of losing children, and limited access to resources [9].

Getting Help and Support

If you are experiencing domestic violence, there are many ways you can get help and care, such as:

  • Call 911 for immediate help

  • Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at1.800.799.SAFE (7233) for free, confidential support

  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline website has valuable resources for learning more about domestic violence, legal advice, and tips to create a plan to safely leave the relationship. In addition, live advocates are available 24/7 and provide compassionate, anonymous support for domestic violence victims and concerned loved ones.

If you suspect someone may be experiencing domestic violence, you can share the support resources above, help them form a safety plan, or offer to listen without judgment. Most importantly, believing victims helps them to feel validated and have a sense of hope.

Another organization, All Against Abuse, offers an online test to help individuals better identify if they are a victim of domestic violence [10]. This website also provides tools and advice for victims, a directory of shelters, and counseling services.

Finally, if you are experiencing domestic violence, you deserve to know that abuse is never your fault. With the proper support, you can heal and recover from the trauma of domestic violence.


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