5 Things People Get Wrong About Domestic Violence

ghosts handI am a counselor in Bluffton, South Carolina, and my state has the shameful distinction of being No. 1 in the rate of women killed in domestic violence incidents. My heart breaks to think of the carnage behind the doors of my community, and yet I find there is little understanding of what domestic violence is all about and why it continues.

Here’s what some of the latest statistics say about domestic violence:

  • In the United States, about half of all women and men will experience psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetimes (48.4% and 48.8%, respectively).
  • An average of 24 people each minute become victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking from an intimate partner in the U.S. This equates to roughly 12 million men and women each year.
  • In the U.S., about 3 in 10 women (29%) and 1 in 10 men (10%) have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by a partner and subsequently report the experience having a related impact on their physical and mental health.
  • Intimate partner violence affects more than 12 million people each year (National Domestic Violence Hotline, 2015).

Domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence, is a very real problem that is often only whispered about behind closed doors or routinely clothed in shame when it comes to light. Its victims may be trapped in relationships where they do not see a way out.

To decrease stigma and help people understand domestic violence, here are five things everyone should know about it:

1. Domestic violence is about power and control.

Domestic violence occurs when one or both partners exert their will over the other. It isn’t about love and concern for a partner; it’s about dominating the other. Violence will look different in each relationship, but the pattern of control is consistent and may or may not turn into physical abuse.

2. Domestic violence may entail more than physical abuse.

Domestic violence is not always physical; it can also be emotional, sexual, or economic. The impact of physical violence may be easier to conceptualize, which is why many people associate domestic violence with an image of battered lovers. However, emotional, sexual, and financial abuse can be as severe and keep the victim trapped in a devastating reality without displaying obvious signs of abuse.

Physical violence, by its nature of often leaving visible marks, can be easier to identify, but counselors and therapists regularly hear the misguided notion that if a person hasn’t been battered and bruised, then no abuse has occurred. This minimizes an experience that isn’t entirely physical and can keep a victim from seeking help.

Abusive behaviors may include:

  • Telling victims they can’t leave because they are unlovable
  • Not allowing the victim access to funds
  • Restricting access to friends and family
  • Extreme displays of jealousy
  • Shaming the victim in front of others
  • Insisting victims participate in sexual behavior in which they don’t want to participate
  • Damaging the victim’s property
  • Threatening to harm pets or children if the victim doesn’t do what the abusive person requires
  • Stalking
  • Extreme controlling behaviors
  • Blaming the victim for violent or inappropriate behavior
  • Displays of physical aggression without making contact with the victim (such as hitting the wall during an argument)

3. No two situations are exactly alike.

Victims of domestic violence are found in every culture, economic status, sexual orientation, race, and neighborhood. There is no typical victim, nor is there a typical offender.

4. Marriage counseling may not be a good idea if there is active violence.

I understand the desire to get an abusive spouse or partner into a therapy session and have someone help explain that the behavior is inappropriate. However, couples counseling when active abuse is occurring may escalate any violence. In many cases, it’s advised that the person engaging in domestic violence be treated for domestic violence/anger management before marriage counseling can be safe or effective.

5. People who stay in abusive relationships are not “stupid” or “weak.”

People stay in abusive relationships for many reasons. Many begin to Victims of domestic violence are found in every culture, economic status, sexual orientation, race, and neighborhood. There is no typical victim, nor is there a typical offender.believe negative statements about themselves that the abusive person has told them over and over. They may not have the resources or finances to leave. They may not even realize the situation is abusive and thus believe it is “normal.”

Domestic violence is rarely happening at all times, and those who abuse are often apologetic after an incident. There’s a cycle to the abuse, and a victim may have hope things will change or believe the person displaying the abusive behavior didn’t mean it. A victim may stay to maintain a home for their children, be afraid of losing custody, or worry about being unable to protect children during visitation. They may be embarrassed or still love their abusive partner. The list of reasons victims stay is long, and the reality of their situations is often complex.

If You Believe You Are Being Abused

If you think abuse is happening in your relationship, talk to someone you trust. The violence is unlikely to just go away. Reach out to a local counselor, a member of the clergy, local law enforcement, or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. You deserve to live without violence in your home.


  1. Facts and Stats about Domestic Violence. (n.d.). Domestic abuse center. Retrieved from http://www.domesticabusecenter.net/about-domestic-violenceipv/
  2. Statistics. (2015). The national domestic violence hotline. Retrieved from http://www.thehotline.org/resources/statistics/
  3. What Is Domestic Violence? (2015). National coalition against domestic violence. Retrieved from http://www.ncadv.org/need-help/what-is-domestic-violence

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Bailey

    October 29th, 2015 at 8:06 AM

    I too am from SC and this is definitely a problem that is rampant in our state. I am not sure where the disconnect comes from. If it is a lack of education about resources available then we need to do better at getting that information out to more families. It could be a good ole boy thing that is still pretty prevalent but I just think that i has to go deeper than that.

  • Moe

    October 29th, 2015 at 2:46 PM

    I think that most people think that you should just be able to leave and get out.
    Would you be able to so easily leave everything you know and love behind?
    Didn’t think so.

  • re

    October 31st, 2015 at 12:17 PM

    I agree imina abusive stalkinw relationship a im trying to leave but do to ecomonic restraint icant also my abusive relationshipis mostly emotionalfinacial and stalking so just leaving is tricky even if i move what happens if he finds out where i am i cant keeping runing from him my whole life

  • Harriett

    October 29th, 2015 at 6:29 PM

    The main reason that there are so many misunderstandings about domestic violence is that I think that there are so few of us who have had to live that reality that we expect people to act the way that we THINK that we would behave but in reality we have no idea what our own reactions would be if we were placed in a situation like that. We are only projecting onto them how we hope we would act, but you have no way of knowing until you have been in their shoes.

  • kelly

    October 29th, 2015 at 9:31 PM

    That one hit the nail on the head this is the best article I’ve seen about this

  • daniel

    October 30th, 2015 at 10:58 AM

    I watched very quietly for a very long time my mom go through a relationship like this with my step dad. I never stepped in even when I was old enough because truthfully I was not only mad at her for keeping us in that home with him but I was always kind of mad at her for not standing up for herself. I think about how much stronger I probably could have helped her become if I would have stood up and said something once I was old enough to have possibly helped. It saddens me to think at how I was bringing her down all this time even if in a different way.

  • Shirley

    October 30th, 2015 at 5:55 PM

    Very good article. I have worked in a domestic violence agency. the one thing that never gets mentioned is why is it the abused are always encouraged to leave and not the abuses. is domestic violence AGAINST the law? why not? We can talk about it till we are blue in the face, but abusers never change, so the abused don’t leave. California used to have very strict laws, the DA can press charges if the victim wont.

  • ann

    October 30th, 2015 at 7:19 PM

    i was in an abusive marriage for 20 years. i was so ashamed about the abuse — i kept everything to myself, thinking nobody knew. but everybody knew. finally one day, my 2 daughters and best friend contacted a domestic abuse counselor on my behalf and we had a 4-way conference call. she was from an entirely different culture and background than i, yet she understood perfectly what i was going through. that night, i secretely packed my bags and put them in the driveway. at 4:30 am a cab picked me up, took me to the airport, and i flew from my town to my daughter’s town. and i’ve never looked back. shame kept me in the marriage for so long. i owe my life to that counselor. it’s many years later and i’m in a happy, stable relationship with a wonderful man.

  • Penelopie P.

    March 28th, 2018 at 3:42 AM

    I myself was a victim of domestic violence and I’m saving up my money now so that I can leave as soon as possible. I am happy for you. =) I am happy that you were able to leave. I hope you become fulfilled for the future years of your life.

  • Caroline

    October 30th, 2015 at 7:24 PM

    I think that it can become a habit for many people.

    Please hear me out because I know that that alone sounds bad, but what I mean by that statement is that there are some people who are so accustomed to being abused that this is their own version of what normal is even when the rest of us know that it isn’t. So these are the relationships that they continue to gravitate toward because in their mind over the years this is what they have established should be the norm and so that is what they seek out, consciously or not.

  • ciji

    October 31st, 2015 at 8:40 AM

    We think that anyone who is in this relationship wants out. That is not always true

  • clyde Jones

    October 31st, 2015 at 2:20 PM

    If you are like me I know that if I see something going on that I should step in, but man, that is hard to do because you never really can be all that sure what that will mean for you if you do. I know we all want to look out for the safety of others but we also have to keep in mind safety for ourselves as well.

  • Matthew

    November 2nd, 2015 at 7:57 AM

    I don’t think that there is any doubt that we all want to be able to help someone when they find themselves in a situation like this. I think though that there are several huge challenges that we face when we try to do that. First of all you don’t know if this is a person who actually wants help or who would prefer to handle it on their own. And then there is the problem with not really know what to do to actually help them. You don’t know if you will be butting in where your help is either not wanted or needed. It is a fine line to try to walk when you are too afraid to ask questions and find out what it is exactly that is needed.

  • Debra

    November 3rd, 2015 at 11:57 AM

    It is so often the scars that do not show on the outside that can hurt the most :(

  • Alita

    January 12th, 2016 at 5:47 PM

    I grew up in a domestic violent environment. My father is an alcoholic and I learned he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. My mom was physically and emotional abused, and my brothers and I were present or listening to that. On top of that, my father worked (when he felt like). We, the kids, were so ashamed of his behavior that never invited any kid to come over. None of us have friends – true friends. And we always had trouble meeting people (same or opposite sex). One of my brothers was able to find a woman more or less like him (both hermits…). I’m still single and my other brother had a failed and very short marriage. Having all this background/burden, I ask myself if I could be lesbian. Or it’s just because I’m truly terrified of men? Besides more and more often we hear, read or have learned of others abused (and killed) women. I usually say (part as a joke, part for real) that “my share of violence is full in this life”, but I actually panic at any sign of violence, even though it was not addressed to me.
    Can I be lesbian just because of all I exposed? Any comment will be very appreciated.
    Thanks for let me share my story.

  • Julie Clarity

    March 10th, 2018 at 8:58 AM

    The most abusive men seem to come from abusive parents. For instance, my spouse learned to treat women from the way his mother treated women. In most countries and in most state of the US, the woman is expected to be the primary parent. From the way the primary parents treat each other in my area of SW WI, I would say many men are learning how to abuse women from the very women that raised them.

    I understand what I am saying isn’t palatable to most folk, but just because a woman can give birth to a child does not mean she will raise it well as its culturally mandated primary parent. Yes, I understand men also teach children how to abuse, but I am trying to get to the bottom of why women treat each other so terribly in the state where I live, and I realized the way my husband abuses me is the way his mother abuses me and her husband, too. In fact, her biological daughter is as mean to her mother as my mother-in-law was to her mother, and also to me. My mother-in-law’s mother, once expressed to me her distaste for her very own daughter when I was alone with her. I was shocked. My husband’s father, was physically present and emotionally unavailable to his children, but there have been a couple of times, when I happened to end up along with the father-in-law, he tried verbal abuse on me, too. But the stories about his mother and how she treated her children and grand-children are terrible, she abused her off-spring freely, targeting my father-in-law the most.

    So, while both parents teach their children how to abuse, it seems to me, where I live, it is how the expected primary parent, usually the woman, treats other women including her daughter and mother that is teaching her son how to abuse women. I am not sure how to fix abusive people who are raised by abusive people, I only know I am divorcing my husband and his family, and even then, I have no idea what will happen to me after the divorce goes through. I only hope my child, my cat, and I will not end up living in my automobile. What I have endured is terrible, yet many women, men and children are enduring far worse abuse than me, and for far longer, and so many communities, neighbors and teachers look aside, I wonder how current humanity has survived for how horribly it treats itself.

  • Liv S.

    February 19th, 2019 at 11:27 AM

    I like that there are people willing to talk about domestic violence, and I like that you pointed out that it might not just be physical abuse, but also financial, sexual and emotional abuse. I had a friend who was abused by her husband and people don’t realize how hard it is to get out of situations like that so I’m glad that there are people who are out there talking about it so others can understand. Thank you for this article, it really helped me understand how hard it was for my friend.

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