Many people struggle to understand how our culture defines domestic violence. Some believe that to constitute domestic violence, a person must be beaten or violently struck in some way. However, domestic violence behaviors do not necessarily include physical assault. While it may include sexual, emotional, and/or physical abuse, the most consistent component of a domestic violence relationship is an ongoing effort to maintain power and control over one’s partner.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (2016) lists several abusive behaviors that are earmarks of domestic violence:
- Frequently accusing one’s partner of lying and/or cheating: “You were 15 minutes late getting home. Who were you having sex with?”
- Controlling finances. For example, the abusive person may make eight times the wage their partner earns, yet insist they split household bills equally. The abusive person may insist they control all the money and offer an allowance they control rather than share equally in financial responsibilities.
- Forcing sexual acts, sometimes minimized with comments such as, “I just had too much to drink,” or, “I knew you really wanted it.”
- Isolating the person. This can appear in the form of behaving rudely or in other socially inappropriate ways to discourage their partner’s friends and family from wanting to be around them. The abusive person may find ways to keep their partner from spending time with family or friends, monitor their partner’s conversations, and forbid their partner from communicating with others.
- Preventing a partner from working or advancing their education.
- Destroying a partner’s property.
- Hurting, or threatening to hurt, a partner’s pets.
- Belittling a partner for not doing things “right” (in the abusive person’s opinion).
- Intimidating by creating an environment where a partner feels the need to “walk on eggshells”; the world revolves around keeping the abusive person from being disturbed.
- Treating the abusive person’s partner as if their needs and feelings do not exist, or as if they are a servant. At times, the abusive person may promise to change, but their behavior does not improve for long, if at all.
Abusive individuals often want the people they abuse to believe they are at fault: “If you would only ____, I would not get angry. You provoked me. You are crazy.” To be clear, there is nothing any person can say or do that provokes or deserves abuse. While a person may behave in ways that could benefit from modification, those are relationship issues. Domestic violence is not a relationship issue; it is in many cases a criminal act.
Abuse loves when we don’t talk about it; it thrives in silence. By giving a voice to those who feel they have none and talking about their pain, we give abuse nowhere to hide.
In many states, a domestic violence charge does not necessarily need to include touching a partner. Destroying property, stalking, and harassing—including menacing texts and phone calls—can constitute domestic violence. Domestic violence may be addressed in three different types of court: criminal, civil, and family (American Bar Association, 2001). Abusive people will sometimes attempt to pressure or manipulate a partner into dropping charges or to lie to help minimize the consequences of the abusive person’s behavior.
Often, a domestic violence relationship may seem like any happy relationship in the beginning, but becomes more controlling and abusive over time (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 2016). Because of this, people who have been abused sometimes report feeling shame for not recognizing the signs of abuse sooner. It is not unusual for someone leaving a domestic violence relationship to state they realized they were in a domestic violence relationship only after they felt it was too late to leave, and that they wanted to leave sooner but did not believe they could materially survive alone. However, many resources are available to assist with safety plans, housing, legal advocacy, and other resources.
Getting Help for Domestic Violence
If you or someone you care about is in a domestic violence relationship, you are not alone. To speak confidentially with a trained advocate, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. Live, private chat is also available at http://www.thehotline.org/. Information and thousands of resources, including counseling, across the United States are available to people in an abusive relationship and to friends and family of a person they believe to be in an abusive relationship. Contact a trained therapist if you need further guidance or support.
Abuse loves when we don’t talk about it. It thrives in silence. By giving a voice to those who feel they have none and creating spaces for them to talk about their pain—and offering support as they do so—we give abuse nowhere to hide.
- American Bar Association. (2001). Know your rights: Domestic violence. Retrieved from http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/migrated/publiced/domviol.authcheckdam.pdf
- National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. (2016). What is domestic violence? Retrieved from http://ncadv.org/learn-more/what-is-domestic-violence
- National Domestic Violence Hotline. (2016). Is this abuse? Retrieved from http://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/
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