A common pattern of domestic abuse is that the perpetrator alternates between violent, abusive behavior and apologetic behavior with apparently heartfelt promises to change. The abuser may be very pleasant most of the time. Therein lies the perpetual appeal of the abusing partner and why many people are unable to leave the abusive relationship.
Domestic abuse is most often one of the following:
abuse of a spouse or domestic intimate partner
What is the definition of domestic abuse between intimate partners?
Domestic abuse between spouses or intimate partners is when one person in a marital or intimate relationship tries to control the other person. The perpetrator uses fear and intimidation and may threaten to use or may actually use physical violence. Domestic abuse that includes physical violence is called domestic violence.
The victim of domestic abuse or domestic violence may be a man or a woman. Domestic abuse occurs in traditional heterosexual marriages, as well as in same-sex partnerships. The abuse may occur during a relationship, while the couple is breaking up, or after the relationship has ended.
Domestic abuse often escalates from threats and verbal abuse to physical violence. Domestic violence may even end up in murder.
The key elements of domestic abuse are:
humiliating the other person
Domestic abuse is not a result of losing control; domestic abuse is intentionally trying to control another person. The abuser is purposefully using verbal, nonverbal, or physical means to gain control over the other person. In some cultures, control of women by men is accepted as the norm.
The types of domestic abuse are:
physical abuse (domestic violence)
verbal or nonverbal abuse (psychological abuse, mental abuse, emotional abuse)
stalking or cyberstalking
economic abuse or financial abuse
The divisions between these types of domestic abuse are somewhat fluid, but there is a strong differentiation between the various forms of physical abuse and the various types of verbal or nonverbal abuse.
How do I know if I am in an abusive relationship? What are the signs and symptoms of an abusive relationship?
The more of the following questions that you answer Yes to, the more likely you are in an abusive relationship. Examine your answers and seek help if you find that you respond positively to a large number of the questions.
Your inner feelings and dialogue: Fear, self-loathing, numbness, desperation
Are you fearful of your partner a large percentage of the time?
Do you avoid certain topics or spend a lot of time figuring out how to talk about certain topics so that you do not arouse your partner’s negative reaction or anger?
Do you ever feel that you can’t do anything right for your partner?
Do you ever feel so badly about yourself that you think you deserve to be physically hurt?
Have you lost the love and respect that you once had for your partner?
Do you sometimes wonder if you are the one who is crazy, that maybe you are overreacting to your partner’s behaviors?
Do you sometimes fantasize about ways to kill your partner to get them out of your life?
Are you afraid that your partner may try to kill you?
Are you afraid that your partner will try to take your children away from you?
Do you feel that there is nowhere to turn for help?
Are you feeling emotionally numb?
Were you abused as a child, or did you grow up with domestic violence in the household? Does domestic violence seem normal to you?
Your partner’s lack of control over their own behavior:
Does your partner have low self-esteem? Do they appear to feel powerless, ineffective, or inadequate in the world, although they are outwardly successful?
Does your partner externalize the causes of their own behavior? Do they blame their violence on stress, alcohol, or a “bad day”?
Is your partner unpredictable?
Is your partner a pleasant person between bouts of violence?
Your partner’s violent or threatening behavior:
Does your partner have a bad temper?
Has your partner ever threatened to hurt you or kill you?
Has your partner ever physically hurt you?
Has your partner threatened to take your children away from you, especially if you try to leave the relationship?
Has your partner ever threatened to commit suicide, especially as a way of keeping you from leaving?
Has your partner ever forced you to have sex when you didn’t want to?
Has your partner threatened you at work, either in person or on the phone?
Is your partner cruel to animals?
Does your partner destroy your belongings or household objects?
Your partner’s controlling behavior:
Does your partner try to keep you from seeing your friends or family?
Are you embarrassed to invite friends or family over to your house because of your partner’s behavior?
Has your partner limited your access to money, the telephone, or the car?
Does your partner try to stop you from going where you want to go outside of the house, or from doing what you want to do?
Is your partner jealous and possessive, asking where you are going and where you have been, as if checking up on you? Do they accuse you of having an affair?
Your partner’s diminishment of you:
Does your partner verbally abuse you?
Does your partner humiliate or criticize you in front of others?
Does your partner often ignore you or put down your opinions or contributions?
Does your partner always insist that they are right, even when they are clearly wrong?
Does your partner blame you for their own violent behavior, saying that your behavior or attitudes cause them to be violent?
Is your partner often outwardly angry with you?
Does your partner objectify and disrespect those of your gender? Does your partner see you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?
What is physical abuse of a spouse or intimate partner?
Physical abuse is the use of physical force against another person in a way that ends up injuring the person, or puts the person at risk of being injured. Physical abuse ranges from physical restraint to murder. When someone talks of domestic violence, they are often referring to physical abuse of a spouse or intimate partner.
Physical assault or physical battering is a crime, whether it occurs inside a family or outside the family. The police are empowered to protect you from physical attack.
Physical abuse includes:
pushing, throwing, kicking
slapping, grabbing, hitting, punching, beating, tripping, battering, bruising, choking, shaking
holding, restraining, confinement
assault with a weapon such as a knife or gun
What is emotional abuse or verbal abuse of a spouse or intimate partner?
Mental, psychological, or emotional abuse can be verbal or nonverbal. Verbal or nonverbal abuse of a spouse or intimate partner consists of more subtle actions or behaviors than physical abuse. While physical abuse might seem worse, the scars of verbal and emotional abuse are deep. Studies show that verbal or nonverbal abuse can be much more emotionally damaging than physical abuse.
Verbal or nonverbal abuse of a spouse or intimate partner may include:
threatening or intimidating to gain compliance
destruction of the victim’s personal property and possessions, or threats to do so
violence to an object (such as a wall or piece of furniture) or pet, in the presence of the intended victim, as
a way of instilling fear of further violence
yelling or screaming
embarrassing, making fun of, or mocking the victim, either alone within the household, in public, or in front of family or friends
criticizing or diminishing the victim’s accomplishments or goals
not trusting the victim’s decision-making
telling the victim that they are worthless on their own, without the abuser
excessive possessiveness, isolation from friends and family
excessive checking-up on the victim to make sure they are at home or where they said they would be
saying hurtful things while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and using the substance as an excuse to say the hurtful things
blaming the victim for how the abuser acts or feels
making the victim remain on the premises after a fight, or leaving them somewhere else after a fight, just to “teach them a lesson”
making the victim feel that there is no way out of the relationship
Sexual abuse includes:
sexual assault: forcing someone to participate in unwanted, unsafe, or degrading sexual activity
sexual harassment: ridiculing another person to try to limit their sexuality or reproductive choices
sexual exploitation (such as forcing someone to look at pornography, or forcing someone to participate in pornographic film-making)
Sexual abuse often is linked to physical abuse; they may occur together, or the sexual abuse may occur after a bout of physical abuse.
What is stalking?
Stalking is harassment of or threatening another person, especially in a way that haunts the person physically or emotionally in a repetitive and devious manner. Stalking of an intimate partner can take place during the relationship, with intense monitoring of the partner’s activities. Or stalking can take place after a partner or spouse has left the relationship. The stalker may be trying to get their partner back, or they may wish to harm their partner as punishment for their departure. Regardless of the fine details, the victim fears for their safety.
Stalking can take place at or near the victim’s home, near or in their workplace, on the way to the store or another destination, or on the Internet (cyberstalking). Stalking can be on the phone, in person, or online. Stalkers may never show their face, or they may be everywhere, in person.
Stalkers employ a number of threatening tactics:
repeated phone calls, sometimes with hang-ups
following, tracking (possibly even with a global positioning device)
finding the person through public records, online searching, or paid investigators
watching with hidden cameras
suddenly showing up where the victim is, at home, school, or work
sending emails; communicating in chat rooms or with instant messaging (cyberstalking: see below)
sending unwanted packages, cards, gifts, or letters
monitoring the victim’s phone calls or computer-use
contacting the victim’s friends, family, co-workers, or neighbors to find out about the victim
going through the victim’s garbage
threatening to hurt the victim or their family, friends, or pets
damaging the victim’s home, car, or other property
Stalking is unpredictable and should always be considered dangerous. If someone is tracking you,
contacting you when you do not wish to have contact, attempting to control you, or frightening you,
then seek help immediately.
What is cyberstalking?
Cyberstalking is the use of telecommunication technologies such as the Internet or email to stalk another person. Cyberstalking may be an additional form of stalking, or it may be the only method the abuser employs. Cyberstalking is deliberate, persistent, and personal.
Spamming with unsolicited email is different from cyberstalking. Spam does not focus on the individual, as does cyberstalking. The cyberstalker methodically finds and contacts the victim. Much like spam of a sexual nature, a cyberstalker’s message may be disturbing and inappropriate. Also like spam, you cannot stop the contact with a request. In fact, the more you protest or respond, the more rewarded the cyberstalker feels. The best response to cyberstalking is not to respond to the contact.
Cyberstalking falls in a grey area of law enforcement. Enforcement of most state and federal stalking laws requires that the victim be directly threatened with an act of violence. Very few law enforcement agencies can act if the threat is only implied.
Regardless of whether you can get stalking laws enforced against cyberstalking, you must treat cyberstalking seriously and protect yourself. Cyberstalking sometimes advances to real stalking and to physical violence.
How likely is it that stalking will turn into violence?
Stalking can end in violence whether or not the stalker threatens violence. And stalking can turn into violence even if the stalker has no history of violence.
Women stalkers are just as likely to become violent as are male stalkers.
Those around the stalking victim are also in danger of being hurt. For instance, a parent, spouse, or bodyguard who makes the stalking victim unattainable may be hurt or killed as the stalker pursues the stalking victim.
Economic or financial abuse includes:
withholding economic resources such as money or credit cards
stealing from or defrauding a partner of money or assets
exploiting the intimate partner’s resources for personal gain
withholding physical resources such as food, clothes, necessary medications, or shelter from a partner
preventing the spouse or intimate partner from working or choosing an occupation
Spiritual abuse includes:
using the spouse’s or intimate partner’s religious or spiritual beliefs to manipulate them
preventing the partner from practicing their religious or spiritual beliefs
ridiculing the other person’s religious or spiritual beliefs
forcing the children to be reared in a faith that the partner has not agreed to
Some immediate causes that can set off a bout of domestic abuse are:
provocation by the intimate partner
economic hardship, such as prolonged unemployment