Domestic Abuse

Domestic violence can be physical or psychological and can affect anyone. It may include behaviors meant to scare, physically harm, or control a partner. While every relationship is different, domestic violence typically involves an unequal power dynamic in which one partner tries to assert control over the other in a variety of ways. Insults, threats, emotional abuse and sexual coercion are all examples of domestic abuse. Some perpetrators may use children, pets, or other family members as emotional leverage to get their victim to do what they want. Survivors of domestic violence experience diminished self-esteem, self-worth, anxiety, and depression, as well as a general sense of helplessness.

How Abuse Impacts Survivors

It can take time before victims of domestic violence recognize what their situation is. Abuse often leaves physical marks such as bruises or broken bones. Someone who is more prone to “accidents” than the average person could be a warning sign that someone is being abused. Abused victims can suffer from both short and long term emotional and psychological effects including feelings of confusion or hopelessness, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

How do you identify an abusive partner?

Abusers are not easy to spot. In public they may seem smart, trustworthy, and charming. Abusers often isolate their victims from family, friends, work, and outside sources of support. They have explosive tempers, become violent during an abusive episode and afterward become remorseful and try to charm their partner with affection and promises to change, but the abusive behavior rarely stops. Heterosexual male abusers often believe in traditional gender roles, they have to be in control and are especially prone to jealousy, accusing their partner of cheating without any reason, and needing to know where their partner is at all times.

How do survivors of domestic violence cope?

After leaving an abusive relationship, people may have trouble trusting others and may experience flashbacks to traumatic incidents of abuse. They may continue to struggle with high stress levels and face a higher risk of developing serious health conditions such as asthma, arthritis, chronic pain, heart disease, sexual problems, and sleep conditions. They may have low self- esteem, and self-medicate with alcohol and drugs.

Is this abuse?

Many abusive partners may seem perfectly normal at the early stages of a relationship. Possessive and controlling behaviors can emerge and intensify as the relationship grows. Domestic violence does not look the same in every relationship because every relationship is different. Something that most abusive relationships do have in common is that the abusive partner does many different things to have more power or control over their partner. Some signs of an abusive relationship include a partner who:

Why do people abuse?

Domestic violence and abuse stem from a desire to gain and maintain power and control over an intimate partner. Abusive people believe they have the right to control and restrict their partners, and may enjoy the feeling that exerting power gives them. They often believe their own feelings and needs should be the priority in the relationship, and abuse to make their partner feel less valuable and less deserving. Regardless of why it happens, abuse is never okay and it is never justified. Abuse is a learned behavior. Sometimes people see it in their own families, or they can learn it from friends or pop culture. However abuse is a choice and not one that anyone has to make.

Who can be in an abusive relationship?

Anyone can be in an abusive relationship or the victim of abuse. This happens regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, race or economic background. If you are being abused by your partner you may feel confused, angry,and/or trapped. These are all normal responses to abuse, but you are never responsible for your partner’s abusive actions. No one ever deserves to be abused.

Why do people stay in abusive relationships?

Leaving is often the most dangerous time for a victim of abuse because abuse is about power and control. When a victim leaves they are taking control and threatening the abusive partner’s power which could could the abusive partner to retaliate. Here are a few common reasons why people stay in abusive relationships:

LGBTQ+ Relationship Violence

Abusive partners in LGBTQ+ relationships use all the same tactics to gain power and control as abusive partners in heterosexual relationships. However abusive partners in LGBTQ+ will reinforce their tactics that maintain power and control with societal factors that compound the complexity a survivor’s faces in leaving or getting safe in an LGBTQ+ relationship.

Tactics of Power & Control

  • “Outing” a partner’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Abusive partners in LGBTQ relationships may threaten to ‘out’ victims to family members, employers, community members and others. 
  • Saying that no one will help the victim because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, or for this reason that they deserve abuse 
  • Justifying abuse with the notion that a partner is not “really” lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. This can be used as a tool in verbal and emotional abuse as well as to further isolation of a victim from the community. 
  • Monopolizing support resources through an abusive partner’s manipulation of friends and family support and generating sympathy and trust in order to cut off these resources to the victim. 
  • Portraying the violence as mutual or even consensual

Abuse & Immigrants

Due to the victims immigration status, abusive partners have additional easy to exert power and control over their victims. Abusive partners may use the following tactics to abuse the immigrant victims:

Abuse & People with Disabilities

People with disabilities are more likely to experience abuse than people without disabilities. People with disabilities may face unique challenges to accessing support. People with disabilities may experience “non-traditional” signs including an abusive partner who:

Additional Resources:

Is my relationship healthy?

Healthy Conflict Resolution

Video – 6 Brave Personal Stories of Domestic Abuse

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