Definition | Types | Dynamics | Warning Signs | Behaviors of an Abuser | Links
Victims of domestic abuse or domestic violence may be men or women, although women are more commonly victimized. This abuse happens among heterosexual couples and in same-sex partnerships. Except for the gender difference, domestic abuse doesn’t discriminate. It happens within all age ranges, ethnic backgrounds, and financial levels. The abuse may occur during a relationship, while the couple is breaking up, or after the relationship has ended.
Despite what many people believe, domestic violence is not due to the abuser’s loss of control over his behavior. In fact, violence is a deliberate choice made by the abuser in order to take control over his wife or partner.
Domestic abuse falls into a common pattern, or cycle of violence:
Abuse — The abuser lashes out with aggressive or violent behavior. The abuse is a power play designed to show the victim "who is boss."
Guilt — After the abusive episode, the abuser feels guilt, but not over what he's done to the victim. The guilt is over the possibility of being caught and facing consequences.
Rationalization or excuses — The abuser rationalizes what he's done. He may come up with a string of excuses or blame the victim for his own abusive behavior—anything to shift responsibility from himself.
"Normal" behavior — The abuser does everything he can to regain control and keep the victim in the relationship. He may act as if nothing has happened, or he may turn on the charm. This peaceful honeymoon phase may give the victim hope that the abuser has really changed this time.
Fantasy and planning — The abuser begins to fantasize about abusing his victim again, spending a lot of time thinking about what she's done wrong and how he'll make her pay. Then he makes a plan for turning the fantasy of abuse into reality.
Set-up — The abuser sets up the victim and puts his plan in motion, creating a situation where he can justify abusing her.
There are different types of domestic abuse, including emotional, physical, sexual, and economic abuse. Many abusers behave in ways that include more than one type of domestic abuse, and the boundaries between some of these behaviors may overlap.
Emotional or psychological abuse
Emotional or psychological abuse can be verbal or nonverbal. Its aim is to chip away at your feelings of self-worth and independence. If you’re the victim of emotional abuse, you may feel that there is no way out of the relationship, or that without your abusive partner you have nothing. Emotional abuse includes verbal abuse such as yelling, name-calling, blaming, and shaming. Isolation, intimidation, and controlling behavior also fall under emotional abuse. Additionally, abusers who use emotional or psychological abuse often throw in threats of physical violence.
You may think that physical abuse is far worse than emotional abuse, since physical violence can send you to the hospital and leave you with scars. But, the scars of emotional abuse are very real, and they run deep. In fact, emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse—sometimes even more so. Furthermore, emotional abuse usually worsens over time, often escalating to physical battery.
When people talk about domestic violence, they are often referring to the physical abuse of a spouse or intimate partner. Physical abuse is the use of physical force against someone in a way that injures or endangers that person. There’s a broad range of behaviors that come under the heading of physical abuse, including hitting, grabbing, choking, throwing things, and assault with a weapon.
Physical assault or battering is a crime, whether it occurs inside or outside of the family. The police have the power and authority to protect you from physical attack.
Sexual abuse is common in abusive relationships. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, between one-third and one-half of all battered women are raped by their partners at least once during their relationship. Any situation in which you are forced to participate in unwanted, unsafe, or degrading sexual activity is sexual abuse. Forced sex, even by a spouse or intimate partner with whom you also have consensual sex, is an act of aggression and violence. Furthermore, women whose partners abuse them physically and sexually are at a higher risk of being seriously injured or killed.
Economic or financial abuse
Remember, an abuser’s goal is to control you, and he will frequently hurt you to do that. In addition to hurting you emotionally and physically, an abusive partner may also hurt you in the pocketbook. Economic of financial abuse includes:
• Controlling the finances.
• Withholding money or credit cards.
• Giving you an allowance.
• Making you account for every penny you spend.
• Stealing from you or taking your money.
• Exploiting your assets for personal gain.
• Withholding basic necessities (food, clothes, medications, shelter).
• Preventing you from working or choosing your own career.
Battering generally increases in frequency and severity in relationships.
Demographics include all of society, but domestic violence is traditionally under reported in lower socio-economic households. They do not have the resources to escape, even temporarily, or seek other forms of assistance.
• All races and ethnic groups.
• All income levels.
• All education levels.
• All age groups from teens to elders.
• Urban and rural.
What does not cause domestic violence.
• Anger or rage that is “out of control.”
• Substance abuse.
• Mental illness or impairment.
What does cause domestic violence.
• It is a learned behavior.
• It is an effective behavior. It works for him.
• Until recently, there have been few, if any, consequences.
• Batters perceive that society supports the violence.
Domestic violence is about power and control. Commonly used techniques are depicted on the wheel:
Isolation: controlling what she does; where she goes; who she sees; who she talks to; what she reads; what she sees on TV; limits involvement with family and friends; uses jealousy to justify his actions.
Intimidation: destroys her property; abuses or threatens to abuse her pets; this frequently evolves into a tone of voice or simply a “look.”
Uses children: makes her feel guilty
about the children; uses children to
relay messages; threatens to take kids away.
Economic abuse: Controls the family finances; prevents her from working; makes her ask for money with justification; takes her money; she has no access to or knowledge of family finances.
Male privilege: he is “king of the castle;” treats her like property or like a servant; he makes all family decisions without her input; he defines family roles.
Minimizing, denying, and blaming: makes light of abuse and violence; says the violence did not happen; blames her or someone else for his abusive or violent behavior.
Coercion and threats: makes and carries out threats to do something to hurt her; threatens to leave her; threatens suicide; threatens to report her to welfare, child protection, or other social service providers; makes her do illegal things.
Emotional abuse: calls her names; makes her feels bad about herself; makes her believe she is crazy; humiliates her, threatens to report her to welfare, child protection, or other social service providers; makes her do illegal things.
The person in your life is warning you and telling you he has an abusive nature if he:
• If he emotionally abuses you. This includes insults, belittling comments, ignoring you, or acting sulky or angry when you initiate an action or idea.
• If he tells you who you may be friends with, how you should dress, or tries to control other elements of your life or relationship.
• If he talks negatively about women in general.
• If he gets jealous when there is no reason.
• If he drinks heavily, uses drugs, or tries to get you drunk.
• If he berates you for not wanting to get drunk, get high, have sex, or go with him to an isolated or personal place.
• If he is physically violent to you or to others, even if it's "just" grabbing and pushing to get his way.
• If he acts in an intimidating way toward you by invading your "personal space" [sits too close, speaks as if he knows you much better than he does, touches you when you tell him not to.]
• If he is unable to handle sexual and emotional frustrations without becoming angry, sulky or withdrawing.
• If he does not view you as an equal because he's older or sees himself as smarter or socially superior.
• If he goes through extreme highs and lows, is kind one minute and cruel the next.
• If he is angry and threatening to the extent that you are changing your behavior so as not to anger him.
Violent Behavior is an Abuser's Choice
Reasons we know an abuser's behaviors are not about anger and rage
• He does not batter other individuals - the boss who does not give him time off or the gas station attendant that spills gas down the side of his car. He waits until there are no witnesses and abuses the person he says he loves.
• If you ask an abused woman, "can he stop when the phone rings or the police come to the door?" She will say "yes". Most often when the police show up, he is looking calm, cool and collected and she is the one who may look hysterical. If he were truly "out of control" he would not be able to stop himself when it is to his advantage to do so.
• The abuser very often escalates from pushing and shoving to hitting in places where the bruises and marks will not show. If he were "out of control" or "in a rage" he would not be able to direct or limit where his kicks or punches land.
Jealousy: At the beginning of a relationship, an abuser will always say that jealousy is a sign of love; jealousy has nothing to do with love, it is a sign of possessiveness and lack of trust. He will question the other person about whom she talks to, accuse her of flirting, or be jealous of the time she spends with her family or friends. As the jealousy progresses, he may call frequently during the day or drop by unexpectedly. He may refuse to let you work for fear you will meet someone else, or even do strange behaviors like checking your car mileage or asking friends to watch you.
Controlling Behavior: At first, the batterer will say that this behavior is because he is concerned with your safety, your need to use your time well, or your need to make good decisions. He will be angry if you are late coming back from an appointment or a class, he will question you closely about where you went and whom you talked to. As this behavior gets worse, he may not let you make personal decisions about your clothing, hair style, appearance.
Quick Involvement: Many people in abusive relationships dated or knew their abusive partners for less than six months before they were married, engaged or living together. He comes on like a whirlwind, claiming, “You are the only person I could ever talk to” or “I’ve never felt like this for anyone before. He will pressure you to commit to the relationship in such a way that you may later feel guilty or that you are “letting him down” if you want to slow down involvement or break up.
Unrealistic Expectations: Abusive people will expect their partner to meet all their needs; he expects you to be the perfect boyfriend/girlfriend, the perfect friend or the perfect lover. He will say things like, “If you love me, I’m all you need and you are all I need.” You are supposed to take care of all of his emotional needs.
Isolation: The abusive person will try to cut you off from all resources. He accuses you of being “tied to your mother’s apron strings,” or your friends of “trying to cause trouble” between you. If you have a friend of the opposite sex, you are “going out on him” and if you have friends of the same sex, he may accuse you of being gay.
Blames Others for Problems: He is chronically unemployed, someone is always waiting for him to do wrong or mess up or someone is always out to get him. He may make mistakes and blame you for upsetting him. He may accuse you of preventing him from concentrating on school. He will tell you that you are at fault for almost anything that goes wrong.
Blames Others for Feelings: He will tell you, “You make me mad,” “You are hurting me by not doing what I want you to do,” or “I can’t help being angry.” He really makes the decisions about how he thinks or feels, but will use feelings to manipulate you.
Hypersensitivity: An abusive person is easily insulted, and claims that their feelings are hurt when really he is very mad. He often takes the slightest setbacks as personal attacks. He will rant about things that are really just part of living like being asked to work overtime, getting a traffic ticket, being asked to help others with chores.
Cruelty to Animals or Children: This is a person who punishes animals brutally or is insensitive to their pain and suffering. He may tease younger brothers or sisters until they cry.
“Playful” use of Force in Sex: This kind of person is likely to throw you down or try to hold you down during making out, or he may want you to act out fantasies in which you are helpless. He is letting you know that the idea of sex is exciting. He may show little concern about whether you want affection and may sulk or use anger to manipulate you into compliance.
Verbal Abuse: In addition to saying things that are meant to be cruel and hurtful, this can be seen when the abusive person tries to degrade you, curses you, calls you names or makes fun of your accomplishments. The abusive person will tell you that you are stupid and unable to function without him. This may involve waking you up to verbally abuse you or not letting you go to sleep until you talk out an argument.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Many people are confused by their abusive partner’s “sudden” changes in mood -- you may think he has a mental problem because he is nice one minute and the next minute he is exploding. Explosiveness and moodiness are typical of people who are abusive to their partners, and these behaviors are related to other characteristics like hypersensitivity.
Past Battering: This person may say that he has hit girlfriends in the past but the other person “made him do it.” You may hear from relatives or past girlfriends that he is abusive. An abusive person will be physically abusive to any one they are with if the other person is with them long enough for the violence to begin; situational circumstances do not change a person into an abuser.
Threats of violence: This could include any threat of physical force meant to control you: “I’ll slap you,” “I’ll kill you,” or “I’ll break your neck." Most people do not threaten their partners, but the abusive person will try to excuse his threats by saying, “Everybody talks that way.”
Breaking or Striking Objects: This behavior is used as a punishment (breaking loved possessions), but is mostly used to terrorize you into submission. The abuser may beat on the table with his fists, throw objects at or near you, kick the car, slam the door or drive at a high rate of speed or recklessly to scare you. Not only is this a sign of extreme emotional immaturity, but there is great danger when someone thinks they have the “right” to punish or frighten you.
Any Force During an Argument: This may involve an abusive partner holding you down, physically restraining you from leaving the room, any pushing or shoving. He may hold you against the wall and say, “You are going to listen to me.”
Women's Law - Free legal information and online support to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Family Violence Prevention Fund - A national organization providing training, media campaigns and organizing to prevent domestic violence.
Break the Cycle - A national organization for youth that strives to foster systemic change through technical assistance and intervention services.
Legal Resource Center on Violence Against Women - A national organization where attorneys seek justice and safety in Interstate custody cases.
National Prevention of Elder Abuse - Help for the elderly.
National Domestic Violence Hotline - Provides information and referral to victims of domestic violence, perpetrators, friends and families.
Love is Respect - A national teen dating abuse helpline.
LCADV - Louisiana Coalition Agaisnt Domestic Violence