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Recognizing Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is behavior someone uses to control a spouse, partner, date, or elderly relative through fear and intimidation. It can involve emotional, sexual, and physical abuse, as well as threats and isolation. In most cases, men are the abusers. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, domestic violence affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels. It can happen to anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender. Violence can occur in couples who are married, living together, or dating.

Domestic violence can show itself in the following ways:

  • Physical abuse. The attacks can range from bruising to punching to life-threatening choking or use of weapons. A problem often begins with threats, name-calling, and/or harm to objects or pets, but escalates into more serious attacks.

  • Sexual abuse. A person is forced to have sexual intercourse with the abuser or take part in unwanted sexual activity.

  • Psychological abuse. Psychological violence can include constant verbal abuse, harassment, excessive possessiveness, isolating the victim from friends and family, withholding money, destruction of personal property, and stalking.

Clues to violence

The following signs often appear before abuse occurs and can be a clue to a potential problem:

  • Violent family life. People who grow up in families in which they were abused as children, or in which one parent beat the other, learn that violence is acceptable behavior.

  • Use of force or violence to solve problems. A person who has a criminal record for violence, gets into fights, or likes to act tough is likely to act the same way with his or her partner and children. Warning signs include having a quick temper, overreacting to little problems and frustrations, cruelty to animals, destroying or damaging objects you value, and punching walls or throwing things when upset.

  • Alcohol or drug abuse. Be alert to drinking or drug problems, particularly if the person refuses to admit a problem and get help.

  • Jealousy. The person keeps tabs on you and wants to know where you are at all times, or wants you to spend most of your time with him or her. The person makes it difficult for you to find or keep a job or go to school.

  • Access to guns or other weapons. The person may threaten to use a weapon against you.

  • Expecting you to follow his or her orders or advice. The person becomes angry if you don't fulfill his or her wishes or if you can't anticipate his or her wants. The person withholds money from you when you need it.

  • Extreme emotional highs and lows. The person can be extremely kind one day and extremely cruel the next.

  • You fear his or her anger. You change your behavior because you are afraid of the consequences of a fight.

  • Rough treatment. The person has used physical force trying to get you to do something you don't want to do, or threatens you or your children.

  • Blocking aid. The person may have prevented you from calling for help or seeking medical attention.

If someone you are with exhibits these behaviors, talk with a domestic abuse counselor or another therapist about your situation. If you're in danger, call 911.

Experts say that abusers don't fit a particular character type. They may appear charming or they may seem to be angry. What is common among abusers are the signs listed above.