Domestic violence or abuse is when one person controls or coerces the other in an intimate relationship. It is about power and control. Abusers choose to use physical violence or emotional battering to express anger and gain control. They are not provoked to use violence; they alone are responsible for their inappropriate and unacceptable behavior. Domestic violence is a crime and can result in the abuser being removed or restrained from the home and/or jailed.
We often think of abusive behavior being limited to physical battering and downplay the serious negative effects of verbal, emotional, or economic abuse from an intimate partner. Abusive methods of control can come in many forms, and often carry an obvious or unstated threat of physical or sexual violence. Some examples of tactics used by abusers include:
Put downs — making them feel bad — name calling — crazy making — playing mind games — humiliation
Controlling what they do, who they see and talk to — controlling where they go — limiting outside involvement — using jealousy to justify actions
Minimizing, Denying, and Blaming
Making light of the abuse and not taking their concerns about it seriously — saying the abuse didn’t happen — shifting responsibility for abusive behavior — victim blaming
Making them feel guilty about the children — using the children to relay messages — misusing visitation to harass the victim — threatening to take the children away
Using Male Privilege
Treating them like a servant — making all the big decisions — acting like the “master of the castle” — being the one to define men’s and women’s roles
Preventing them from getting or keeping a job — making them ask for money — giving them an allowance — taking their money — not letting them know about or have access to family income
Coercion and Threats
Making and/or carrying out hurtful threats — threatening to leave, to commit suicide — forcing them to drop the charges — making them do illegal things
Using looks, actions, gestures to scare them — smashing things — destroying their property — abusing pets — displaying weapons
Any kind of abusive behavior is serious and often gets worse over time. Bruises often heal faster than emotional scars.
Who are the victims?
Domestic violence affects people of all socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, and religious groups. Although most victims of reported domestic violence cases are women who are abused by men, there are reported cases of women who abuse their male intimate partners, women who abuse women, and men who abuse men. A person may be a victim even if s/he is not legally married to the abusive partner, is gay or lesbian, is separated or divorced, or is abused by someone else in the household, such as a parent or a child (source).
Abusive Behavior Examples
Sometimes it is difficult to know when a person is being abused. Abuse is any behavior that is used to intimidate or control an intimate partner. These are just some of the examples of abusive behavior.
Does your partner:
- Constantly ridicule or insult you?
- Become extremely jealous?
- Undermine your sense of power or confidence?
- Make you account for every minute you are not together?
- Manipulate you with lies, contradictions or promises?
- Prevent you from seeing your friends and family?
- Get angry when you disagree?
- Make you ask for permission before you go out, get a job or go to school?
- Abuse your pet to frighten you?
- Destroy your property?
- Restrain you?
- Throw objects at you?
- Threaten you with weapons or objects?
- Threaten to hurt your children?
- Hit, slap, punch, shove or kick you?
Another way to understand if you are a victim of abuse is by asking yourself questions about how your partner’s behavior affects you.
- Do you feel you do not have the right to say “no”?
- Are you afraid to disagree?
- Have you stopped inviting guests to your home?
- Have you stopped seeing your family and friends?
- Do you feel responsible for the abuse?
- Are you unable to go out, get a job, or go to school without permission?
- Do you avoid talking to friends or acquaintances of the opposite sex for fear that your partner may become jealous and abusive?
Myths About Abuse
“Victims of domestic violence like to be beaten”
Evidence does not support this theory. Victims of domestic violence desperately want the abuse to end, and engage in various survival strategies, including calling the police or seeking help from family members, to protect themselves and their children. In some cases, silence may be a survival strategy.
“Low self-esteem causes victims to get involved in abusive relationships”
Some assume that individuals with adequate self-esteem would not “allow” themselves to be abused by intimate partners or spouses. But studies demonstrate that victims of domestic violence fail to share common characteristics other than being female. However, some victims experience a decrease in self-esteem as a result of being abused.
“Batterers abuse their partners because of alcohol or drug abuse”
Substance abuse does not cause perpetrators of domestic violence to abuse their partners, although it is frequently used as an excuse. Substance abuse may increase the frequency or severity of violent episodes, but domestic violence is caused by a desire to exert power and control over an intimate partner, not drugs or alcohol.
“Batterers abuse their partners because they are under a lot of stress”
Stress does not cause batterers to abuse their partners. If stress caused domestic violence, batterers would assault their bosses or co-workers rather than their intimate partners. Domestic violence flourishes because society condones partner abuse, and because perpetrators learn that they can achieve what they want through the use of force without facing serious consequences.
“Domestic violence is irrelevant to parental fitness”
Because children often suffer physical and emotional harm from living in violent homes, domestic violence is extremely related to parental fitness. More than half of children whose mothers are battered are likely to be abused themselves, and children are frequently used as pawns to control the parental victim. An abuser’s focus on controlling the victim undermines the abusers ability to parent because the primary concern is not the child. Courts in most states are now required to consider domestic violence in custody determinations, recognizing the victimization of one parent and the danger of the abusing parent.