Domestic abuse is physical or emotional abuse that occurs in a personal relationship. Unfortunately, an annual average of 10 million adults in the U.S. experience some form of physical domestic abuse from an intimate partner, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Although domestic abuse may be most recognized among intimate partners, it also occurs between caregivers and the elderly, between adults and children, and between care providers and people with disabilities.
What Are Signs of Domestic Abuse?
Early signs of domestic abuse may be hard to notice at first, as behaviors and responses often start subtly and escalate. Generally, if you find yourself frightened in a relationship for any reason, you might investigate for signs of domestic abuse.
Signs of emotional abuse include behaviors that are critical and controlling. Your partner may accuse you of an affair, demand that you dress or look a certain way, criticize you, call you names, or attempt to control your behavior with money, friendships, family, or anything else. Extreme anger, violent threats, or attempts to isolate you from family and friends can also be signs of emotional abuse.
Signs of physical abuse include obvious physical violence like punching, pushing, kicking, biting, choking, or pulling hair. Physical abuse also may include preventing you from getting medical care, or from eating or sleeping.
Signs of sexual abuse include forcing you to have sex against your will or to experience physical pain or discomfort during sex. An abusive partner may humiliate or degrade you through sexual acts. A sexual abuser may also refuse to wear condoms or use birth control.
What Should You Do If You Experience Domestic Abuse?
It is critical for your physical and emotional safety that you get help. Identify your immediate support system—a close friend, a trusted family member, or your doctor—who will listen and stand by you through the process. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233) from a friend’s house or somewhere you feel safe. This organization will help you to make a safety and legal plan with the support of local resources. Of course, if you face an emergency, call 911.
You may choose to contact the police and pursue criminal action against your abuser. Local law enforcement may intervene for your immediate safety, and the police report will be used in the ensuant court case. There will be an investigation led by a prosecuting lawyer. Depending on a variety of factors, you may also choose to pursue legal action through civil courts. Your abuser may hire a domestic violence defense attorney if you press criminal or civil charges. The hotline will connect you with resources to help you make the best legal decisions.
How Can You Help Someone Who Is Being Abused?
If you suspect domestic abuse, there is usually a reason for your suspicions, and you should speak up. Talk with the person about what concerns you, and ask if anything is wrong or if you can help in any way. The person may not be ready to talk at the first conversation, so make sure to leave the window open for follow-up.
If the person does indicate that they are experiencing domestic abuse, connect them with resources like the National Domestic Violence Hotline. If domestic abuse occurs in the person’s home, they may not feel safe making phone calls or using the internet from home, so offer the space and support to make these vital connections. You might also offer to store an escape bag or share a code word that would help the person indicate that they need emergency help.
Support whatever choice the person makes. Decisions on whether to stay or leave are often difficult for those who experience domestic abuse, and they may try to explain or excuse an abuser’s behavior. The most important thing you can do is express your concern, and make sure they know you will stand by them when they are ready to get help.