Domestic violence, which is also called spouse abuse, intimate partner abuse, battering, and partner violence, is when an individual is in some way hurt by a person that he or she knows. These "hurts" are not limited to physical harm: a person also can be sexually abused or psychologically abused. Often a victim is hurt in more than one of these ways. Domestic violence usually continues over a long period of time and gets more frequent and more severe over time.
Types of abuse:
- Physical abuse includes hitting, slapping, kicking, pushing, shoving, punching, choking and other ways of physically harming a person. Physical abuse may involve being hit with an object or weapon. Some victims are held or tied down or left in dangerous places.
- Sexual abuse is when a person is forced to participate in a sexual situation against his or her will. It can mean pursuing sexual activity when the victim is not fully conscious, is not asked for consent, has said no, or is afraid to say no.
- Psychological (or emotional) abuse is when a person is threatened, intimidated, humiliated, yelled at, blamed, made to feel inferior or stupid, or otherwise emotionally hurt. It can also mean depriving individuals of things they need or keeping them away from other people.
Victims of domestic violence are often abused in more than one of these ways at the same time. For example, a person who is sexually abused may be physically injured as a result. A person who is beaten may also be threatened and humiliated.
Who Are The Victims?
Anyone - regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity, economic status, education, or religion - can be a victim of domestic violence. Most victims are females, but males can be abused by females, and a person can be abused by someone of the same gender. Women are more likely to be seriously injured by their partners than men are.
Certain groups of women may be at higher risk for abuse. These include women who:
- Are single, separated or divorced (or planning separation or divorce)
- Are between the ages of 17 and 28
- Abuse alcohol or other drugs or whose partners do
- Are pregnant
- Have partners who are excessively jealous or possessive
Studies say that about 2 million women are assaulted by their partners each year, but this number might be low. There might be as many as 4 million victims of domestic violence each year. It is impossible to know how many victims of psychological abuse there are, because this type of abuse is harder to identify and track than physical and sexual abuse.
Who are the abusers?
The abuser can be anyone who has some relationship to the victim. Abusers include spouses, boyfriends and girlfriends, same-sex partners and roommates. Like the victims of domestic violence, the abusers can be of any age, race and background. Many, but not all, abusers were exposed to family violence as children. This can mean that they were abused themselves or that they witnessed abuse in their home.
The Cycle of Abuse
- Adults who grew up in a violent home are more likely to become abusers or victims of domestic violence. They may see abuse as a "normal" way of life.
- One-third of the women who are physically abused by a husband or boyfriend grew up in a household where this happened to their mother. About one in five were abused themselves as children.
- Adults who were abused as children have an increased risk of abusing their own children. They may not be able to see that their behavior is damaging, because it's how they were raised.
- Sometimes domestic violence includes child abuse. When a spouse or partner is being abused, sometimes abuse of children in the house becomes part of abusing the partner.
Effects Of Domestic Violence
The damage caused by domestic violence is not limited to the physical bruises or emotional scars of the most recent incident. Individuals who have been victims of domestic violence can suffer many long-term effects of the abuse. These include:
- Self-neglect or self-injury
- Depression, anxiety, panic attacks and sleep disorders
- Alcohol and other drug abuse
- Aggression toward themselves and others
- Chronic pain
- Eating disorders
- Sexual dysfunction
- Suicide attempts
What To Do
It may seem obvious that a victim of domestic violence should leave the abuser, but it's not always that simple. Some victims of abuse were raised in violent households as children and are caught in a cycle of abuse. Sometimes years of psychological abuse cause victims to believe they deserve to be treated this way. They may feel defeated from repeated abuse and unable to see a way out, or they may desperately hope that the situation will change. They may fear what the abuser will do if they try to leave. Other reasons women do not leave their abusers include having no place to go, no money or no place that will accept her children; fear of losing custody of children; concerns about immigration status (being reported); and religious or cultural beliefs that make abuse seem acceptable.
What To Do If You Think You Know a Victim
Perhaps you know a person who alludes to abuse at home or who often has unexplained injuries. If this is the case, talk to the person about it and try to convince him or her to get help.
You also can call the toll-free National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE (24 hours, English and Spanish) or (800) 787-3224 (TDD).
If you witness domestic violence or hear a violent-sounding fight or calls for help, call your emergency number (911 in most places in the United States and Canada) right away. There may be a victim in immediate danger.
What To Do If You Are a Victim
Call your emergency number (911 in most places in the United States and Canada) or the toll-free National Domestic Violence Hotline: (800) 799-SAFE (24 hours, English and Spanish) or (800) 787-3224 (TDD).
Check your phone book for statewide domestic violence programs for help finding housing and information about legal rights.