What is domestic violence?
This may seem like an obvious answer. We’ve all seen the after school specials where a woman is brutally beaten by her partner. And though that is all too common, it isn’t always so obvious. Domestic violence can come in many forms and be extremely difficult to break away from. Young, old, rich, poor, black, white, gay, straight, domestic violence can and does happen in any culture, at any age, and in any kind of close partnership.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) defines domestic violence as “the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another.”

There is no one face of domestic violence. How often, how intense, and how it happens can all vary. The key aspect is one partner consistently acting to have control and power over the other.

Domestic violence can be

  • Physical – Anything from restraint, beatings, destruction of property, including threats.
  • Emotional – Constant put-downs, insults, bringing on feelings of guilt and dependence.
  • Psychological – Controlling finances, who you spend time with, threats of negative consequences.

Early stages
Recognizing early stages of domestic violence can save you from years of suffering and possibly save your life. But it’s not always easy. Signs may not come up until later into the relationship and may seem like a one-time occurrence or harmless overreaction. WomenAreSafe.org provides a list of 18 early warning signs of an abuser.

Early signs include:

  • Acting overly needy, jealous, and controlling of your time
  • Having unrealistic expectations
  • Ignoring your boundaries and invading your privacy
  • Pressuring you into commitment or sex
  • Lying and manipulating

Cycle of Violence
The cycle of violence is very common. The patterns can be seen in any kind of domestic abuse and repeat for years.

Cycle of Violence

What to do if you experience domestic violence
If you feel you are in immediate danger, call 911 or get to a domestic violence shelter. Shelters will provide safety and are usually in a confidential location. Seek medical help if necessary.

  • First, realize it is not your fault! No one deserves abuse and a healthy relationship will not include any level of domestic violence.
  • Get help. Distancing yourself is hard enough in a normal relationship; in an abusive relationship it can be extremely difficult and even dangerous. Support from friends and family, counseling, a shelter, and legal aid may all be necessary in helping you move on.
  • Document any proof of the violence as long as you feel safe doing so. Take pictures of injuries, save threatening or abusive emails or messages.
  • Seek legal help if necessary. Protective orders can help to keep the abuser away.

Planning ahead
It can feel unfair to have to leave your home or change your life because of an abusive partner. And it’s not fair. But keeping yourself safe and rebuilding your life has to take priority.

  • DomesticViolence.org guides you in creating a personalized safety plan
  • If you are still in the relationship, prepare yourself to leave and leave quickly if necessary.
  • Have your important documents like ID, passport, and credit cards as well as medications and keys in one place and ready to go. If possible, pack a small suitcase of essentials in preparation for leaving quickly. If you have children and/or pets, gather their essentials too.
  • Have a list of domestic violence shelters and other safe people to contact.
  • Once you have left the abuser, change your phone number, frequently visited places, avoid being alone, and plan how to get away if confronted.

What to do if you suspect someone else is experiencing domestic violence
Helping friends and family isn’t always easy. You can’t singlehandedly save someone from an abusive situation and it takes a lot of hard work and courage on the individual’s part. You can:

  • Avoid judgment, be supportive, and listen — whether they have left the abuser or are still in the relationship.
  • Though you can’t force anyone to seek help or leave a relationship, you can encourage them to talk to someone who will provide guidance and options.
  • Help them find resources and create a safety plan.
  • Encourage them to do things with friends and family, start a new hobby, or participate in other activities outside of the relationship.

What if I hit back?
Whether defending yourself or responding to abuse in a physical way, you are still the victim!


National Domestic Abuse Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE)

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: http://www.ncadv.org

LGBT Domestic Violence Support: http://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/lgbt-abuse/

Women Helping Women: http://www.womenhelpingwomen.org/

Help for men: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/abuse/help-for-abused-men.htm

Helping Friends and Family: http://www.thehotline.org/help/help-for-friends-and-family/