Understanding Domestic Abuse
Understand Relationship Abuse We're all affected by the issue of domestic violence.
1. Abuse defined
Domestic violence (also referred to as intimate partner violence (IPV), dating abuse, or relationship abuse) is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.
Domestic violence doesn’t discriminate. People of any race, age, gender, sexuality, religion, education level, or economic status can be a victim — or perpetrator — of domestic violence. That includes behaviors that physically harm, intimidate, manipulate or control a partner, or otherwise force them to behave in ways they don’t want to, including through physical violence, threats, emotional abuse, or financial control. Multiple forms of abuse are usually present at the same time in abusive situations, and it’s essential to understand how these behaviors interact so you know what to look for.
2. Recognize the signs of relationship abuse
At the start of a new relationship, it’s not always easy to tell if it will later become abusive. In fact, many abusive people appear like ideal partners in the early stages of a relationship. Possessive and controlling behaviors don’t always appear overnight and may emerge and intensify as the relationship grows.
Every relationship is different and domestic violence doesn’t always look the same. One feature shared by most abusive relationships is that the abusive partner tries to establish or gain power and control through many different methods, at different moments.
3. Identify Abuse
Abuse is more than physical violence. Ending the harm and stigma of domestic violence requires a nuanced understanding of the behaviors that define it, as well as examples of healthy relationships to inform your decisions and interactions moving forward. Our JLU advocates are available 24/7 by phone and live chat to discuss your situation and help you determine if your relationship might be abusive.
4. Common signs of abusive behavior in a partner include:
Even one or two of these behaviors in a relationship is a red flag that abuse may be present.
Telling you that you never do anything right.
Showing extreme jealousy of your friends or time spent away from them.
Preventing or discouraging you from spending time with friends, family members, or peers.
Insulting, demeaning, or shaming you, especially in front of other people.
Preventing you from making your own decisions, including about working or attending school.
Controlling finances in the household without discussion, including taking your money or refusing to provide money for necessary expenses.
Pressuring you to have sex or perform sexual acts you’re not comfortable with.
Pressuring you to use drugs or alcohol.
Intimidating you through threatening looks or actions.
Insulting your parenting or threatening to harm or take away your children or pets.
Intimidating you with weapons like guns, knives, bats, or mace.
Destroying your belongings or your home.
Why People Abuse. Abuse is never okay. Learn why it continues
Domestic violence stems from a desire to gain and maintain power and control over an intimate partner. Abusive people believe they have the right to control and restrict their partner’s lives, often either because they believe their own feelings and needs should be the priority in the relationship, or because they enjoy exerting the power that such abuse gives them.
Tactics of abuse (in any form) may be aimed at dismantling equality in the relationship in order to make their partners feel less valuable and undeserving of respect.
Remember that everyone deserves to have a healthy, loving, and respectful relationship—no matter what.
Abuse is a learned behavior. Some people witness it in their own families growing up; others learn it slowly from friends, popular culture, or structural inequities throughout our society. No matter where they develop such behaviors, those who commit abusive acts make a choice in doing so — they also could choose not to.
There are many people who experience or witness abuse who use their experiences to end the cycle of violence and heal themselves without harming others. While outside factors (including drug or alcohol addiction) can escalate abuse, it’s important to recognize that these issues do not cause domestic abuse themselves.
1. Whom does abuse affect?
Anyone can be abusive and anyone can be the victim of abuse. Abuse happens regardless of gender, age, sexuality, race, economic status, ability, citizenship status, or any other factor or identity. Feelings of confusion, fear, or anger are normal responses to abuse, but they may also make you feel isolated or like no one will understand. Remember that JLU expert advocates are available 24/7 to talk through your situation and help you build a safety plan tailored to your circumstances.
Being abusive is a decision: it’s a strategic behavior by your partner to create their desired power dynamic.
Regardless of the circumstances of your relationship or past, no one ever deserves to be abused and you’re never responsible for your partner’s abusive actions.
Domestic violence can also strain the people who witness, intervene, or simply recognize the tragic realities of relationship abuse. It can be painful and draining — physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially — to watch the people in our lives abuse or be abused. In that regard, we are all impacted by any and all forms of abuse, and it’s on each of us to take steps in our daily interactions to end and prevent future abusive behavior.
2. Abuse and Cultural Context
Domestic violence may look different to different people.
Domestic violence can affect anyone, but the ways in which it appears may manifest itself or be received differently depending on the setting in which it occurs. Cultural context can play a large role in a survivor’s decision to leave an abusive relationship. The specific cultural setting may be determined by your race, gender, sexuality, class, education, or any number of factors.
In the United States, a country with various and overlapping forms of social, economic, and political discrimination along precisely these lines, certain communities experience heightened vulnerability to domestic violence.
Always consider your individual circumstances when making decisions about your safety and remember JLU is here to help you. While the information contained below may not include your specific cultural context (yet), many of the warning signs of abuse and other dynamics may bear similarities to abuse in your community and can be useful to explore.
3. Why People Stay
1. It's not as easy as simply walking away.
Abusive relationships are extremely complex situations and it takes a lot of courage to leave. Abuse is about power and control. When a survivor leaves their abusive relationship, they threaten the power and control their partner has established over the survivor’s agency, which may cause the partner to retaliate in harmful ways.
As a result, leaving is often the most dangerous period of time for survivors of abuse.
Beyond the physical risks of leaving an abusive situation, there are countless other reasons why people stay in their relationships.
No matter the circumstances, survivors deserve to be supported in their decision-making and empowered to reclaim control over their own lives. Common reasons why people stay in abusive relationships include:
A person will likely be afraid of the consequences if they decide to leave their relationship, either out of fear of their partner’s actions or concern over their own ability to be independent.
3. Normalized abuse
If someone grew up in an environment where abuse was common, they may not know what healthy relationships look like. As a result, they may not recognize that their partner’s behaviors are unhealthy or abusive.
It can be difficult for someone to admit that they’ve been or are being abused. They may feel that they’ve done something wrong, that they deserve the abuse, or that experiencing abuse is a sign of weakness. Remember that blame-shifting is a common tactic that their partner may use and can reinforce a sense of responsibility for their partner’s abusive behaviors.
A survivor may be intimidated into staying in a relationship by verbal or physical threats, or threats to spread information, including secrets or confidential details (i.e. revenge porn, etc). For LGBTQ+ people who haven’t come out yet, threats to out someone may be an opportunity for abusive partners to exert control.
6. Low self-esteem
After experiencing verbal abuse or blame for physical abuse, it can be easy for survivors to believe those sentiments and believe that they’re at fault for their partner’s abusive behaviors.
7. Lack of resources
Survivors may be financially dependent on their abusive partner or have previously been denied opportunities to work, a place to sleep on their own, language assistance, or a network to turn to during moments of crisis. These factors can make it seem impossible for someone to leave an abusive situation.
If someone depends on other people for physical support, they may feel that their well-being is directly tied to their relationship; a lack of visible alternatives for support can heavily influence someone’s decision to stay in an abusive relationship if they have a disability.
9. Immigration status
People who are undocumented may fear that reporting abuse will affect their immigration status. If they have limited English proficiency, these concerns can be amplified by a confusing and convoluted legal system and an inability to express their circumstances to others.
10. Cultural context
Traditional customs or beliefs may influence someone’s decision to stay in an abusive situation, whether held by the survivor or by their family and community. Some cultural beliefs normalize abuse making it difficult for victims to solicit support from the community. Cultural beliefs or not, abuse is never ok.
Many survivors may feel guilty or responsible for disrupting their familial unit. Keeping the family together may not only be something that a survivor may value, but may also be used as a tactic by their partner used to guilt a survivor into staying.
Experiencing abuse and feeling genuine care for a partner who is causing harm are not mutually exclusive. Survivors often still have strong, intimate feelings for their abusive partner. They may have children together, want to maintain their family, or the person abusing them may simply be charming (especially at the beginning of a relationship) and the survivor may hope that their partner will return to being that person.
No matter the reason, leaving any relationship can be difficult; doing so in an abusive situation can feel impossible without the right access to support.
Know what to look for.
Educational material is courtesy of the National Domestic Violence Hotline