Domestic violence is a term used to describe violence and abuse by family members or intimate partners such as a spouse, former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend, ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend, or date. Other terms used for domestic violence include the following:
- Intimate partner abuse
- Family violence
- Child abuse
- Courtship violence
- Marital rape
- Date rape
Domestic violence can take many forms, but involves using intimidation and threats or violent behaviors to gain power and control over another person. Usually, the abusive person is a male, and women are often the victims; however, domestic violence occurs against males. Child abuse, elder abuse, and sibling abuse are also considered domestic violence.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists the following facts about domestic violence and women:
- About 4.8 million women are victimized by intimate partners annually.
- Increased frequency of violence toward a spouse is associated with increased risk of the violent spouse also being abusive to the child.
- There is a strong association between stalking and other forms of violence: 81 percent of women who were stalked by a current or former husband or partner were also physically assaulted by that partner, and 31 percent were also sexually assaulted.
- Psychological consequences for victims of intimate partner violence can include depression, suicidal thoughts and attempts, lowered self-esteem, alcohol and other drug abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, abuse often begins with verbal behaviors such as name-calling, threats, and hitting or throwing objects. It can become worse, including pushing, slapping, and holding against the victim's will. Further battering may include punching, hitting, and kicking and may escalate to life-threatening behaviors such as choking, breaking of bones, or use of weapons.
The following are forms of domestic violence and battering:
- Physical - battering or hitting causing physical injury that may include bruising, broken bones, internal bleeding, and death. Often the abuse begins with minor contact and escalates over time into more violent actions.
- Sexual - often accompanies or follows physical battering, and results in rape or other forced sexual activity.
- Psychological or emotional - an abuser often mentally or emotionally abuses with words, threats, harassment, extreme possessiveness, forced isolation, and destruction of belongings. Isolation often occurs when the abuser tries to control a victim's time, activities, and contact with others. Abusers may accomplish this through interfering with supportive relationships, creating barriers to normal activities, such as taking away the car keys or locking the victim in the home, and lying or distorting what is real to gain psychological control.
- Stalking - repeated harassing or threatening behavior; often leads to physical or sexual abuse.
- Economic - when the abuser controls access to the all of the victim's resources, such as time, transportation, food, clothing, shelter, insurance, and money. For example, he may interfere with her ability to become self-sufficient, and insist that he control all of the finances. When the victim leaves the violent relationship, the perpetrator may use economics as a way to maintain control or force her to return.
First, you must recognize that battering or abuse is occurring. Because verbal and emotional abuse often precede physical violence, you should be aware of warning signs that include extreme jealousy, possessiveness, a bad temper, unpredictability, cruelty to animals, and verbal abusiveness.
Contact your local battered women's shelter or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. They can provide you with helpful information and advice.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence urges women in abusive relationships to create a safety plan. The following plan may help you in difficult situations:
- Find a safe place to go in your home if an argument begins. Avoid rooms without an exit and rooms with potential dangers such as a kitchen.
- Know who to contact in a crisis and establish a code word or sign among trusted family or friends to let them know you need help.
- Memorize all important phone numbers.
- Always keep money and change with you.
- Keep important papers and documents in a place you can easily access if necessary, including: social security cards, birth certificates, marriage license, checkbook, charge cards, bank statements, health insurance cards, and any records of past abuse including photographs and police reports.
Remember that help is available and that you have the right to live without fear and violence. Without help, abuse will continue and place you at risk for serious harm.
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