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When it comes to domestic violence, sometimes the signs aren't so obvious. Whether it's physical or emotional or otherwise, when one person scares, hurts, or continually puts down the other person, it is not ok. According to the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University, abuse is defined as "physically, sexually, or mentally injuring a person." We all deserve to feel safe, respected and empowered in our relationships (with romantic partners, friends, family, and colleagues). If anything below has happened to you or the signs resonate in some way, there are resources available to keep you safe and help you or someone you know navigate abusive situations.
What Is Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence is violent or aggressive behavior within the home, typically involving the violent abuse of a spouse or partner.
Common Misconceptions About Domestic Violence
"Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior in which one exerts power and control over another individual," Katie Ray-Jones told Cosmopolitan.com in 2014. Ray-Jones, president of the National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH), said that while domestic violence incidents have decreased over time and have become less socially acceptable, they still exist, despite common perception. And the decision to "just leave" is much more complicated than that. "They still see a glimpse of the person they fell in love with," Ray-Jones said. "It's very complex and it's very hard."
Abuse comes in many forms, not just physical. It can also be emotional, psychological, verbal, and sexual. The thing is, an abuser may at first be personable and affectionate before slowly chipping away at your self-esteem and backing you into a corner, away from family and friends. That's what makes it so difficult to get away or to "just call the police," according to experts.
"That sense of fear that no one could ever keep them safe, it's real," Michelle Kaminsky, lawyer and chief of Brooklyn DA's office's Domestic Violence Bureau, told Cosmopolitan.com. "As a society, we tend to undermine or minimize what those concerns are—why not go to the police; they're in the best position to help you? Well, the police aren't living with you 24/7."
Sings of Physical Abuse
Although not a definitive checklist, some signs of physical abuse include:
- Grabbing you by your body and refusing to let you go
- Pulling your hair
- Harming you in a way that has left bruises or other physical marks
- Threatening to hurt you or take away or harm your children
- Destroying your belongings
- Throwing objects at you
- Forcing you to have sex
Reproductive abuse (like "tampering with your birth control or pressuring you to get pregnant") is also common––and cites that 1 in 3 women in abusive relationships have experienced this type of coercion.
Signs Of Emotional Abuse
Similarly, some signs of emotional abuse might look like:
- An individual "teasing" or using sarcasm to constantly put you down or make you feel bad about yourself
- Belittling and trivializing you, your accomplishments, hopes, and dreams
- Doing and saying things that cause you to feel shame, embarrassment, and powerless
- Withholding sex to manipulate, punish, or control you
If you feel victimized physically or emotionally (that goes for sexually, psychologically, and verbally, too), or are unsure about the type of situation you're in, check in with yourself about the following:
- Do you sometimes feel scared of how your partner will act?
- Are you constantly making excuses to others for your partner's behavior?
- Do you believe that you can change your partner if only you changed something about yourself?
- Or, are you with your partner because you are afraid of what they would do if you broke up?
If you or someone you know is being abused, there is a wealth of resources to tap into. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) offers an extensive resource page of organizations committed to preventing and addressing domestic violence. There are also organizations dedicated to the differently-abled, teens, children, Indigenous communities, LGBT and gender non-conforming communities, and more. Finally, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services offers resources to organizations addressing stalking and dating abuse and provides a list of legal resources.
Experts like clinical psychologist Perpetua Neo recommends victims "reconnect with your friends and family," because support you can trust and count on is crucial. "Often abuse victims have been isolated or gaslighted into thinking they're crazy," Neo told Greatist. "But it's easy enough to reconnect."
Abuse. Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School.
Rakovec-Felser Z. Domestic Violence and Abuse in Intimate Relationship from Public Health Perspective. Health Psychol Res. 2014;2(3):1821. doi:10.4081/hpr.2014.1821
Signs of Domestic Violence or Abuse. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Office on Women's Health. September 17, 2018.
14 Misconceptions About Domestic Violence. Cosmopolitan. September 26, 2014.
Emotional and Verbal Abuse. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Office on Women's Health. September 13, 2018.