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Healthy Living

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Identifying Domestic Violence

What is Domestic Violence?

When spouses, intimate partners, or dates use physical violence, threats, emotional abuse, harassment, or stalking to control the behavior of their partners, they are committing domestic violence. Physical violence includes putting your hands on a person against their will. It also includes shoving, pushing, grabbing, pulling, or forcing some one to stay somewhere. Regardless of the relationship between two people, using physical violence against someone is a crime.

Very few people identify themselves as abusers or victims. They may remain silent about the issue because of the havoc that domestic violence has created in their workplace and family lives. Victims may be silent about the abuse because of embarrassment or shame, or for fear that their batterers will hurt them if they tell other people about the violence. Abusers may minimize their actions or blame the victims for provoking the violence. Both victims and abusers may characterize their experiences as family quarrels that "got out of control."

Think about the following questions to identify whether you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence. Whether you are a professional or a friend, asking these questions (in private) about domestic violence can let victims or abusers know that the door is open for further discussion and help. If you or someone you know is being abused, develop a safety plan right away even if you do not intend to separate at this time.

Screening Questions

  • Domestic violence is not confined to "certain groups." Do not try to predict who is a batterer and who is a victim of domestic violence. Ask the following questions to determine whether domestic violence is occurring.

  • Everyone argues or fights with their partner or spouse now and then. When you argue or fight at home, what happens? Do you ever change your behavior because you are afraid of the consequences of a fight?

  • Do you feel that your partner or spouse treats you well? Is there anything that goes on at home that makes you feel afraid?

  • Has your partner or spouse ever hurt or threatened you or your children? Has your partner or spouse ever put their hands on you against your will? Has your partner or spouse ever forced you to do something you did not want to do? Does your partner or spouse criticize you or your children a lot?

  • Has your partner or spouse ever tried to keep you from taking medication you needed or from seeking medical help? Does your partner refuse to let you sleep at night?

  • Has your partner or spouse ever hurt your pets or destroyed your clothing, objects in your home, or something which you especially cared about? Does your partner or spouse throw or break objects in the home during arguments?

  • Does your partner or spouse act jealously, for example, always calling you at work or home to check up on you? Is it hard for you to maintain relationships with your friends, relatives, neighbors, or co-workers because your partner or spouse disapproves of, argues with, or criticizes them? Does your partner or spouse accuse you unjustly of flirting with others or having affairs? Has your partner or spouse ever tried to keep you from leaving the house?

  • Does your spouse or partner make it hard for you to find or keep a job or to go to school?

  • Every family has their own way of handling finances. Does your partner or spouse withhold money from you when you need it? Do you know what your family's assets are? Do you know where important documents like bank books, check books, financial statements, birth certificates, and passports for you and members of your family are kept? If you wanted to see or use any of them, would your partner or spouse make it difficult for you to do so? Does your spouse or partner sometimes spend large sums of money and refuse to tell you why or what the money was spent on?

  • Has your spouse or partner ever forced you to have sex or made you do things during sex that make you feel uncomfortable? Does your partner demand sex when you are sick, tired, or sleeping?

  • Has your spouse or partner ever used or threatened to use a weapon against you? Are there guns in your home?

  • Does your spouse or partner abuse drugs or alcohol? What happens?

Avoid Harmful Assumptions

  • There are no typical characteristics or profiles of abusers or victims. Abusers may appear very charming or may seem like explosive or angry individuals. Victims may seem extremely frightened or passive or may be quite angry about what is happening. Rather than determining whether someone fits a "type," determine whether the warning signs of abuse exist.

  • If some one declines to discuss domestic violence issues, consider whether the silence may be due to a fear of the batterer, or to cultural, race or gender issues which make it difficult to talk about such personal experiences. If you suspect that some one is a victim of domestic violence, say the following:

    • I am concerned about your safety.

    • You can talk to me about what is happening at home.

    • Domestic violence can harm your children.

    • Domestic violence is a crime.

    • I will help you find the legal and non-legal service referrals you need.

Basic Warning Signs

  • Batterers use dominating, intimidating, terrifying, rule-making, stalking, harassing and injurious behaviors to control and manipulate the actions of their partners and sometimes their children.

  • The most obvious signs of domestic violence will be evidence of severe, recurring, or life-threatening abuse, for example, repeated bruises, broken bones, physical attacks, or threats with weapons.

  • Domestic violence is not just severe physical violence. It includes slaps, pushes, shoves, threats, emotional and financial abuse, false imprisonment, and any other behavior that batterers use to control and coerce victims. If one partner or spouse frequently makes the other ask permission to do things, domestic violence may be occurring.

  • Emotional abuse, where one partner continuously degrades or belittles the other, or accuses the other of being stupid, unattractive, a bad parent, unfaithful, or any other similar fault, can indicate domestic violence.

  • Many batterers use the legal system to punish their partners for taking steps to free themselves from domestic violence. Extremely litigious behavior following a separation may be a sign of domestic violence.

  • Batterers use issues arising in custody and visitation cases to try to re-establish control over their victims. For example, a batterer may fail to show up for scheduled visitation on time in order to harass the victim or create a reason for further contact.

  • Batterers frequently display extreme jealousy. The following controlling actions may signal that domestic violence is occurring:

    • Batterers often discourage their victims from seeking help.

    • Batterers harass, stalk, and keep tabs on their victims.

    • Batterers try to isolate their victims from emotional support systems or sources of help.

    • Batterers also isolate their victims by sabotaging their ability to get and keep jobs.

For more information or to get help in your state visit National Domestic Violence Hotline.

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