What Is Domestic Abuse:
Domestic abuse, which has also been called spousal abuse, occurs when one partner attempts to control and dominate the other partner. Abusers use many different methods to control and intimidate, including:
Domestic abuse can happen to anyone, whether they are heterosexual, wealthy or of any ethnic background. It is a growing problem among teenagers as well. Women are not the only victims of domestic abuse as men have also reported abuse by domestic partners, especially verbal and emotional abuse. However, men have also reported physical abuse by women, including rape and sexual assault.
Recognizing Abuse is the First Step to Getting Help
The signs of abuse can often be subtle at first. It may start with a partner who makes sarcastic comments or makes the abused person the subject of mean jokes. The partner may trivialize achievements or make the abused person feel inferior all the time. The abused person may feel they need to constantly watch what they say around their partner. However, in almost every relationship where domestic abuse has occurred, the abused person said that they began to fear their partner. Anyone who feels afraid of their partner is probably in an abusive relationship.
Some of the things to ask if domestic abuse is suspected are:
- Do you feel afraid of your partner much of the time?
- Do you believe that you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?
- Do you feel emotionally numb or helpless?
- Does your partner criticize you and put you down?
- Does your partner treat you so badly that you’re embarrassed for your friends or family to see?
- Does your partner ignore or put down your opinions or accomplishments?
- Does your partner blame you for their own abusive behavior?
- Does your partner destroy your belongings?
- Does your partner act excessively jealous and possessive?
- Does your partner control where you go or what you do?
- Does your partner keep you from seeing your friends or family?
- Do you avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?
- Do you wonder if you’re the one who is crazy?
- Does your partner humiliate or yell at you?
- Does your partner see you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?
- Does your partner have a bad and unpredictable temper?
- Does your partner hurt you, or threaten to hurt or kill you?
- Does your partner threaten to take your children away or harm them?
- Does your partner threaten to commit suicide if you leave?
- Does your partner force you to have sex?
- Does your partner limit your access to money, the phone, or the car?
- Does your partner constantly check up on you?
Physical Abuse and Domestic Violence
Physical abuse is the use of physical force against another person that could or does lead to injury. Physical abuse can be as minor as physical restraint or as serious as murder. Domestic violence occurs when physical abuse occurs between spouses or domestic partners. Physical abuse is a crime in every state in the country. Anyone who commits physical abuse against another person is subject to arrest, conviction and possible incarceration, depending on the severity of the attack. Types of physical abuse include:
- Throwing, people or objects
- Slapping, hitting or punching
Someone can be charged with physical abuse for refusing to allow another person to leave a home or for threatening them with a weapon, such as a baseball bat, a knife or a gun.
Emotional abuse is an often overlooked form of abuse, but it can cause just as much pain and mental anguish as physical abuse. In fact, research indicates that emotional or verbal abuse can actually be more damaging to an abused person than physical abuse.
Types of emotional abuse include:
- Threats and intimidation
- Rigid control of finances or withholding money and credit cards
- Destroying property
- Violence against pets or inanimate objects that have special meaning to the abused person
- Withholding basic necessities like food and clothing
- Embarrassing or mocking the abused person both when alone and in front of others
- Criticizing or diminishing the abused person’s goals or accomplishments
- Isolation from friends and family
- Contacting the abused person excessively when they are away from the abuser
- Blaming the abused person for the abusers actions
Strategies of the Abuser
There are several strategies that abusers use to control the person who is being abused. These include:
- Intimidation – An abuser may hurt pets, break things that are important to the victim or keep weapons on display in an effort to intimidate the abused person. These tactics are used to scare the victim into submission.
- Isolation – An abuser may cut the victim off from friends and family in an effort to increase their dependence on the abuser. They may attempt to prevent the victim from working or cause them to lose a job due to constant harassment, phone calls or interference. The abused person may have to ask permission before doing anything, including visiting family or running routine errands.
- Dominance – An abuser must feel as if they are in charge of any relationship. They feel they must make all the decisions in the household, tell others what they must do and expect obedience without any discussion. Many victims who have suffered from a dominant abuser say that they felt as if they were a servant or a possession. They often have antiquated views on the roles of men and women. In some cases, the dominant abuser may force sex or ignore a partner’s unwillingness to engage in sex. They may also sabotage birth control methods or refuse to honor methods the couple previously agreed upon.
- Humiliation – An abuser who uses humiliation to control their partner demeans the victim in both private and public places. They may make jokes at the expense of the victim or constantly belittle them in front of others. The goal is to make the abused person feel worthless in an effort to convince the victim that they are not worthy of anyone else’s attention and to make them feel powerless.
- Threats – An abuser often uses threats to keep the victim “in line.” They may threaten to kill the abused person, their children, their pets or their family. They may also threaten to kill themselves in an effort to make the victim feel guilty. Some abusers have threatened to report the victim to authorities, such as the police or child protective services. In most cases, this is to keep the abused person from leaving them or to get them to drop charges they may have filed in against the abuser.
- Denial and Blame – Abusers often make excuses for their actions and, many times, blame the victim for their own behavior. They may also deny that they are abusive or that they engaged in violent behavior. They may blame their parents or a difficult day at work.
The fact is that abusers, even the most violent among them, are able to control their behavior. An abuser rarely insults, threatens or attacks everyone who causes them stress or anger. They also are careful to choose where and when they abuse someone. Many times, abusers become skilled at striking someone where bruises or marks will not show, indicating that they have control over what they do.
Cycle of Abuse
There is a common pattern or cycle of abuse in almost every domestic abuse situation. The pattern begins with the abusive partner lashing out, either by belittling the victim or engaging in violence.
Immediately after the abuse, the abuser feels guilty, although it is not usually guilt for hurting the victim, but more about the consequences of the actions. The victim could leave or they could call the police.
The abuser then either apologizes, sometimes showering the victim with gifts, promising never to “do that again.” They may make excuses for their behavior and even blame the victim for the abuse. The abuser will try any method in their arsenal to avoid taking responsibility for their actions.
The relationship then enters a “normal” period where the abuser attempts to make amends for their actions. They may lavish attention and gifts on the victim or they may act as if nothing happened at all. This often gives the victim a false sense of hope that the abuse is behind them.
In the next phase of an abusive relationship, the abuser slowly drifts back into their normal abusive pattern. The victim has let down their guard and thinks things have improved. Meanwhile, the abuser begins thinking about the things the victim has done wrong and how they will need to take control again.
Finally, the abuser sets a trap for the victim, sometimes purposefully creating a situation in which abuse can be justified in their mind. The victim, who has become less vigilant at policing the actions of the abuser, is unaware that the abuser is setting a trap for them. In fact, the abuser themselves may be unaware that they are setting the victim up for more abuse. An incident occurs that causes a flashpoint in the brain of the abuser and the abuse occurs again, starting the cycle over.
Because abuse is often subtle in the beginning, it can be difficult to identify until physical violence occurs. With knowledge, it is easier to recognize some of the subtle signs that someone may be in an abusive relationship, such as public humiliation or increasing isolation. As the abuse escalates, learning how to recognize the cycle of abuse and the tools used by abusers to control their victims is beneficial in identifying when abuse is occurring.
Another important factor to understand when dealing with domestic abuse situations is who becomes victims of domestic abuse, the reasons they stay in an abusive relationship and how domestic violence progresses.