Am I in a Domestic Violence Relationship?

What is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is when one partner in an intimate relationship abuses    the other. The abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional or a combination      of all three.    Physical abuse can include very aggressive acts, such as beatings    and forced sexual activity including intercourse, or it can take      the form of less severe acts like throwing, shoving and slapping.    In emotional abuse, the abuser constantly humiliates and puts down    the victim. The weapons of emotional abuse include verbal insults,    threats, control of physical activity, unfounded accusations of infidelity,      control of economic decisions and social isolation.    Depending on the relationship, the physical or emotional abuse may    happen very often or not as often. Either way, once    violence begins, it will usually continue and get worse over time. No matter how often    the abuse happens, the victim of domestic violence suffers constant      terror and stress, living in fear of the next episode.    While women are most commonly the victims of their male partners,    domestic violence can happen between all sorts of people and in all    sorts of relationships. It happens between people who are married    and between people who aren’t living together. It can be abuse by a man against      a woman, or by a woman against a man. It can occur in gay or lesbian relationships.    Domestic violence is a common reality in our society. It occurs in    all social classes, ethnic groups, cultures and religions. Most people    don’t realize how common it is, because very often victims of abuse      keep quiet.

The Cycle of Domestic Violence

In 1979, psychologist Lenore Walker found that many violent relationships follow a common pattern or cycle. The entire cycle may happen in one day or it may take weeks or months. It is different for every relationship and not all relationships follow the cycle—many report a constant      stage of siege with little relief. This cycle has three parts:
  1. Tension building phase—Tension builds over common domestic issues like money, children or jobs.      Verbal abuse begins. The victim tries to control the situation by pleasing the abuser, giving in or avoiding the abuse. None of these will stop the violence. Eventually, the tension reaches a boiling point and physical abuse begins. 
  2. Acute battering episode—When the tension peaks, the physical violence begins. It is usually triggered by the presence of an external event or by the abuser’s emotional state—but not by the victim’s behavior. This means the start of the battering episode is unpredictable and beyond the victim’s control. However, some experts believe that in some cases victims may unconsciously provoke the abuse so they can release the tension, and move on to the honeymoon phase. 
  3. The honeymoon phase—First, the abuser is ashamed of his behavior. He expresses remorse, tries to minimize the abuse and might even blame it on the partner. He may then exhibit loving, kind behavior      followed by apologies, generosity and helpfulness. He will genuinely attempt      to convince the partner that the abuse will not happen again. This loving and      contrite behavior strengthens the bond between the partners and will probably convince the victim, once again, that leaving the relationship is not necessary. 
       This cycle continues over and over, and may help explain why    victims stay in abusive relationships. The abuse may be terrible, but the promises and generosity of the honeymoon phase give the victim the false belief that everything will be all right. 

Why Do Victims Stay?

“You’re telling me that your    husband beat you up. I would never put up with that abuse. Why don’t you just leave him.” We often put ourselves in the place of the victims and imagine ourselves leaving at the first signs of abuse. But breaking free of abuse is not simply a matter of walking out the door. Leaving is a process.    It can be difficult for many people to understand why a person would stay in an abusive relationship. But there are many reasons. Strong emotional and psychological forces keep the victim tied to the abuser.      Sometimes situational realities like a lack of money keep the victim from leaving. The reasons for staying vary from one victim to the next, and they usually involve several factors.Emotional reasons for staying:
  • belief that the abusive partner will change because of his remorse and promises to stop battering 
  • fear of the abuser who threatens to kill the victim if abuse  is reported to anyone 
  • lack of emotional support 
  • guilt over the failure of the relationship attachment to the partner 
  • fear of making major life changes 
  • feeling responsible for the abuse 
  • feeling helpless, hopeless and trapped 
  • belief that she is the only one who can help the abuser with his problems 
Situational reasons for staying
  • economic dependence on the abuser 
  • fear of physical harm to self or children 
  • fear of emotional damage to the children over the loss of a parent, even if that parent is abusive 
  • fear of losing custody of the children because the abuser threatens to take the children if victim tries to leave 
  • lack of job skills 
  • social isolation and lack of support because abuser is often the victim’s only support system 
  • lack of information regarding domestic violence resources 
  • belief that law enforcement will not take her seriously 
  • lack of alternative housing 
  • cultural or religious constraints 

Warning Signs

The Warning Signs of Abuse

You may be in an emotionally abusive relationship if your partner: 

  • Controls what you do, whom you see, and where you go
  • Calls you names, puts you down, or humiliates you
  • Makes you feel ashamed, isolated, wrong, stupid, scared, worthless, or crazy
  • Acts jealous, accuses you unjustly of cheating, flirting, or having affairs
  • Threatens you or makes you feel afraid
  • Punishes you by withholding affection
  • Constantly criticizes you and your children
  • Blames you for arguments or problems in the relationship
  • Makes non-verbal gestures intended to intimidate you
  • Isolates you from friends or family
  • Makes you feel guilty for spending time with someone else
  • Threatens to take the children from you
  • Monitors your phone calls
  • Continually tracks your whereabouts by cell phone, pager, text messaging or GPS system
  • Causes problems for you at work or at school
  • Continually harasses you at work either by telephone, fax, or e-mail
  • Takes your money, withholds money, makes you ask for money, or makes you account for the money you spend. Spends large sums of      money and refuses to tell you why or what the money was spent on
  • Refuses to let you sleep at night
  • Uses your immigration status or personal history against you 
  • Tells you that he cannot live without you and threatens suicide if you leave

You may be in a physically abusive relationship if your partner:

  • Throws or breaks objects, punches walls, kicks doors in your home during arguments
  • Destroys your personal property or sentimental items
  • Pushes, slaps, bites, kicks or chokes you
  • Uses or threatens to use a weapon against you or your children
  • Drives recklessly with you/and or your children in the car during an argument
  • Threatens to hurt or hurts pets
  • Forces or pressures you to have sex against your will. Prevents you from using birth control or from having safe sex. Makes you do things during sex that make you feel uncomfortable.
  • Traps you in your home or keeps you from leaving
  • Tells you that you will never belong to anyone else or that you will never be allowed to leave the relationship
  • Prevents you from calling the police or seeking medical attention.
  • Withholds your medication
     

Basic Warning Signs for Professionals
Domestic violence is not limited to “certain groups.” It is    difficult to predict who may be a batterer and who may be a victim of domestic violence. There are no typical characteristics or profiles of abusers or victims. Abusers may appear very charming or may seem like angry, explosive individuals. Victims may seem passive or extremely frightened or they may be very angry about what is happening.

  • The most obvious signs of domestic violence will be evidence of severe, recurringor life-thre, atening abuse (broken bones, repeated bruises, threats with weapons, etc.)
  • Domestic violence may also be emotional or psychological abuse where one partner continually degrades, criticizes, or belittles the other or accuses the other of being stupid, unattractive, unfaithful,  a bad parent, etc.
  • Many batterers use the legal system to punish their partners for taking steps to free themselves of the abuse. 
  • Batterers use issues arising from custody and visitation to try to re-establish control over their partners.
  • Batterers frequently display extreme jealousy
  • Batterers often discourage their victims from seeking help. People who have difficulty making or keeping appointments may be trying to avoid letting their abusers know they are seeking help.
  • Batterers frequently insist on accompanying their victims to appointments even if they are not involved in the case. The batterer may refuse to leave the victim alone and may try to speak for the victim in order to control the information the victim shares.
  • Batterers harass, stalk and keep tabs on their victims. If someone reports constant phone calls, text messaging, etc. at home or at work to keep track of their whereabouts, this could be a sign of domestic violence.
  • Batterers try to isolate their victims from emotional support systems or sources of help.

Exit Strategy

On average, it takes seven attempts before an abused woman leaves her partner. Not everyone will need to stay at a shelter. And not everyone will need to or should leave-at least not right away. The victim/survivor is the expert and the best judge of what she can and cannot do safely. So while a woman is deciding what the best course of action is, she needs to create a safety plan which is a plan for staying as well as leaving. Even before a woman has decided to leave an abusive relationship, there are protective measures she can take. 

Here are some options a victim might evaluate in creating a safety plan to fit her own particular needs.

Protecting Yourself At Home

  • During conflicts stay out of kitchens (where there are knives) and bathrooms (where you can be trapped and a fall can be fatal)
  • Assemble a bag with important items you would need if you had to make a quick escape (passport and other ID, extra keys, cash, medication, birth certificates and other important papers). It is best to keep this with a friend or in another safe place outside your home.
  • During a conflict, get to a room with a door that will allow you to escape.  Alternatively, go to a room with a door you can lock from the inside and call 911.
  • Teach your children not to get into the middle of a fight even if they want to help.
  • Devise a code word to use with your children, family, and friends when you need the police.
  • Document signs of physical abuse. Take photographs of injuries or bruises.

Technology Tools You Cannot Do Without Could Put You at Risk

Safety planning is a process that takes into account a victim/survivor’s current situation and encourages the development of strategies that help to reduce harm, minimize risks, and create a safe environment.

Technology, including everyday items such as computers and cell phones, is a crucial area to consider in safety planning. Below is a summary of a number of technology precautions to consider as outlined by Safety Net: The National Safe and Strategic Technology Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence (www.nnedv.org)

Information is power. You may call or consult with an advocate at a domestic violence hotline to make sure your safety plan is comprehensive. 

  1. Trust your instincts. If the abuser knows too much regarding your whereabouts, it is possible that your phone, computer, emails, and other activities are being tracked.
  2. Use a safe computer. When you look for help, a new place to live, etc, it may be safest to use a computer at the public library, an internet café, or community center.
  3. Create a new email account with a new password from a safe computer. Use an anonymous name and password that the abuser will not be able to guess.
  4. Change passwords and PIN numbers. Some abusers access victims’ accounts fraudulently to track them, to impersonate them, and to cause harm. Thank about any password protected accounts you may have, including: online banking, medical records, voicemail, etc. If anyone abusive knows or could guess your passwords, change them quickly and frequently.
  5. Use a donated or new cell phone. A family cell phone plan produces billing records and phone logs that might reveal your plans. Local domestic violence programs have information about new cell phones and prepaid phone cards.
  6. Check your cell phone settings. If you are using a cell phone provided by the abuser, turn it off when not in use. Phones can be set to automatically answer without your knowing, in effect becoming a speaker. Most newer phones have GPS which makes them capable of tracking you.
  7. Minimize use of cordless phones and baby monitors. These act like speakers and can be monitored. A traditional corded phone is more secure.
  8. Ask about your records and data. Many court systems and government records are published online. Ask agencies how your records can be protected, restricted, or sealed.
  9. Get a private mailbox and do not give your real physical address. When asked by businesses, doctors and others for your address, have a private mailbox or PO box. Try to keep your residential address out of national databases. Many states, including Massachusetts, have the Address Confidentiality Program that can help you protect your actual address and is valid for legal documents.
  10. Search for your name and your phone number online. Major search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and switchboard.com have links to your contact information including satellite photos of your address. Search your name in quotation marks: “Full Name.” Do the same with your telephone number. Also, check phone directory pages because unlisted numbers may have been published if the number has been given to anyone.
  11. Consider taking down your social networking pages such as MySpace, Facebook, etc. Information posted on these sites can compromise your safety through photos that reveal your local and through friends your abuser knows who link to your social site.
  12. Consider closing your chain store, auto repair, oil change, or other service discount cards. The information they track is put on searchable databases which a tech savvy abuser may be able to hack into. Often a clerk will allow you to use their card so you can still get the savings.

Protecting Yourself Once you have left

  • Change your phone number. Block caller ID.
  • If your partner has moved out or if you do not live together, alert your neighbors to call the police if they see him nearby. Create a signal that will tell them they should call.
  • Change the locks.
  • Provide a photo of your abuser to co-workers and security      at your place of employment and to your children’s teachers and school administrators. Advise them not to allow the abuser on the premises.
  • Make sure your child’s school and your employer know not to give your address or phone number to anyone.
  • Change your habits.   Shop at different stores.  Shop at different times. Vary your schedule as much as possible.
  • At work, have a security guard accompany you to your car.
  • If you have left without the help of authorities, a domestic violence hotline, or other domestic violence agency, contact them now for help and advice on staying safe.

Contacting An Agency Safely

  • Take care in contacting an agency for help. When calling a hotline number, shelter or agency from home, dial a 1-800 number immediately afterward to protect yourself in the event that your abuser dials a callback code like *69.
  • When using the internet, do not use your home computer. Go to a library, internet café, etc.

Get a Restraining Order

A restraining order, also referred to as a 209A protective order, is one option to consider in seeking safety from an abuser. The information  below describes court orders and how to get one, how they are enforced    and how to make a decision about seeking an order. 

   Restraining orders are only a piece of a larger safety plan. It is important that you make a safety plan in addition to obtaining a    restraining order. A shelter can help you know what is available to you. Call 1-877-785-2020 to be connected to the program nearest you.  In an emergency call 9-1-1 for police assistance.

HELP IS AVAILABLE

Domestic Violence Hotline

Our phone and chat services are available to anyone who has been affected by relationship abuse, including those who are currently in abusive relationships, those who are working to heal, friends or family of victims and survivors and anyone in the community who has questions about domestic violence. We have the ability to provide phone services in more than 200 languages.

      

CALL 24/7/365

1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
1-800-787-3224 (TTY for Deaf/Hard of Hearing)
Learn more about services for Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals.

    

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We can use the language line and speak to people in 200+ languages.

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Report the abuse

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, domestic violence is one of the most chronically underreported crimes. Only 25% of all physical assaults, 20% of all rapes, and 50% of all stalking perpetrated against females by their partners are reported to the police

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