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Domestic violence is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. It includes physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, and emotional abuse. The frequency and severity of domestic violence can vary dramatically; however, the one constant component of domestic violence is one partner’s consistent efforts to maintain power and control over the other.


It is not always easy to determine in the early stages of a relationship if one person will become abusive. Domestic violence intensifies over time. Abusers may often seem wonderful and perfect initially but gradually become more aggressive and controlling as the relationship continues. Abuse may begin with behaviors that may easily be dismissed or downplayed such as name-calling, threats, possessiveness, or distrust. Abusers may apologize profusely for their actions or try to convince the person they are abusing that they do these things out of love or care. However, violence and control always intensify over time with an abuser, despite the apologies. What may start out as something that was first believed to be harmless (e.g., wanting the victim to spend all their time only with them because they love them so much) escalates into extreme control and abuse


Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence. There is NO “typical victim.” Victims of domestic violence come from all walks of life, varying age groups, all backgrounds, all communities, all education levels, all economic levels, all cultures, all ethnicities, all religions, all abilities, and all lifestyles.


It is important to note that domestic violence does not always manifest as physical abuse. Emotional and psychological abuse can often be just as extreme as physical violence. Lack of physical violence does not mean the abuser is any less dangerous to the victim, nor does it mean the victim is any less trapped by the abuse.

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Victims of domestic violence experience an array of emotions and feelings from the abuse inflicted upon them by their abuser, both within and following the relationship. They may also resort to extremes in an effort to cope with the abuse. Victims of domestic violence may:

  • Want the abuse to end, but not the relationship

  • Feel isolated

  • Feel depressed

  • Feel helpless

  • Be unaware of what services are available to help them

  • Be embarrassed about their situation

  • Fear judgment or stigmatization if they reveal the abuse

  • Deny or minimize the abuse or make excuses for the abuser

  • Still love their abuser

  • Withdraw emotionally

  • Distance themselves from family or friends

  • Be impulsive or aggressive

  • Feel financially dependent on their abuser

  • Feel guilt related to the relationship

  • Feel shame

  • Have anxiety

  • Have suicidal thoughts

  • Abuse alcohol or drugs

  • Be hopeful that their abuser will change and/or stop the abuse

  • Have religious, cultural, or other beliefs that reinforce staying in the relationship

  • Have no support from friends or family

  • Fear cultural, community, or societal backlash that may hinder escape or support

  • Feel like they have nowhere to go or no ability to getaway

  • Fear they will not be able to support themselves after they escape the abuser

  • Have children in common with their abuser and fear for their safety if the victim leaves

  • Have pets or other animals they don’t want to leave

  • Be distrustful of local law enforcement, courts, or other systems if the abuse is revealed

  • Have had unsupportive experiences with friends, family, employers, law enforcement, courts, child protective services, etc. and either believe they won’t get help if they leave or fear retribution if they do (e.g., they fear they will lose custody of their children to the abuser)

  • Do you feel afraid of your partner?

  • Do you believe you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?

  • Do you feel objectified?

  • Does your partner humiliate you or yell at you?

  • Does your partner put you down?

  • Does your partner blame you for their own abusive behavior?

  • Does your partner have a bad and unpredictable temper?

  • Does your partner act jealous and possessive?

  • Does your partner control where you go, what you do and whom you see?

  • Does your partner pressure you into having sex?

  •  Are there rigid gender roles?

  •  Is there gender-based economic dependency?


For more information on domestic violence and sexual assault visit these sites:

Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network
No More : Your voice can end the violence
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Love is Respect : Learn how to prevent, recognize and escape unhealthy relationships
Break the Cycle : Empowering youth to end domestic violence


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