Domestic violence is a pattern of assaultive and/or coercive behavior used to gain power and control over a current or previous intimate partner. This behavior can consist of sexually, physically and emotionally abusive acts, in addition to economic coercion. Domestic violence can occur in any kind of personal relationship: marriages, dating relationships, same-sex relationships, living-together relationships, individuals that have children in common, siblings, parent-child relationships, etc.Domestic violence can happen to anyone. In other words, survivors of domestic violence come from all socio-economic classes, educational levels, races, cultural backgrounds, religions, and ages.Domestic violence does not go away without intervention, and it almost always gets more severe and frequent over time.The most important thing to remember about domestic violence is that it is about power and control. This means that the violence is NEVER the fault of the survivor. Nothing a person says or does can make another become violent. A person who engages in domestic violence chooses to use abusive and/or coercive behavior in order to gain power and control over their partner. Because domestic violence is about power and control, one of the most dangerous times for a survivor can be when she or he is attempting to get out of the relationship, or has just left.The following are some examples of different behaviors that a person might use in order to gain or maintain power and control in an abusive relationship. It is important to remember that not all of the following behaviors will be present in every relationship, nor will they be present all of the time.Mental/Emotional AbuseEmotional abuse often precedes and/or accompanies physical violence.
- Threats of harm
- Threats of harm to children, loved ones, pets
- Threats of suicide
- Humiliation or degradation, telling a person they are worthless or useless
- Name calling
- Constantly belittling and insulting
- Social and physical isolation
- Extreme jealousy and/or possessiveness
- Destroying or breaking another’s personal belongings
- Making false accusations
- Ignoring, dismissing and ridiculing
- Repeatedly lying and breaking promises
Physical AbusePhysical abuse rarely only happens once. It almost always increases in frequency and severity over time.
- Pushing, shoving, slapping, kicking, punching, spitting, choking, pinching, restraining, pulling hair
- Assault with a weapon
- Battering during pregnancy
- Leaving a person in a dangerous place
- Refusing to help during injury or sickness
Sexual AbuseSexual abuse in a relationship is still abuse even if the two people are married or in an intimate relationship.
- Calling a person sexually degrading names
- Coercing a person to have sex without protection against pregnancy or sexually transmissible diseases
- Trying to make a person perform sexual acts against their will
- Initiating sexual activity with a person who is not fully conscious
- Hurting a person physically during sex or assaulting a person’s genitals or breasts
It is crucial to remember that battering escalates. An abusive relationship does not usually begin with life-threatening physical abuse. It often begins with emotional abuse, such as extreme possessiveness, name-calling, threats, violence in the partner’s presence (such as punching a wall) and damage to objects. This abusive behavior may escalate over time to include such physical acts as restraining, pushing, slapping, etc. Finally, the abusive behavior may become life threatening.Are you a victim of domestic violence?Has your partner ever . . .
- Embarrassed or made fun of you in front of your friends or family?
- Told you that you are nothing without them?
- Used intimidation or threats to make you do what they want?
- Called you several times a night or shown up to make sure you are where you said you would be?
- Called you names, made you feel ashamed of yourself, humiliated you?
- Prevented you from doing things you want—like spending time with your friends or family?
- Put you down in front of your children, your friends, your boss?
- Withheld money, food, medicine or transportation from you?
- Held or squeezed you so hard that it left a bruise?
- Destroyed or broken your possessions?
- Threatened to abuse or abused your pet?
- Used drugs or alcohol as an excuse for saying hurtful things or abusing you?
- Treated you roughly—grabbed, pushed, pinched, shoved, bitten, slapped or hit you?
- Hit you with an object or used a weapon, like a knife or gun, against you?
- Threatened to hurt or to kill you or your children or your friends?
- Forced you to have sex or to perform sexual acts when you did not want to?
- Threatened to harm or kill him or herself if you do or don’t do something?
If any of these things are happening to you in your relationship, or did happen to you, you may be a victim of domestic violence. Please talk with someone about what is happening to you and develop a safety plan.Myths and Facts about Domestic ViolenceMyth: I am to blame for my partner’s violence.Fact: No. Violence is never justified, no matter what problems might or might not exist in a relationship. One person cannot make another violent. If a person uses violence or coercion in a relationship, he or she does so by making a conscious choice to do so.Myth: Women are as violent as men.Fact: Women are not as violent as men in intimate relationships. FBI statistics show that in 85% of all domestic assaults, the man is abusing his female partner. The other 15% include women assaulting male partners, women assaulting female partners, and men assaulting male partners.Myth: My partner is only violent because she or he drinks and/or uses drugs.Fact: Alcohol and drugs do not cause violence. However, some people do make the choice to be abusive while under the influence. Additionally, the violence or abuse may be more severe when the person is under the influence. If a person abuses alcohol and/or drugs and is violent, this only means there are two problems he or she must take responsibility for. Seeking help for only the substance abuse will not end the violence.Myth: Couples counseling will end the abuse.Fact: Marriage/Couples counseling will not only not end the violence; it can actually increase the danger. If the abused partner feels safe enough to tell the counselor of the abuse, this may place her or him in greater danger once the couple leaves the counselor’s office. The theory behind most couples counseling is that there is a lack of communication and that both partners are responsible for the breakdown of the relationship. This places blame on the abused partner instead of recognizing that the only person responsible for the abuse and violence is the partner who chooses to use such behavior. In violent relationships, it is the abusive partner who must take responsibility for his or her behavior and seek specialized help. It is, however, always beneficial for the abused partner to seek support and individual counseling during this time.Myth: Stress causes domestic violence.Fact: Stress does not cause domestic violence. The only thing that causes domestic violence is a person’s decision to use violence and/or coercion against an intimate partner. For example, if stress caused people to be violent towards others, there would be many more reports of physical assaults at the workplace. However, batterers know that the consequence of assaulting a co-worker or boss at work will result in the loss of their job, therefore they choose not to be violent at work.Myth: People abuse their partners because they are out of control.Fact: People who use violence against their partners are in complete control and know exactly what they are doing. These individuals are usually not violent towards anyone but their partners or children. Battering is a choice.Safety PlanningWhether or not you are still living with your abusive partner, it is often helpful to develop your own safety plan. You can make one yourself or you can call a local domestic violence program and ask for assistance. If you do write out a safety plan, it is extremely important that you keep it in a safe place where your partner won’t find it.The following are some questions and suggestions that may be helpful in developing your safety plan. This is not intended to be a complete list, merely a starting point for you.If you are still living with your abusive partner:
- Can you teach your children to get out of the house, go to a neighbor’s and call 911 if they see or hear any violence? Do your children know how to use the phone to contact the police?
- Think of a safe place where you can go if an argument starts. Think about the different rooms where there are potential weapons that your partner could use. Is there a way you can avoid being trapped in the basement, kitchen, bathroom, garage, etc.?
- If you need to get out of your house in a hurry, what exit would you use? Which exits would be safe for you to leave from?
- Can you develop a routine where you leave the house every day; for example, to walk the dog, check the mail, go to the store? This would allow you the chance to leave if you needed to without drawing suspicion.
- Can you develop a code name with family and friends that will notify them that you need the police called immediately?
- If you need a place to stay for a while, where can you go? Is there a safe place you can go where your partner would not know how to find you? Do you have friends or family that you can arrange to stay with in a crisis? Do you know how to contact your local domestic violence shelter for a place to stay in case of an emergency? If not, call now and learn what their procedure is to get into emergency shelter.
- Can you ask your neighbors to call the police if they hear suspicious noises coming from your home? Could you set up a “signal” to alert them to call 911, such as turning on a porch light or drawing the blinds on a particular window?
- Can you keep some money, clothing and important documents in secret place so that you have access to them in an emergency? Can you keep this “escape bag” in the trunk of your car or with a neighbor or friend?
- Where can you keep important numbers for yourself and your children, for the police, domestic violence hotline, friends, etc? Keep some coins or a pre-paid calling card with you at all times so you can make a call from a public phone if you need to, or always keep a cell phone with you.
- Where can you keep your purse, car keys and pre-paid phone card, change or cell phone so that you can grab them quickly?
If you have left the relationship:
- If you can, change your phone number.
- Save and document all contacts, messages, injuries or other incidents involving your ex-partner.
- Screen your calls. If you can, use Caller ID and take photographs of all incoming calls from your ex-partner.
- If your ex-partner has a key, change your locks.
- Notify the local police that you have just left your abusive partner and request that they do extra “drive-by’s” of your home. Inform them of what your ex-partner looks like and what s/he drives. If you feel comfortable doing so, ask your neighbors to notify you if they see your ex-partner in the neighborhood or near your home.
- Avoid staying alone.
- If you can, try to leave and return home at different times each day in order to avoid establishing a noticeable routine.
- If you have to meet your partner, try to do so in a public place.
- If your ex-partner attempts to follow while you are driving, do not stop. Drive directly to the nearest police station.
- Read the suggestions for “If you are still living with your abusive partner,” as they will also apply to you.
High Risk IndicatorsWhile it is true that all abusers are dangerous, some are life threatening. There is no foolproof way to assess lethality, however, there are a number of indicators that should be seriously considered as very high risk:
- Threats of homicide or suicide.
- Availability of weapons, especially if they have been used before or if the abuser has threatened to use them.
- Escalation of risk-taking behavior without regard to consequence.
- If the abuser has killed or mutilated a pet.
- If the abuser believes you are his/her “property” and no one else shall have you.
- If the abuser feels totally dependent on you for support and believes s/he can’t live without you.
- Threats to take the children away where you will never see them again.
- If you have left the home/relationship.
If your partner (or ex-partner) is abusive, the most important thing to remember is that it is not your fault. It is equally important to do everything you can to keep safe. There are several things you can do to increase your safety, the first of which is to talk to someone about what you have been through. Call a support-line or a private therapist that has experience with domestic violence and ask for assistance in formulating your own safety plan.Leaving an abusive relationship can be a very dangerous time. If there comes a time when you fear for your safety, immediately call 911.Counseling and Referral Phone ListDomestic Violence/Sexual Assault Emergency Shelter and 24-Hour Crisis-Lines
- Oakland County HAVEN (248) 334-1274; (248) 334-1290 TYY
- Wayne County/Detroit My Sister’s Place (313) 921-1025
- Wayne County Interim House (313) 861-5300
- Wayne County/Westland First Step (734) 459-5900
- Washtenaw County Safe House (734) 995-5444
- Livingston County LA CASA/SARA (810) 227-7100
- Sexual Assault 1-877-666-3267
- Parent Help Line 1-800-942-4357
- National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233); 1-800-787-3224 TYY
Additional Domestic Violence Counseling and Assistance
- Oakland County Common Ground (248) 456-0909; (248) 456-1991
- HAVEN (248) 334-1274
- Oakland Family Services (248) 858-7766