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Recognizing, Stopping Domestic Violence

separator Domestic violence isn’t always easy to recognize right away. It can sometimes take a while before you realize, “Domestic violence is happening to me.” It can start with your partner being verbally abusive, saying things that embarrass you and things that are unkind. Then maybe your partner tells you you’re “not allowed” to spend time with certain people, you’re “not allowed” to go places you enjoy.

You may start to wonder whether the things your partner says are right. Maybe you are dumb. Maybe the people you care about aren’t good for you. Maybe you shouldn’t go for lunchtime walks with co-workers, even though you enjoy it and it makes you feel good.

If you are the abused partner, you may feel so ashamed that you don’t want to tell people you’re being abused. You might not want people to think you’re allowing that kind of thing to happen to you. You may be afraid to leave your partner, especially if you’re not financially independent. You may be afraid to leave because you’re afraid your partner will hurt you or your children. Your self esteem drops practically to zero.

Recognizing the signs
In a healthy relationship, both people respect each other. If they disagree, they’re able to discuss the issue. They don’t get caught up in the typical domestic violence cycle: 
  • Acting out a pattern of violent arguments and physical or verbal abuse
  • Promising never to harm again, and forgiveness on the part of the abused person
  • A “honeymoon” phase in which things are calm for a while, and then
  • Violent arguments, which begin the cycle all over again.

Ask yourself the following questions. Does your partner

  • “Put you down” verbally by telling you you’re stupid or by using other embarrassing words?
  • Make all the decisions—about how to spend money, how to decorate the house, where to take vacations and how to spend free time?
  • Prevent you from seeing friends or family that you care about?
  • Take your money, make you ask for money or refuse to give you money?
  • Scare you with guns, knives or other weapons?
  • Push you or hit you?
  • Ruin your belongings or harm, or threaten to harm, your pets?
  • Threaten to kill you?
  • Threaten to commit suicide?

Violence against women is against the law
If you answer yes to even one question, you may be in an abusive relationship. Staying in it won’t make it better, and things will probably get worse. Even if you’re afraid, you need to reach out. Call a mental health professional, who can educate you about domestic violence and counsel you about what you need to do to make yourself safe. Confide in a friend or co-worker you trust.

It doesn’t matter who the violent person is—husband, boyfriend, ex-husband, first date. Just because it’s someone you know doesn’t make it any less serious. Violence against women is a crime that you need to do something about.

Take that first step: reach out for help
Bringing your situation to the attention of others is the first crucial step you need to take to get yourself out of an abusive situation. It can be difficult to take that first step, but you’re likely to find that friends or co-workers and others who care about you have suspected you were in trouble, wanted to help, but didn’t know how to approach you. They’ll probably be glad you’ve come to them for help.

There are many different ways you can reach out:

  • Call your local women’s shelter and go there to get educated about domestic violence and about what you need to do to get our of your current situation
  • Tell a healthcare provider you trust
  • Tell a mental health professional
  • If you don’t feel comfortable calling any of these professionals first, tell your best friend or close family member and let them know you want to change your situation. Ask them to help you make a plan.

You can also call the 24-hour number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

Recognizing Abuse in a Friend
If you suspect a friend or family member is being abused, it’s common to feel like you shouldn’t interfere. Maybe you think it’s not your business. Or you may be so uncomfortable about the situation that you do nothing, simply because you don’t know what you should do. You don’t want to embarrass the person you care about, and you don’t want to make things worse.

Here are some signs that a person may be in an abusive situation:

  • Bruises, cuts, fractures, etc., especially around the eyes, nose, teeth and jaw
  • Injuries during pregnancy, miscarriage or birth
  • Inappropriate clothing that may be used to hide injuries, such as sunglasses, long sleeves on a hot day, etc.
  • Stress-related problems such as stomach aches and headaches or trouble sleeping
  • Anxiety-related conditions, such as racing heart or feelings of panic
  • “Family problems”
  • Alcohol or drug addiction
  • Attendance problems at work and trouble completing projects
  • Harassment at work by the abuser, either in person or on the telephone
  • Withdrawal from co-workers and friends 

Ways to Help
Set up a private place and time when you can express concern. Mention the things you’ve noticed that have led you to suspect something’s going on at home. Be supportive and patient. Understand that domestic violence can’t be solved in a day. Sit down with your friend and suggest a plan for helping to deal with the situation. Have some numbers of hotlines and mental health counselors available. Explain how important it is to get assistance and how difficult it is to figure out, alone, how to get out of an abusive situation.

Educate yourself about domestic violence by visiting the Web sites listed at the end of this article, by reading books about domestic violence or by asking a mental health professional for information and advice.


  • Wait for your friend to come to you
  • Judge or blame
  • Pressure your friend to act immediately

Don’t be Silent
Whether you’re in an abusive situation or you have a friend who needs help, don’t keep things hidden. Have the courage to bring the situation to light. Do so cautiously, and with professional help, but by all means do it.

If you need crisis intervention immediately, the 24-hour number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

For more information about domestic violence, visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Families and Children page. Click on the “Family Issues” link.

National Domestic Violence Hotline; S. Murphy-Milano. Defending Our Lives. Anchor Books, New York, New York, 10036, 1996; The US Department of Health and Human Services.
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