October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, an important time to shed light on this often hidden social issue.
Domestic violence, also called intimate partner violence, encompasses harmful actions used to control a romantic or dating partner. While awareness is growing, domestic abuse remains a widespread problem impacting millions.
However, help is available through supportive services and safety planning. This article defines domestic violence, explores its prevalence and risk factors, and provides guidance on recognizing abuse and accessing support.
Together we can spread understanding and help end intimate partner violence.
Defining Domestic Abuse
Domestic violence is when one partner uses abusive tactics to control and have power over the other in a close relationship. These harmful actions can take many forms:
- Physical abuse – hitting, slapping, shoving, strangulation, throwing objects.
- Sexual abuse and coercion – unwanted touch, rape, pressure or force to engage in sexual acts.
- Emotional/mental abuse – verbal threats, harassment, intimidation, humiliation, isolation from friends and family.
- Digital abuse – monitoring online activity, cyberstalking, image-based sexual abuse.
- Financial abuse – complete control of money and possessions.
- Reproductive coercion – tampering with birth control, pressure to get pregnant.
- Stalking – persistent calling, texting, following, showing up uninvited.
These actions happen in cycles, with tension building up until there is an abusive outburst. After that, there is a period of calm before it starts again. The frequency and severity tends to escalate over time.
Who Does it Impact?
- 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men in the U.S. experience intimate partner violence.
- Intimate partners have stalked 18.3 million women and 5.1 million men during their lifetime.
- Intimate partners kill 1 in 6 homicide victims, and partners kill over half of female homicide victims.
- Domestic violence disproportionately impacts marginalized communities including racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities, immigrants, people with disabilities, those living in poverty.
- While abuse affects people of all ages, those ages 18-24 are at greatest risk.
- Many high school students in the US experience physical abuse from their dating partners, with about 1.5 million affected each year.
Recognizing Abusive Dynamics
Because domestic violence often begins subtly and escalates gradually, many victims do not realize they are in an abusive relationship. They may mistakenly believe jealousy, possessiveness, verbal putdowns and other controlling behaviors are normal for romantic partnerships. However, the following signs could indicate an abusive relationship:
- A partner who belittles you or tries to control your behaviors, relationships, or access to resources like money, employment, transportation.
- Someone who pressures or forces unwanted sexual contact without regard for consent.
- A partner who checks your cell phone frequently, follows you, destroys your belongings, or stalks you in person or online.
- Physical violence of any kind like hitting, shoving, throwing objects, or unwanted restraint.
- Threats to harm you, loved ones, or pets if you don’t comply with demands.
- Intimidation and threats related to your documentation status, sexuality, custody rights, or other vulnerabilities.
- Isolation from family and friends or loss of autonomy over social connections and daily activities.
If you see a pattern of multiple controlling, harmful behaviors from your partner, you could be experiencing domestic abuse.
Many myths persist around domestic violence that prevents victims from recognizing it and seeking help. Common misconceptions include:
Myth: It only happens to certain people. Fact: Abuse can happen to anyone regardless of gender, age, race, education, income level, or other demographics.
Myth: Physical abuse is worse than emotional abuse. Fact: All forms of domestic violence inflict harm with long-term impacts on health and well-being.
Myth: Victims must be passive or submissive. Fact: Victims have varied personalities – abusive dynamics can happen between any personality types.
Myth: If it was really bad, victims would just leave. Fact: Leaving is difficult due to safety, money, immigration, support, kids, and other reasons.
Myth: Abusers lose control. Fact: Abusive actions serve to deliberately establish power and control over a partner.
Myth: Victims must have low self-esteem or mental health issues. Fact: Abuse happens to people from all backgrounds and psychological profiles.
Myth: Victims are codependent and partially to blame. Fact: Abuse stems from the abuser’s choice to use unhealthy tactics for power and control in a relationship.
Myth: Only physical harm constitutes domestic violence. Fact: Physical violence is just one potential aspect of a broader pattern of abusive and controlling behaviors.
Myth: Abuse doesn’t happen in LGBTQ relationships. Fact: Domestic violence occurs within all relationship configurations at comparable rates to heterosexual couples.
Recognizing these misconceptions helps us identify abuse that is often downplayed or normalized.
Please contact the National
Domestic Violence Hotline at
1-800-799-7233 to develop a
detailed, safety plan that is
specific to your unique situation.
If you are experiencing intimate partner violence, know that help is available through confidential domestic violence hotlines and programs. These services aid with:
- Safety planning for how to protect yourself and loved ones. Safety plans can include escape routes, emergency contacts, shelters, code words, and more.
- Connecting to counseling services, support groups, healthcare, legal advocates, and other resources.
- Finding emergency or transitional housing and assistance with relocation.
- Navigating the legal system if pursuing protective orders or pressing charges.
- Accessing culturally competent support that addresses unique needs of marginalized communities.
- Providing crisis intervention, ongoing case management, and long-term rebuilding of security and autonomy.
You do not have to manage abuse alone. Advocates can help assess options, weigh risks and benefits, and walk with you on a path towards security and peace.
The Power of Community
While intimate partner violence is often unseen, it thrives on silence. We all have a role to play in bringing it to light and supporting survivors. Here are some ways individuals and communities can make a difference:
- Believe and support victims when they share their experiences. Provide nonjudgmental listening and avoid victim-blaming attitudes.
- Learn warning signs of abuse to recognize it in your own relationships as well as among family, friends, and coworkers. Check in with loved ones you have concerns about.
- Become familiar with local domestic violence agencies offering resources in your community. Display their hotline information.
- To help abuse victims overcome obstacles, it is important to support stronger government actions. These actions include providing housing help, paid time off, immigration protection, and enforcing restraining orders.
- Promote healthy relationship education among adolescents and young adults. Model respect, consent and equality in your own relationships.
- Interrupt comments, jokes or media narratives that trivialize, victim-blame or make light of domestic violence.
- Organize awareness activities through your workplace, school, faith community or local organizations.
- Make financial donations to domestic violence programs addressing this urgent need.
We all have a role to play in cultivating a society that does not tolerate partner violence. Together we can lift the social stigma and create paths to safety for survivors.
Healing from domestic abuse requires understanding, courage, persistence, and support. But transformation is possible.
Participating in Domestic Violence Awareness Month helps shine a light on this often unspoken reality for the millions of survivors worldwide.
It shows victims they are not alone on the journey to wholeness. It grows public awareness and social change necessary to end intimate partner violence.
We have more work to do, but we can build a society that is fair, safe, and empowering for everyone.