If you’re being threatened or stalked, call 911 and report it to the police. If you’re in an abusive situation, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY). All calls are toll-free and confidential.
I’ve been working with survivors of domestic violence for years, starting as a volunteer while I was in college. I can tell you from experience that the statistics are right: this is an issue that affects every neighborhood, every kind of person, and every gender/sexuality. It’s happening right now all across the country, and it’s awful.
Domestic violence takes many forms. Emotional abuse, financial abuse, or just plain physical/sexual violence. A good definition of domestic violence overall is
“a pattern of behavior used to establish power and control over another person, often including the threat or use of physical violence.”
While domestic abuse is difficult to track as folks don’t want to report it, the numbers we do have are frightening:
- 1 in 3 women will experience domestic violence during their lifetimes. 1 in 4 men will be.
- In the US a woman is assaulted or beaten every 9 seconds.
- Intimate partner violence accounts for roughly 15% of all violent crime.
- Domestic violence is one of the leading causes of homelessness.
- Women ages 18 to 34 are at the highest risk of becoming victims of domestic violence.
- 1 in 17 women and 1 in 18 men report being stalked by an intimate partner to the point they were concerned about their safety and that of their loved ones.
It goes on and on, but you get the idea: this is a big problem and one that a lot of people are happy to ignore. To be fair, it can be hard to spot as abusers are often quite charming at first and very good at slowly and subtly isolating their victims from friends and family. By the time the victim realizes what’s happening, it can feel like it’s too late. The abuser has control of their movements, finances, children, pets, and other things that can keep them hostage. Very often there’s a tremendous sense of shame that comes with all of this—abusers love to target self-esteem.
How do you know if you’re in an abusive relationship? Ask yourself the following questions. Does your partner:
- Accuse you of cheating, infidelity, or being disloyal?
- Say or do things to make you feel worthless?
- Hit, kick, choke or beat you?
- Threaten to hurt you or someone you love?
- Try to control what you do, who you see, and where you go?
- Isolate you from friends, family, or live outside the home?
- Pressure or force you into unwanted sex?
- Control your finances or access to money?
- Stalk you or monitor your movements, including calling you constantly or following you?
If these things are happening, or starting to happen, you’re in an abusive situation, and you need to get out. Help is available if you need it; the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Safe Horizon both have hotlines which are toll-free and anonymous. No one deserves to go through this kind of abuse. No one.
After you’ve left an abusive situation, you may feel the need to defend yourself. Make sure you acquire the right skills and know how to use the tools that you select. Having your weapon used against you makes the situation that much worse.
So what do you do if you suspect a friend or loved one is being abused—or if they tell you that they are? Just listening and being available is a big step. As we’ve discussed, they probably feel isolated and alone. Just talking to someone who believes them is a big help. Tell him or her that you’ll keep everything they say confidential, and that you’re not going to judge them for anything that happened. Make it clear that you know it’s not his, or her, fault. Remind them that no one deserves this, that you’re worried about their safety, and that the abuser isn’t going to change no matter what they do or say. Have local resources available—I promise there’s a domestic violence shelter near you—and ask what you can do to help. Don’t pressure them to leave. They know they need to, they just have to find the right way to do it. Urging them can put them in greater danger. And don’t confront the abuser yourself. That’s guaranteed to make things worse.
Domestic violence and spousal abuse are ugly and evil, and they can do a lot of damage, but I promise you can get out and that your life can go on. I hope this article helps you if you need it.