Domestic Violence: Recognizing Abuse

IMAGE Anyone can be the victim of domestic violence. Recognizing the characteristics of an abuser and having a safety plan in place can save your life.

What Is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is violent or controlling behavior directed by a person toward a current or past intimate partner. Intimate partners can be any two people that are dating or living together, married, separated, or divorced. Domestic violence is also referred to as battering or partner violence. The abuse can be physical, emotional, and/or sexual, and may occur occasionally or often.Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior in which the abuser is trying to gain and maintain power and control over the victim. According to Elaine Alpert, MD, MPH, associate professor of public health and medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine in Boston, "Many victims of domestic violence have been led to believe that the problems they see in their relationship are their fault. They think it is their responsibility to change themselves and/or their partner so that the abuse will end. However, the abuse is NOT the victim's fault. It occurs no matter what the victim does." Over time, domestic violence usually occurs more frequently and worsens. It often follows a three-stage cycle:
  • Stage 1—Tension builds. The abuser may criticize and threaten the victim.
  • Stage 2—The abuser becomes physically violent and/or emotionally abusive.
  • Stage 3—The abuser apologizes, promises to change, and may seem very loving. Although the apologies and apparent acts of love may offer hope that things will change, the cycle of violence almost always starts again. It does not end until the abuser seeks help and makes a concerted effort to change or the victim leaves.

Who Is Affected?

Domestic violence cuts across all ages and all economic, educational, cultural, and religious backgrounds. Although most of the victims are women abused by men, domestic violence is also committed by women against men and in gay and lesbian relationships. Children are also at risk of exposure to domestic violence.

What Are the Characteristics of an Abuser?

Although abusers come from all walks of life, they tend to have some characteristics in common, such as:
  • Being possessive and jealous of any other relationships their partner has
  • Wanting to exert control to keep their partner from leaving
  • Being verbally and/or physically hurtful
  • Blaming others for their problems
  • Being moody and explosive (eg, quickly moving between abusive and loving)

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