Domestic violence is when one person in a relationship purposely hurts another person physically or emotionally. Domestic violence is also called intimate partner violence because it often is caused by a husband, ex-husband, boyfriend, or ex-boyfriend. Women also can be abusers.
People of all races, education levels, and ages experience domestic abuse. In the United States, more than 5 million women are abused by an intimate partner each year.
Domestic violence includes:
- Physical abuse – hitting, shoving, kicking, biting, throwing things
- Psychological or emotional abuse – yelling, controlling what you do or threatening to cause serious problems for you
- Sexual abuse – forcing you to do something you don’t want to do
- Isolation – keeping you away from family and friends
- Controlling all of your money, shelter, time or food
If you are in immediate danger, you can call 911, or leave.
Here is a list of possible signs of abuse:
- Monitors what you are doing all the time
- Constantly accuses you of being unfaithful
- Prevents or discourages you from seeing friends or family, or going to work or school
- Gets angry when drinking alcohol or using drugs
- Controls how you spend your money
- Controls your use of needed medicines
- Humiliates you in front of others
- Destroys your property or things that you care about
- Threatens to hurt you, the children, or pets, or does hurt you (by hitting, beating, pushing, shoving, punching, slapping, kicking, or biting)
- Uses or threatens to use a weapon against you
- Forces you to have sex against your will
- Blames you for his or her violent outbursts
Get Help for Domestic Abuse
Here are things you can do:
- Make a plan in case you need to leave. Set aside some money and find a place to go. Put important papers and items in a place where you can get them quickly. Review a full checklist of items you’ll need, such as marriage license, birth certificates, and checkbook.
- If you’re hurt, go to a local hospital emergency room.
- Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE or TDD 800-787-3224, which is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in English, Spanish and other languages. The Helpline can give you the phone numbers of local domestic violence shelters and other resources.
- Have a cellphone handy. Try not to call for help from your home phone or a shared cellphone since an abuser may be able to trace the numbers. If possible, get a prepaid cellphone or your own cellphone. Some domestic violence shelters offer free cellphones.
- Look up state resources for a list of local places to get help.
- Reach out to someone you trust — a family member, friend, co-worker or spiritual leader.
- Contact your family court (or domestic violence court, if offered by your state) for information about getting a court order of protection.
- If you can, hide an extra set of car keys so you can leave if your partner takes away your keys.
- When you leave, try to bring any evidence of abuse, like threatening notes from your partner or copies of police reports.
Domestic Violence Shelters and Transitional Housing
Domestic violence shelters offer victims of domestic violence and their children temporary housing as well as counseling and assistance. Other services may include job training, support groups and legal help. Transitional housing focuses on giving families a safe space and time to recover from domestic violence. Families live independently, in separate apartments, while they also receive counseling, job training, help finding affordable, permanent housing and legal help.
Why Women Don’t Leave
People who have never been in an abusive relationship may wonder, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” There are many reasons why a woman may not leave an abusive relationship. She may have little or no money and have no way to support herself and her children. She may reach out for help only to find that all the local domestic violence shelters are full. She may not be able to contact friends and family who could help her. Or she may worry about the safety of herself and her children if she leaves.
Older Women Face Unique Challenges
Women of all ages are at risk for domestic and intimate partner violence and face similar challenges when trying to leave an abuser, like feelings of shame and money concerns. However, older women face unique challenges. These women grew up and married during a time when domestic abuse was often ignored. Now, at an older age, they have endured many years of abuse and may have problems with poor self-image and shame. Older women who have been abused also are less likely to tell anyone about it; have health problems that keep them dependent on their abusive partner; feel committed to caring for their abusive aging partners; and are fearful of being alone.
National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life
National Domestic Violence Hotline
National Sexual Assault Hotline