Identifying Domestic Violence and Ways to Stay Safe
First off, let us applaud you for having the courage to seek out the answer to this very vulnerable and scary question.
Whether or not your partner is abusive, you feel in your gut that you are not being treated as you should. We would like to remind you of what you already know but may need to hear again: you were created in the image of God who also chose you to be His because of His unconditional love for you. Your identity is found in Him and it is a beautiful, strong, and worthy identity. You are made to love and be loved. Humans will fail you and hurt you, but the one who pledges their love to you should purpose to treat you as the child of The King that you are.
You are worthy to be loved, acceptable, loveable, beautiful, strong, courageous, wanted, and the list goes on. If you are treated less than this on a regular basis, we would encourage you to seek solid and safe counsel on the best way to move forward.
The Definition of Domestic Violence
“Domestic violence is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. It includes physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, and emotional abuse. The frequency and severity of domestic violence can vary dramatically; however, the one constant component of domestic violence is one partner’s consistent efforts to maintain power and control over the other.” National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Domestic violence is also called intimate partner violence (IPV), domestic abuse, or relationship abuse. Often when people hear “domestic violence” they immediately think of physical abuse. Although physical abuse is definitely a type of domestic violence, it is not the only type. Emotional and psychological abuse can be just as extreme and damaging. Any relationship based on fear, power, and control is abusive. When one person scares, hurts, or continually puts down the other person, it is abuse.
You did not cause the abuse. It’s not your fault.
If you read nothing else, read this, you did not cause the abuse. It’s not your fault. There is nothing you could have done or not done or can do or not do that would stop the abuse. The abuse has nothing to do with you and everything to do with your partner and his/her need for control.
Signs of Domestic Abuse
At the beginning of a relationship, the signs of domestic abuse aren’t always easy to recognize. Abusive behaviors usually appear gradually and increase in intensity and frequency over time. Every abusive relationship looks differently, but there are signs that are common among most. Here are some taken from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence website:
Does your partner …
- Embarrass or make fun of you in front of friends or family? Put down your accomplishments or goals?
- Make you feel like you are unable to make decisions? Use intimidation or threats to gain compliance?
- Tell you that you are nothing without them?
- Treat you roughly — grab, push, pinch, shove or hit you? Threaten or abuse your pets?
- Call you several times a night or show up to make sure you are where you said you would be?
- Use drugs or alcohol as an excuse for saying hurtful things or abusing you?
- Blame you for how they feel or act?
- Pressure you sexually for things you aren’t ready for?
- Make you feel like there “is no way out” of the relationship?
- Prevent you from doing things you want, like spending time with your friends or family?
- Try to keep you from leaving after a fight, or leave you somewhere after a fight to “teach you a lesson?”
Do you …
- Sometimes feel scared of how your partner will act?
- Constantly make excuses to other people for your partner’s behavior?
- Believe that you can help your partner change if only you changed something about yourself?
- Try not to do anything that would cause conflict or make your partner angry?
- Feel like no matter what you do, your partner is never happy with you?
- Always do what your partner wants you to do instead of what you want?
- Stay with your partner because you are afraid of what your partner would do if you broke up?
The abuser will say they are sorry, that it won’t happen again, and may even be willing to go to counseling. This phase can last a few days to a few months but the abuse will begin again. I believe there is hope for everyone, and there is also wisdom in knowing patterns of destruction. The usual course of an abusive partner will only increase in intensity and frequency of violence.
The abuse will become significantly greater when the abuser feels he or she is losing control, such as when pregnant or after having a child or if you decide to leave. This is not to scare you but to help you understand the great need for support in a safety plan.
If you are still in the relationship:
- Have quick access to important phone numbers such as the local police, local domestic violence shelter, etc.
- Come up with a code word for your safe person(s) to know you are in danger.
- If you have children discuss a safety plan with them, a safe place they can go, knowing how and when to dial 911.
- Have your important documents, medications, proof of abuse (texts, emails, etc.) in one place so that you can grab them quickly if you need to leave.
If you have left the relationship:
- If you have left and need to return home for something do not go alone (even if the abuser isn’t there), you can ask for a police escort or bring family or friends with you.
- Change your phone number and other contact information.
- Consider getting a restraining/protective order. Speak to an advocate and find out if that is a good option for you—every situation is different.
- Screen your calls.
- Save and document all contact, messages, injuries, or other incidents involving the abuser.
- Change your locks.
- Avoid being alone.
- Plan how to get away if confronted by the abuser.
- If you have to meet the abuser do it in a public place.
- Vary your routine.
- If you have a restraining or protective order, always have a copy with you. Leave a copy at work. If you have children, leave a copy at your children’s school and every place your children might spend time (childcare center, grandparents, friends, etc.).
- Find out if there is a domestic violence response policy at your work place and ask questions if you don’t understand how it works.
If you are in immediate danger, call 911. If you need immediate assistance finding a safe place to stay, call your local domestic violence shelter — they often have someone to answer the phone at all hours. The domestic violence shelter can also walk you through a safety plan over the phone. Safety is the most important thing. Once you are safe you can begin making plans for long-term safety and healing.
Reach out to a trusted family member or friend that will believe you without judgment and be willing to help you stay safe. It is often difficult to explain the abuse to others who know your partner because he or she usually shows no abusive signs outside of the home.
Make an Appointment with Watershed Counseling
If you are in an abusive relationship or think that you might be, we encourage you to reach out and make an appointment with us. Together we can work through decision making, safety planning, boundary building, and the healing process.
Many don’t understand why you would want to stay or why it is so hard to leave, but we know that this decision is not made lightly or easily. There is no judgment or shame with any decision you make regarding your relationship. We would be honored to help you get to a place of safety, peace, confidence, and healing.