Domestic Abuse

Topic Overview

Everyone gets angry from time to time. Anger and arguments are normal parts of healthy relationships. But anger that leads to threats, hitting, or hurting someone is not normal or healthy. This is a form of abuse. Physical, verbal, or sexual abuse is not okay in any relationship. When it occurs between spouses or partners or in a dating relationship, it is called domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse is also called intimate partner violence or domestic violence. It is not the same as an occasional argument. It is a pattern of abuse used by one person to control another.

In addition to violence between intimate partners:

Domestic violence can happen to anyone, at any age, no matter what race or religion people are, no matter what their level of education is or how much money they make. Both men and women experience domestic abuse. It is a common form of violent behavior and is a major problem in the United States.

Signs of abuse

Does your partner:

  • Embarrass you with put-downs?
  • Look at you or act in ways that scare you?
  • Control what you do, who you see or talk to, or where you go?
  • Stop you from seeing your friends or family members?
  • Take your money or paychecks, make you ask for money, or refuse to give you money?
  • Make all of the decisions?
  • Tell you that you're a bad parent or threaten to take away or hurt your children?
  • Prevent you from working or going to school?
  • Act like the abuse is no big deal or is your fault, or even deny doing it?
  • Destroy your property or threaten to kill your pets?
  • Intimidate you with guns, knives, or other weapons?
  • Shove you, slap you, choke you, or hit you?
  • Threaten to commit suicide?
  • Threaten to kill you?
  • Prevent you from using birth control or from protecting yourself from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)/HIV?

If any of these things are happening, you need to get help. It's important to know that you are not alone. The way your partner acts is not your fault. There is no excuse for domestic violence. Help is available.

Domestic abuse and your health

Living in an abusive relationship can cause long-term health problems. Some of these health problems include:

Women who are sexually abused by their partners have a greater chance of having sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancies, and other problems.

Violence can get worse during pregnancy. Abused women are more likely to have problems such as low weight gain, anemia, infections, and bleeding during pregnancy. Abuse during this time may increase the baby's risk of low birth weight, premature birth, or death.

How to get help

Abusers often blame the victim for the abuse. They may say "you made me do it." This is not true. People are responsible for their own actions. They may say they are sorry and tell you it will never happen again, even though it already has.

After abuse starts, it usually gets worse if you don't take steps to stop it. If you are in an abusive relationship, ask for help. This may be hard, but know that you are not alone. Your family, friends, fellow church members, employer, doctor, or local police department, hospital, or clinic can help you. These national hotlines can help you find resources in your area. Call:

  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline toll-free at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233), or see the website at www.ndvh.org.
  • The National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline toll-free at 1-866-331-9474 or (1-866-331-8453 TTY).
  • The Childhelp Line toll-free at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453), or see the website at www.childhelp.org.

Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor or get other help.

Check Your Symptoms

Do you have a concern about abuse taking place in your home?
Answer the questions for the person you are concerned about, whether that person is you or someone else.
Yes
Concern about domestic abuse
No
Concern about domestic abuse
How old are you?
Less than 12 years
Less than 12 years
12 years or older
12 years or older
Are you male or female?
Male
Male
Female
Female
Are you in physical danger right now?
Yes
Immediate physical danger
No
Immediate physical danger
Yes
Sexual abuse or assault
No
Sexual abuse or assault
Was the assault recent enough that there may still be physical evidence?
For example, your body or clothes could have evidence of the assault that needs to be examined.
Yes
Physical evidence of recent assault
No
Physical evidence of recent assault
Has someone physically hurt or abused you?
Yes
Physical abuse
No
Physical abuse
Did the physical abuse occur in the past 24 hours?
Yes
Physical abuse occurred in the past 24 hours
No
Physical abuse occurred in the past 24 hours
Do you have a serious injury?
Yes
Serious injury
No
Serious injury
Is there someone who can safely take you to get emergency care right now?
Yes
Someone is available to help
No
Someone is available to help
Yes
Abusive partner
No
Abusive partner
Are you worried that your partner may hurt you or your children?
Yes
Concerned about safety of self or children because of partner
No
Concerned about safety of self or children because of partner
Do you have concerns about any other type of abuse?
Abuse can be physical, sexual, or emotional. It also can include neglect.
Yes
Other concerns about abuse or neglect
No
Other concerns about abuse or neglect

Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:

  • Your age. Babies and older adults tend to get sicker quicker.
  • Your overall health. If you have a condition such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, or heart disease, you may need to pay closer attention to certain symptoms and seek care sooner.
  • Medicines you take. Certain medicines, herbal remedies, and supplements can cause symptoms or make them worse.
  • Recent health events, such as surgery or injury. These kinds of events can cause symptoms afterwards or make them more serious.
  • Your health habits and lifestyle, such as eating and exercise habits, smoking, alcohol or drug use, sexual history, and travel.

Seek Care Today

Based on your answers, you may need help soon.

Call your local YMCA, YWCA, hospital, clinic, or police department, or call an abuse hotline.

You may also call 911 .

Call 911 Now

Based on your answers, you need emergency care.

Call911or other emergency services now.

If you have just been sexually abused or assaulted, try to preserve any evidence of the attack.

  • Do not change your clothes.
  • Do not bathe, shower, brush your teeth, or clean up in any way.
  • Do not eat or drink anything.
  • Do not smoke.
  • Write down everything you can remember about the assault and about the person who assaulted you.

Seek Care Now

Based on your answers, you may need help right away.

Call your local hospital, clinic, or police department, or call an abuse hotline.

You may also call 911 .

Neglect is a form of abuse. It happens when caregivers do not protect the health and well-being of the person they are supposed to take care of.

Two common types of neglect are:

  • Child neglect. This happens when parents (or other caregivers) fail to provide a child with the food, shelter, schooling, clothing, medical care, or protection the child needs.
  • Elder neglect. This includes failing to provide an older person with food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and other basics. Neglect can include failing to pay nursing home or medical costs for the person if you have a legal responsibility to do so.

Physical abuse may include:

  • Acts of physical violence, like hitting, pushing, shaking, slapping, kicking, pinching, choking, strangling, and burning.
  • Threats of physical violence against you, your family, or your pets.

Sexual abuse is any type of sexual activity that is done against your will. It can be:

  • Nonviolent sexual abuse, such as unwanted touching or being forced to watch or look at sexual pictures.
  • Violent sexual assault, such as rape or forced oral sex.

Try Home Treatment

You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.

  • Try home treatment to relieve the symptoms.
  • Call your doctor if symptoms get worse or you have any concerns (for example, if symptoms are not getting better as you would expect). You may need care sooner.

Domestic violence, also called intimate partner violence, is a pattern of abuse in which one person uses fear and intimidation to gain power and control over a partner or family member. It may involve physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, such as:

  • Physically hurting or threatening to hurt you, your children, or your pets.
  • Controlling behavior, such as limiting contact with your family or friends, or limiting your access to money.
  • Spying or checking up on you, such as repeatedly calling or texting you for no good reason.
  • Calling you names, insulting you, or putting you down in front of others.
  • Forcing you to have sex.

Home Treatment

After abuse starts, it usually gets worse if steps are not taken to stop it. If you are in an abusive relationship, ask for help. This may be hard, but know that you are not alone. Help is available. Call:

  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline toll-free at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233), or see the website at www.ndvh.org.
  • The National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline toll-free at 1-866-331-9474 or (1-866-331-8453 TTY), or see the website at www.loveisrespect.org.
  • The Childhelp Line toll-free at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453), or see the website at www.childhelp.org.

If you are in an abusive relationship, it is very important to develop a plan for dealing with a threatening situation. If your partner has threatened to harm you or your child, seek help.

  • Anytime you are in danger, call 911.
  • If you do not have a safe place to stay, tell a friend, a religious counselor, or your doctor. Do not feel that you have to hide what is happening with an abusive partner.
  • Have a safety plan for how to leave your house, where to go, where to stay, and what to take in case you need to get out quickly.
  • Do not tell your partner about your plan so you stay safe once you are away.
  • For more help in developing your plan, call:
    • The National Domestic Violence Hotline toll-free at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233), or see the website at www.ndvh.org.
    • Your local police department, hospital, or clinic for the local crisis line or for names of shelters and safe homes near you.

Here are some other things you can do:

  • If you are seeing a counselor, be sure to go to all appointments.
  • Teach your children how to call for help in an emergency.
  • Be alert to warning signs, such as threats or drinking. This can help you avoid danger.
  • If you can, make sure that there are no guns or other weapons in your home.
  • If you are working, contact your human resources department or employee assistance program to find out what help is available to you.

If you are no longer living with a violent partner, contact the police to get a restraining order if your abuser continues to pursue you, threaten you, or act violently toward you.

If you have been a victim of abuse and continue to have problems related to the abuse, you may have depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For more information, see the topics Depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

If you know someone who may be abused

Here are some things you can do to help a friend or family member.

  • Let your friend know that you are willing to listen whenever she or he wants to talk. Don't confront your friend if she or he is not ready to talk. Encourage your friend to talk with her or his health professional, human resources manager, and supervisor to see what resources might be available.
  • Tell your friend that the abuse is not her or his fault and that no one deserves to be abused. Remind your friend that domestic violence is against the law and that help is available. Be understanding if she or he is unable to leave. Your friend knows the situation best and when it is safest to leave.
  • If your friend has children, gently point out that you are concerned that the violence is affecting them. Many people do not understand that their children are being harmed until someone else talks about this concern.
  • Encourage and help your friend develop a plan for staying safe while in an abusive relationship. Help if she or he is preparing to leave a violent relationship. Learn about how the person can stay safe after leaving.
  • The most dangerous time for your friend may be when she or he is leaving the abusive relationship, so any advice about leaving must be informed and practical.

The most important step is to help your friend contact local domestic violence groups. There are programs across the country that provide options for safety, support, needed information and services, and legal support. To find the nearest program, call:

  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline toll-free at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233), or see the website at www.ndvh.org.
  • The National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline toll-free at 1-866-331-9474 or (1-866-331-8453 TTY).

Symptoms to watch for during home treatment

If problems from domestic abuse become more frequent or severe, call your doctor to determine if and when you need to see your doctor or get other help.

Prevention

To prevent injury from domestic violence

It's also important to watch for signs of teen relationship abuse in your teen so you can help him or her with any problems.

Preparing For Your Appointment

To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.

If you have made an appointment with your doctor, you may be able to get the most from your visit by being prepared to answer the following questions:

Domestic violence

  • Have you ever been emotionally or physically abused by your partner or someone important to you? When was the last time this happened?
  • Have you been hit, slapped, kicked, or otherwise physically hurt by someone? What kind of injuries do you have? Did you seek medical treatment for the injuries? When and where?
  • How long has someone else's violent behavior made you feel afraid or threatened?
  • Has anyone forced you to have sexual activities?
  • Does your partner control most or all of your activities every day?
  • Has your partner threatened violence against your children? Is he or she violent toward your children?
  • Has your partner hurt a pet or destroyed things that belong to you?
  • Does your partner use alcohol or legal or illegal drugs? Does the abuse happen when the abuser is drunk or "high"?
  • Does your partner have access to guns or other violent weapons?
  • Has your partner ever been diagnosed with depression or a mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or personality disorder?
  • Do you have any risk factors?

Other Places To Get Help

Organization

National Domestic Violence Hotline (U.S.)
Web Address: www.ndvh.org

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Current as of June 4, 2014

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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