Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article mentions sexual assault and domestic violence, which may be triggering for some. If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available. You can call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), text "START" to 88788, or use the online chat.
In legal terms, the definition of domestic violence (DV) can vary from state to state. In general, DV can occur between individuals in the family, current or past spouses, people who have a child or are expecting a child, people who live together, or people who are in (or have been in) a sexual or romantic relationship.
DV generally describes behaviors used to establish or maintain control over a relationship through acts such as intimidation, physical abuse, withholding money or gaslighting. Domestic violence can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, age, race, socioeconomic status, religion or sexuality.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, it can be helpful to learn more about what constitutes domestic violence and what resources are available to help. If you’re unsure what to do or if you want to talk with someone, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is a good first call. Read on to learn more about resources that can help.
What Is Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence is generally considered to be any pattern of behavior used in a relationship to establish or maintain control over someone else. DV can include many different forms of abuse. By learning more about the following types of abuse, you can be better prepared to recognize the signs of an abusive relationship.
Here are some examples to watch for:
Physical abuse can constitute any physical activity done to cause someone physical harm or fear of harm. Physical abuse increases in intensity over time, and might include actions such as:
- Throwing things
- Hitting, scratching, kicking, punching or biting
- Using weapons to intimidate or harm people
- Refusing someone medical care
- Any other physical force used to cause pain or fear
Many abusive relationships can include emotional abuse, which can be more subtle than physical violence for some. Examples and red flags that may indicate emotional abuse can include the following:
- Not wanting you to be with other people
- Insulting your physical appearance or intelligence
- Monitoring internet, social media, email or car usage
- Telling you how to dress
- Stonewalling or “ghosting”
- Making physical or emotional threats
- Second-guessing you
- Distancing you from family, friends, and/or co-workers
- Humiliating you publicly
- Accusing you of cheating
- Threatening to end the relationship
- Blaming you for their unhealthy behavior
- Gaslighting you (e.g. telling you that you’re being dramatic, that you’re overreacting, or that you’re being emotional or crazy)
- Dismissing your concerns
- Love bombing
If these red flags sound familiar, you might consider reaching out to a hotline, a trusted friend or family, or a licensed therapist. Abuse can increase your risk of developing mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use disorder, anxiety disorders, and/or major depressive disorder.
Sexual abuse can be common in cases of domestic violence. Possible signs of sexual violence may include:
- Physically forced or coerced intercourse
- Unwanted touching or sexual comments
- Violence or name-calling during sex
- Denying the use of condoms or other contraceptives
- Withholding sex
- Weaponizing sex
Sexual consent can be withdrawn at any time, and it cannot generally be given when the person is experiencing physical force, threats, intimidation, or deception; or when drugs, alcohol, unequal power dynamics, level of consciousness, or age makes someone unable to consent.
If your partner or anyone else violates your consent (regardless of whether you’re married), this may constitute sexual assault.
You can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline 24/7 at 800-656-HOPE (4673) to get information, advice, support or referrals. You can also use their online chat service.
Many people might stay in abusive relationships because of the possible economic dependence that can be created by economic abuse. Examples can include:
- Being given an “allowance”
- Not having your own money or bank account
- Asset hiding
- Using your credit cards to increase debt
- Harming your credit score and/or hiding bills
- Forcing you to quit your job or interfering with your earning potential
- Harassing you at work
- Not allowing you to go to school or attend career development opportunities
- Not letting you obtain basic necessities
- Stealing your identity and/or assets
- Not paying child support
Financial abuse can escalate over time.
Why Can It Be So Hard To Leave?
Domestic violence and abuse can make it difficult to leave toxic relationships. Some of the common reasons people don’t leave abusive relationships can include the following:
- Fear: Leaving a DV relationship can trigger worsening abuse, stalking behaviors, and threats of violence. Survivors may also be afraid of admitting that their relationship is unhealthy, or worry about being judged, marginalized, or blamed by others.
- Finances: It can be difficult to find a place to live, obtain groceries, keep a car, or find a job if financial abuse occurs in the relationship. Having no control of your bank account, a bad credit score and no savings can make it frightening to leave an abusive person especially if you have children and/or pets that you want to take with you.
- Unhealthy relationship models: Society and movies can sometimes normalize or idolize abusive behavior. Additionally, living with parents in an abusive relationship as a child may make you believe that abuse is normal.
Other reasons you may find it difficult to leave an abusive relationship can include believing that things will get better, trauma bonding with your abuser, social pressure to stay together, having a physical living space, being isolated from friends or family, your partner physically keeping you from leaving, unequal power dynamics, working together or having a child together.
Though it can be difficult to leave, having a plan can help.
Take Precautions When Considering Leaving
Domestic violence can threaten your safety. If you are worried about your safety, you can get help by calling emergency services and a domestic violence hotline immediately. You can take the following steps to help keep your physical location and communications undisclosed:
- Phone History: Consider being cautious about phone communication, especially if you have a common phone plan with your partner.
- Installed Spyware: Consider using computers available at work, a public library, or a friend’s house instead of at home.
- GPS Tracking: Remove GPS trackers (including Apple AirTags) from your vehicle and any purses, wallets, or bags that you carry with you.
- Having A Common Location: Consider checking to ensure you are not showing your Google Location, Find My Friends, or Find My Phone with your partner.
- Change Passwords: Consider using personal passwords for your phone PIN, email, and social media. Consider changing them frequently and using two-factor authentication.
- Clear Browsers: Consider regularly clearing your website browser, and feel free to use “quick exit” features on DV hotline websites if necessary.
The Safety Net Project generally has many resources available to help you keep your information and location undisclosed.
If you believe you may need to leave at some point, it can be helpful to gather the following supplies and store them in a safe location:
- A spare photo ID
- Essential personal documents; including birth certificates, vaccination records, and social security cards (both for you and your children)
- Spare car keys
- A phone charger
- A phone not associated with a common account (or plan with a friend or family to use their phone)
- The number of an advocate you can contact to help you get to a safe house
Domestic violence, with or without the presence of physical violence, can be serious. Consider making a plan and reaching out for help immediately.
Resources For Survivors
There are many programs and organizations that can offer resources, support services, referrals, recommendations, and guidance. These can include the following:
Hotlines And Chatlines
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH): Trained advocates are generally available here 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year at 1-800-799-7233. They can provide services such as personal crisis intervention, safety planning, information and referrals to agencies in all 50 states.
- The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence: (NRCDV) This is generally regarded as a domestic violence hotline that can offer advice and basic services for people who are surviving domestic violence or know someone who is. You can call them at 1-800-537-2238.
- National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women (NCDBW): NCDBW can help address the needs of people surviving domestic violence who have been charged with a crime related to the abuse they have experienced. You can call them at 800-903-0111 (ext. 3) or visit their website (www.ncdbw.org).
- Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN): This organization can provide free and undisclosed 24/7 support via phone (800-656-HOPE) or chat.
Many local organizations, including community centers, domestic violence shelters, churches, and colleges might offer free or affordable support groups for survivors. If you are having difficulty finding resources near you, advocates available at national hotlines may be available to help connect you to support groups.
Domestic Violence Shelters
If you don’t have anywhere to go after leaving an abusive situation, you can find a local domestic violence shelter or safe house. Often, shelters can help you connect to additional services, such as SNAP benefits, food pantries, counselors, and advocacy services.
- Some states may have a financial program for survivors of abuse. For example, Oregon is thought to have a Crime Victims’ Compensation Program at the time of this publication.
- You can look for a self-sufficiency program or child welfare program near you.
- Emergency financial services are generally designed to help you gain financial freedom from an abusive partner and can include money for the cost of moving, replacing clothes, and improving security.
Online Therapy Can Help — Here’s How
The experience of domestic violence can increase your risk of experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety disorders. DV can also put you at a higher risk of experiencing intimate partner violence in future relationships. However, online cognitive behavioral therapy can be helpful in reducing symptoms.
During DV-focused CBT sessions, therapists can work collaboratively with clients to educate them. Additionally, they can improve coping skills, challenge untrue thoughts, strengthen self-esteem and self-confidence, and build relevant skills (such as communication, problem-solving, and assertiveness skills).
The goal of CBT is often to re-evaluate unhealthy thought patterns that may develop in response to trauma.
If you want to attend therapy from anywhere (including your home, your car, or your friend’s house), you may prefer online therapy to in-person therapy.
Is Online Therapy Effective?
According to one peer-reviewed study, cognitive behavioral therapy can be effective at reducing symptoms of PTSD, depression, and anxiety disorder. Additionally, CBT can reduce the risk of further domestic violence.
Additionally, a 2021 study found information that suggests that online CBT tailored to survivors of domestic violence can be effective at reducing symptoms of PTSD, depression, and anxiety disorders.
Additionally, online CBT was suggested to improve the quality of life for many. Another study found that online therapy for domestic violence and sexual assault significantly reduced symptoms and participants rated it as more attainable than in-person therapy.
Some online therapists, who work through sites like BetterHelp, specialize in providing therapy services for survivors of domestic violence.
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