Domestic Violence Help & Support Groups

Updated March 14, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

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. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), text "START" to 88788, or use the online chat. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, you must call emergency services (dial 911 in the United States). 

In legal terms, the definition of domestic violence (DV) varies state to state. In general, DV can occur between family, current or past spouses, people who share 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 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.  

Are You A Survivor Of Domestic Abuse?

What Is Domestic Violence And Who Can Experience It?

Domestic violence is any pattern of behaviors used in a relationship to establish or maintain control over someone else. Though DV is often associated with heterosexual married couples, it can also occur between any ex-spouses, current spouses, people who live in the same household, people related to each other, people who share a child or are expecting a child, or people who have previously been in a romantic or sexual relationship. 

Domestic violence can occur in same-sex couples, and some studies find comparable or higher rates of DV in LGB relationships than in heterosexual relationships (possibly due to the experience of minority stress). Domestic violence can also occur against anyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, religion, current relationship status, age, race, or class. 

While DV is typically associated with physical violence, it 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: 

  • Physical Abuse

Physical abuse constitutes any physical activity done to cause physical harm or fear of harm. Oftentimes, physical abuse increases in intensity over time, and it can include:

  • Throwing things

  • Hitting, scratching, kicking, punching, or biting

  • Strangling

  • Using weapons

  • Harming or threatening to harm pets - In a survey of almost 2,500 survivors of domestic violence, the National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) found that almost half of respondents worried that their abuser would hurt or kill their pet(s)

  • Refusing medical care

  • Any other physical force used to cause pain or fear 

According to a 2010 CDC report, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men are estimated to experience a form of physical violence by an intimate partner at some point. The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) reports that physical violence may start or escalate if the survivor is attempting to end the relationship or if they become pregnant, which can cause fear and make it more challenging to leave an abusive relationship. Consider carefully protecting your communications, locations, web browser, and activities (discussed further down in this article) from your abuser, especially when making plans to leave. Many hotlines include a safety exit feature to quickly return to your web browser. 

  • Emotional Abuse

Likely every abusive relationship includes emotional abuse, which can be more subtle than physical violence. Frequently, emotional abuse is used to manipulate, isolate, frighten, control, create dependency, and/or damage self-esteem and self-confidence. Examples and red flags that may indicate emotional abuse include the following

  • Not wanting you to hang out with other people

  • Insulting your physical appearance or intelligence

  • Monitoring internet, social media, email, or car usage

  • Name calling

  • 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 (ex: 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 should 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, inclusion post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use disorder, anxiety disorders, and/or major depressive disorder. 

  • Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is common in cases of domestic violence, and it can oftentimes be subtle. 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, or stealthing

  • Withholding sex

  • Weaponizing sex

Sexual consent can be withdrawn at any time, and it cannot be given under physical force, threats, intimidation, 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

  • Economic Abuse

Many people stay in abusive relationships because of economic dependence created by economic abuse. Examples include

  • Giving an “allowance” 

  • Not letting you have access to your own money or bank account

  • Hiding assets 

  • 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

Economic abuse can create an unequal power dynamic and often is used to manipulate, intimidate, or trap people in abusive relationships. Financial abuse may escalate over time and may be used more frequently during pregnancy, if a child is shared, or when a survivor tries to leave the relationship. 

Why It's 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 include the following: 

  • Fear: Leaving a DV relationship often triggers worsening abuse, stalking behaviors, and threats of violence. Physical violence and threats are often used to make survivors fearful of leaving. 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 occurred in your relationship. Having no control of your bank account, a bad credit score, and no savings can make it frightening to leave your abuser, especially if you have children and/or pets that you want to take with you. 

  • Unhealthy relationship models: Society and movies sometimes normalize or idolize abusive behavior. For example, love bombing is often portrayed as romantic in movies. Additionally, living with parents in an abusive relationship as a child may make you believe that abuse is normal. 

  • Low self-esteem and shame: Emotional abuse is often used to break down self-esteem and build unhealthy dependency. Additionally, sexual abuse often results in shame and guilt.

  • Cyclical abuse: Abuse is often followed by apologies, minimizing behavior, and the abuser trying to make up for their abuse. 

Other reasons you may find it difficult to leave an abusive relationship include believing that things will get better, trauma bonding with your abuser, social pressure to stay together, sharing a physical living space, being isolated from friends or family, your partner physically keeping you from leaving, unequal power dynamics, working together, or sharing a child. Though it can be difficult to leave, having a plan can help.

Take Precautions 

Domestic violence can threaten your safety. If you are worried about your safety, 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 discreet:

  • Phone History: Be cautious about phone communication, especially if you share a 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 AirTag) from your vehicle and any purses/wallets/bags that you carry with you.

  • Sharing Location: Ensure you are not sharing your Google Location, Find My Friends, or Find My Phone with your partner.

  • Change Passwords: Use safe passwords for your phone PIN, email, and social media. Consider changing them frequently and using two-factor authentication.

  • Clear Browsers: Clear website browser, and use “quick exit” features on DV hotline websites if necessary.

The Safety Net Project has many resources available to help you keep your information and location discreet. 

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 (for you and your children)

  • Spare car keys

  • Cash 

  • Phone charger

  • A phone not associated with a shared 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, is 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 include the following:

  • Hotlines And Chatlines

    • The National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH): Trained advocates are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year at 1-800-799-7233. They provide services such as confidential crisis intervention, safety planning, information, and referrals to agencies in all 50 states. 

    • The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence: (NRCDV) This is a domestic violence hotline that offers advice and basic services for people who are facing 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 helps address the needs of people living with 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 (

    • Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN): This organization provides free, confidential, 24/7 support via phone (800-656-HOPE) or chat

  • Support Groups 

    • Many local organizations, including community centers, domestic violence shelters, churches, and colleges 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. Oftentimes, shelters can help you connect to additional services, such as SNAP benefits, food pantries, counselors, and advocacy services. The easiest way these days is by searching online for "domestic violence counseling near me" to get the list of your nearest options.

  • Other services 

    • Some states may have a financial program for survivors of abuse. For example, Oregon has a Crime Victims’ Compensation Program

    • You can look for a self-sufficiency program or child welfare program near you. 

    • Emergency financial services are designed to help you gain financial freedom from an abusive partner and can include money for the cost or moving, replacing clothes, and improving safety measures. 

Are You A Survivor Of Domestic Abuse?

Why Try Therapy?

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. According to one peer-reviewed study, cognitive behavioral therapy is effective at reducing symptoms of PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Additionally, CBT reduces the risk of further domestic violence. 

During DV-focused CBT sessions, therapists work collaboratively with clients to educate them, 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 therapy from anywhere (including your home, your car, or your friend’s house), you may prefer online therapy to in-person therapy. A 2021 study found that online CBT tailored to survivors of domestic violence was effective at reducing symptoms of PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Additionally online CBT was shown to improve quality of life. Another study found that online therapy for domestic violence and sexual assault significantly reduced symptoms and participants rated it as more reachable than in-person therapy. Some online therapists, who work through sites like BetterHelp, specialize in providing therapy services for survivors of domestic violence. 

Counselor Reviews

"Dr. Walsh has been very supportive in helping me with abuse issues and depression. She has taken lots of time with me, and I appreciate how far I've come with her guidance."

"Sharon Valentino has helped me through so much! Since we started working together, just a few months ago, I already feel like I have more power and control over my life. I have let go of some very painful things, I have moved away from abusive relationships and really gaining skills and tools I need to keep myself safe and happy. She has taught me that I have the power to control my thoughts, my anxiety, and most of all my company. I really like how direct she is, it helps me get grounded and connect to myself. I can't wait to see where I am after working with her a year!!!"


Domestic violence (DV) can occur in many types of relationships, and it can take many forms. Types of DV include physical abuse, emotional abuse, economic abuse, and sexual abuse. Though it can be very challenging to leave an abusive relationship, there are resources available. Hotlines, support groups, therapy, legal services, advocacy groups, emergency shelters, and financial services can help you get safe and gain independence. Research shows that online cognitive behavioral therapy can effectively reduce symptoms of depression, PTSD, and anxiety in survivors of domestic violence. 

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