Some people have a hard time defining what domestic violence is. Many believe that domestic violence is purely physical. They believe that if no one has ever laid a hand on them, it’s not something they can define as domestic violence. The truth is domestic violence comes in many different forms besides physical abuse. It’s important to understand what domestic violence is so you can determine if you are experiencing domestic violence. The United States Office on Violence Against Women (otherwise known as the O.V.W.) has recently released an official definition of domestic violence. They define domestic violence as “a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.” The keywords here are “power and control”. This means that you could be experiencing domestic violence under many different forms of abuse.
Defining Domestic Violence
Here are the different forms of abuse that all fall under the category of domestic violence:
- Physical Abuse: This is the most common form of domestic abuse. Hitting, slapping, biting, punching, or kicking are all classified as physical abuse. If someone is keeping you from medical attention, this is also considered physical abuse.
- Emotional Abuse: This is when the individual seeking power uses criticism to hurt the other person. They’ll usually attack the victim’s self-esteem or self-worth. Name calling, put-downs, and verbal attacks are all considered emotional abuse. The point is to make the victim feel worthless.
- Psychological Abuse: Psychological abuse is much like emotional abuse, but it can easily go undetected. Usually, the abuser will use fear or intimidation to control a victim. They will often threaten to hurt the victim or themselves. They might use isolation as a tool to control the victim as well. Keeping them from friends, family, work or school could be a sign of psychological abuse.
- Sexual Abuse: Coercing a partner to have sex or perform sexual acts unwillingly is classified as sexual abuse. It doesn’t matter if you’re married or not. Marital status doesn’t determine if an abuser can force themselves upon a victim. Often, abusers will force sex upon their victims after physical abuse.
- Economical Abuse: This form of abuse is carried out through financial means. This is when the abuser is trying to exert power by controlling all of the victim’s funds. They’ll often threaten to take food and shelter away or deny them the right to employment.
As you can see, domestic violence is much more than just physical abuse. The main concern for the abuser is to gain power and control over their partners or spouses. They can use a number of different forms of abuse to attain this power. If you think you’re experiencing domestic violence, remember to be aware of these various acts that all fall under the umbrella of domestic violence.
What To Do When Experiencing Domestic Violence
A common phrase that many victims of domestic violence hear is, “just leave”. Unfortunately, it’s never that simple. Those who have experienced domestic violence understand that there are many variables that could be holding you back. However, if your life is being threatened, you need to contact help immediately and devise an exit strategy. Hotlines like 800-799-SAFE can be a helpful resource for victims. It’s also important to have a trustworthy family attorney involved so you can be aware of your rights. If you are experiencing domestic violence, you need to be ready when you have the opportunity to leave.
Here are some tips to remember when making a plan to exit an abusive relationship:
- Have a set location. Determine a safe place that you can go to that your abuser is unaware of or won’t suspect. Contact a friend or family member that can help you identify where you should go. Consider contacting shelters, police stations, or fire stations to help you find your safe place.
- Have money set aside. Ask a friend or family member if you can borrow money. Be sure that the abuser doesn’t know where it is or who is helping you.
- Have a bag packed with essentials and leave it with a friend or family member. Try not to leave an escape bag in the house. Be sure to have a set of clothes, important documents, and/or medication if necessary.
- Have a code word with friends or family so they know when you’re in a moment of danger.
- When researching help and setting a plan, never use a computer or laptop that the abuser also has access to. Use computers at local libraries or community centers so they’re not aware of your browsing history.
- Be sure to memorize phone numbers of crisis hotlines and close friends and family so you can contact them from any phone.