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Now that you're here, it’s time to talk about a different kind of pattern: domestic violence is a dangerous and often violent pattern of behavior used by one partner or loved one to maintain power and control over another.

Is there a partner or loved one in your present life or from your past that makes you feel afraid or frightens you by what they say or do? Do they insult you, humiliate you, threaten you, or try to control what you do? Have they ever physically hurt you?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, your life could be in danger.

Domestic violence can, and often does, include physical and sexual violence, but it is also often accompanied by verbal abuse, emotional abuse, financial control, isolation, manipulation, threats, and intimidation. It is often illustrated using the Power and Control Wheel (below) which describes the different ways an abusive person can attempt to maintain power and control over another. While these forms of abuse are common, this is not an exhaustive list. Everyone’s experience with domestic violence is unique. It is also important to note that many dangerous or abusive relationships do not include any physical violence at all.

The original Power and Control Wheel was developed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project.

In abusive relationships, the violence often occurs in a repetitive cycle known as the Cycle of Violence.

During the “seduction” or “honeymoon” phase, peace and relative happiness are commonly felt. Weeks, months, or even years can go by without a violent or explosive incident. These moments of genuine love and happiness are the realization of what a victim has desired all along and the hope that fuels a victim’s belief that the violence is finally behind them and that the abusive partner has changed.

However, this is hardly ever the case. In fact, the time between a full rotation of the cycle can start becoming shorter and shorter, with violent incidents occurring more frequently and increasing in severity, even to the point of the “honeymoon” phase disappearing altogether. The relationship then simply oscillates between tension-building and violent outburst continuously.

There are some behaviors in a violent or dangerous relationship that put a victim at an even higher risk of being seriously hurt or even murdered by their abusive partner. Those are:

  1. Stalking: a person who is being stalked by their abusive partner or an ex-partner is 2x more likely to be seriously injured or murdered by that person. Stalking can include behaviors like: monitoring a person’s activities; constantly or repetitively attempting contact; showing up wherever they are; driving by their house, school, or workplace; sending unwanted gifts or messages; hacking into their accounts; destroying their things; or threatening to harm them or their loved ones.

  2. Sexual Violence: a person who has been forced to participate in any kind of sexual activity that they did not want to do is 2x more likely to be seriously injured or murdered by the abusive partner.

  3. Owning or Having Access to Firearms: when an abusive partner owns or has easy access to firearms, the victim is 5x more likely to be seriously injured or murdered by that partner. That level of lethality increases to 20x more likely if the abusive partner has threatened a victim or used that firearm against the victim.

  4. Strangulation or Choking: the use of strangulation in an abusive relationship is an especially dangerous and severe form of abuse. The abuser is literally in control of the victim’s next breath. A victim can pass out within 5-10 seconds, involuntarily urinate on themselves within 15 seconds, involuntarily defecate on themselves within 30 seconds, and die within 1-3 minutes. If an abuser is a strangler, the victim is 7.5x more likely to be seriously injured or murdered by that partner. While most strangulation is manual (using hands), the same severe effects can occur through similar actions such as: putting a victim in a chokehold; pinning a victim against the wall by their neck; sitting on their chest; putting a pillow over their face; covering their mouth and nose; holding them under water; or wrapping an item around their neck like a cord, necklace, or scarf. Visible injuries only show up half of the time, and deadly complications can occur days, weeks, or even months after the strangulation occurred including miscarriage and stroke.

  5. Threats to Kill: if an abusive partner threatens to murder their partner, the abuser is 15x more likely to carry out or attempt to carry out the threat.

Dangerous and abusive partners hardly ever act this way at the beginning of the relationship, otherwise it would be much easier and simpler to sever all ties with that person from the get-go. This means that most of the overtly scary behavior occurs once the abusive partner becomes somehow tethered to the victim, either through becoming mutually exclusive, moving in with the partner, marrying the partner, impregnating the partner, or simply establishing a long-term relationship with the partner.

These scary behaviors coupled with the ties that hold the violent relationship together (such as marriage, mutual children, joint property or assets, etc.) and barriers to leaving (such as a victim’s unemployment, lack of support from friends or family, children’s desires for the family unit to remain together, lack of knowledge of the local culture or language, negative experiences reporting abuse in the past, etc.) can make it incredibly difficult for a victim to not only leave a violent relationship but to do so safely.

The immediate period of time following a separation is when a victim is most at risk of being murdered by their partner. Most domestic violence homicides occur after the victim has left the abusive partner. This means that, while encouraging a victim to simply “leave” or “call the police” is well-intentioned, these suggestions often put the victim in even more danger. It is very common for victims to leave and return to a violent relationship an average of 5-10 times before finally leaving for good. Victims return for a number of different reasons including an abuser’s promises to change, increased threats and violence from the abuser, and a victim’s inability to take care of themselves or their children while away from the abuser.

Aside from the more overt signs that a person is controlling or violent, there are some early red flags that can signal danger. These include:

  1. They want to get involved fast: Right away, they want you to promise to only be with them. They make extreme declarations like “No one’s ever loved me like you do.”

  2.  They are very jealous: They want to make sure you aren’t with anyone else. They call all the time or show up to check on you without telling you they’re coming.

  3. They want to control you: They want to know who you talked to and where you were. They check the mileage on your car, keep all the money, or make you ask for permission to go anywhere or do anything.

  4. They expect you to be perfect: They expect you to know what they want and to meet their every need.

  5. They cut you off from others: They don’t want you to see your friends and family. They won’t let you have a phone or car or they control how often you get to use them. They don’t want you to work or try to keep you home at all times.

  6. They blame others for their problems: If anything goes wrong, it’s always someone else’s fault: the boss, the neighbor, a parent, you. Everyone is out to get them.

  7. They blame others for their feelings: They say things like, “You hurt me by not doing what I tell you,” or “You make me mad,” rather than “I’m mad.”

  8. They get upset easily: They get mad about things that are just a part of life.

  9. They hurt animals and children: They kill or punish animals. They want children to do things they can’t or tease them until they cry.

  10. They use force during sex: They enjoy throwing you down or holding you down against your will during sex. They say that they find the idea of rape exciting.

  11. They say things to hurt you: They always criticize you or say cruel things. They put you down, curse you, or call you ugly names.

  12. They think women should obey men or that men should obey women: They want you to serve, obey, and stay at home.

  13. They have sudden mood swings: They switch from sweet and loving to angry very quickly.

  14. They have hit partners before: They admit to having hit partners in the past or other people warn you that they have been violent with partners before.

  15. They say they will hurt you: They say things like “I’ll break your neck,” or “If you ever leave me, I’ll kill you,” and then say “I didn’t really mean it,” or “I was just kidding.”

If you or anyone you know has experienced domestic violence or is currently experiencing it, you are not alone. There is help and hope available.

If you are in the United States, you can call the 24/7 National Domestic Violence Hotline from anywhere in the country at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). They can find help for you in your area, connect you to resources, and create an emergency safety plan for you over the phone.

If you are outside the United States and it is safe to do so, initiate an internet search to help find an advocacy center or hotline in your country.

You can also use the following safety tips to help you create or strengthen your own safety plan. Remember, YOU are the expert in your situation and YOU know what is best for you and your family. Do whatever will keep you and your children safe and dismiss whatever will put you in more danger. Your unique safety plan should change whenever anything in your relationship changes.

SAFETY PLAN TIPS

  • Keep your phone charged and with you at all times. Similarly, make sure your car always has gas.

  • Keep an emergency bag for yourself somewhere where your partner won’t easily find it but where it’s easy for you to get to if you ever need to flee. It should include things like a change of clothes, money, medicines, and originals or copies of important documents.

  • Call 911 or police if you ever feel scared, nervous, or threatened.

  • Consider filing for a Protective Order or Order of Protection in your jurisdiction.

DURING A VIOLENT INCIDENT

  • Try to remove yourself and your children from a situation before a violent episode erupts. Think of multiple reasons your abuser might believe for you leaving the house at different times of the day or night so that you can step out when the tension is escalating.

  • Try to stay away from areas that have sharp or heavy objects or firearms such as the kitchen, garage, workshop, bathroom, etc. Stay away from your children so that they don’t try to get involved and so that your partner doesn’t hurt them also, whether accidentally or purposely.

  • If you can’t get away from the violence, dive into a corner and curl yourself up into a ball. Bring your knees to your chest, curl your head and neck into your knees, and put your hands and arms over your head to protect your head and abdomen.

IF YOU DECIDE TO LEAVE OR SEPARATE FROM YOUR PARTNER

  • Make a safety plan for if you have time to plan and prepare before leaving and another for if you have to leave in a hurry.

  • If you can, call for police to escort you and your children out of your home as you leave.

  • Get a bank account that is only in your name and start putting as much money as you can in it without your partner getting suspicious. If you can’t open an account, see if a trusted friend or family member can hold your money for you.

  • If you have pets, make arrangements for them to be cared for in a safe place.

  • Consider opening a safety deposit box to keep all of your important documents in.

  • Ask trusted friends and family if they would take you and your children in during an emergency or if you ever have to leave your home.

  • Practice your safety plan with your children if it is safe to do so. Plan for what you will do or say if your children accidentally tell your partner about your plan.

  • Memorize important phone numbers (of friends, family, law enforcement, and emergency shelters) in case your partner ever takes or breaks your phone.

  • When you are leaving, take originals or copies of all important documents such as IDs, passports, money and/or credit cards in your name, social security cards, marriage license, divorce and custody documents, car title, etc. Remember to also take your keys, valuable jewelry, medicines, and any evidence you have of your abuse if you can.

No one deserves to be hurt. Please reach out for help.