- Domestic abuse is any pattern of behaviors used by one person to control and maintain power over another in a relationship or living environment. Domestic abuse and violence affects 10 million Americans each year.
- Domestic abuse affects both men and women, with women suffering at higher rates. Instances of abuse against male victims are likely underreported, due to stigma, shame, or fears of disbelief.
- Domestic violence and abuse can take the form of physical actions, such as hitting, slapping, or choking, but can also be emotionally-based, including blackmail, verbal threats, and cyberstalking.
- Domestic abuse routinely follows a three-part cycle: The tension-building phase (the abuser gets angry and the victim braces for abuse), the crisis phase (the abuse occurs), and the honeymoon phase (the abuser apologizes and love-bombs the victim, promising never to act out again).
- Despite what abusers may tell victims, it’s best to leave a household where abuse is occurring—but extreme caution should be used. Helpful resources for victims are linked below at the bottom of this article.
Domestic abuse is a pervasive issue within the United States, and is a form of mistreatment and control that can be inflicted physically emotionally, sexually, verbally, and even financially. Domestic abuse is typically committed by an intimate partner, roommate, or relative. Domestic abuse is often a cyclical process that affects a victim’s life in numerous ways, including their emotional, physical, and financial well-being.
Unfortunately, domestic violence is underreported, leaving victims unprotected from their abusers. And in unsafe situations, especially if gaslighting tactics are involved, victims may also not recognize that they are being abused.
Even for those who are not currently in an abusive relationship with a family or partner, being able to clearly identify patterns of abuse and knowing what outlets are available for victims can help minimize the damage caused by domestic violence, and prevent it from continuing.
What Classifies As Abusive Behavior?
A domestic abuser is someone who routinely violates the emotional and/or physical boundaries of another person(s) that they live with. Abusive behavior is any unwarranted action that threatens the safety and security of someone else.
Though men commit acts of domestic abuse at higher rates than women, it’s also suspected that male victims routinely underreport abuse or violence from their partners or family members, due to shame, fear of ridicule, or being blamed themselves. That said, women suffer from domestic abuse at a higher rate than men — 1 in 4 women, compared to 1 in 10 men. In total, 10 million American adults are affected by domestic abuse annually.
Domestic abusers may not fully recognize that their actions are wrong—but often, they use the emotional or physical leverage they have on their victims to justify their actions. This can cause domestic violence and abuse to go unreported.
What Are Domestic Acts of Violence?
Acts of domestic violence are aggressive, abusive behaviors that threaten the safety of another person within the same household, usually an intimate partner or family member. These acts are not always physical; domestic abuse can also be emotionally inflicted.
According to the Department of Justice, domestic abuse can take the form of physical, sexual, emotional, economic, psychological, or technological actions or threats.
What Are Examples of Domestic Abuse?
Examples of domestic abuse can include physical actions such as:
- Gun violence
- Sexual assault
- Throwing objects
- Imprisonment or forced confinement
Other non-physical forms of domestic abuse can involve:
- Emotional abuse, such as threats, insults, controlling behavior, or intimidation
- Blackmail and financial manipulation
- Controlling a partner or adult family member’s phone and internet access
- Locking the intimate partner or family member out of the house
- Stalking and forms of cyberstalking, such as harassment on social media
Domestic abuse is not usually a one-time event but is often part of what is known as the domestic abuse cycle.
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What Are the 3 Phases of the Domestic Abuse Cycle?
Domestic abuse is defined as a pattern of violent or abusive behavior perpetuated against other members of a household. Domestic abusers and their victims routinely experience a three-part cycle, which includes the:
- Tension-building phase: In this portion of the domestic abuse cycle, the abuser will start to get angry, communication often breaks down, and the victim feels uneasy, expecting abuse to occur.
- Crisis phase: At this point in the cycle, the victim will experience abuse at the hands of their abuser.
- Honeymoon phase: Once the abuse has ceased, the victim is often showered with apologies or gifts from their abuser. They may promise to never hurt them in the same way again, and show genuine remorse.
One of the most difficult aspects of domestic abuse cycles is that both the victim and the abuser may genuinely care for each other. The abuser may feel ashamed of their actions, and the victim may feel they have played a role in aggravating them. But unless it’s a case of mutual domestic abuse (which is less common, but does occur), the cycle isn’t broken until the victim chooses to leave, or other individuals intervene.
In cases of domestic violence or abuse, it’s often difficult or impossible to use common relationship counseling techniques to mend the situation, such as the Gottman Method. This is because trust and respect between two abusers, or a victim and an abuser, has deteriorated to the point that the relationship is not healthy enough to be salvaged.
In instances such as these, mental health professionals nearly always recommend that both parties seek individual counseling.
What Happens in Cases of Domestic Abuse?
The outcome of domestic abuse situations depends on what steps are taken to separate the victims from their abusers. If law enforcement intervenes, an abuser may be arrested — but not always, especially if officers can’t establish probable cause.
Typically, if law enforcement is called by either party or a witness to the scene to moderate a domestic abuse situation or dispute, the two partners or family members are separated for a short period (perhaps a day or more) to allow the situation to de-escalate.
In other cases, such as a victim fleeing their residence, many states allow victims of domestic violence and abuse to terminate leases without penalties. Employers and other organizations have similar rules pertaining to domestic violence situations that aim to support victims.
Women’s and children’s shelters also offer support, concealment, and assistance to those suffering from domestic violence and abuse.
Do Domestic Abuse Cases Go to Court?
It depends. Sometimes the victim wishes to press charges against their abuser, but even if they don’t, district attorneys and police officers will investigate, seeking to file charges if the evidence points clearly to either party.
If they do wish to seek justice in a court of law, testifying against the former partners or family members who abused them can be triggering and highly traumatic for victims of domestic abuse. Taking legal action against a former or current abuser is a personal choice, and the outcome of such cases is never certain.
Domestic Abuse Hotline and Other Resources for Victims
Many victims simply wish to escape their abuser and move forward with their lives. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and abuse, the following resources can offer hope, protection, and immediate guidance. Just be sure to delete your internet search history, and use personal electronic devices and phones that are not monitored by an abuser.
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline
- National Resource Center on Domestic Violence
- National Runaway Safeline
- Break the Cycle
- Domestic Violence Initiative
Domestic abuse is a serious and potentially deadly situation to be caught in. Those who are seeking help should use caution, and despite what their abusers may say, it’s always best to leave in situations where abuse is occurring. And with time, hope, and a support system that encourages them, survivors of domestic abuse can go on to lead fulfilling, happy, and independent lives.