Domestic Violence


Domestic violence: Constitutes the willful intimidation, assault, battery, sexual assault or other abusive behavior perpetrated by one family member, household member, or intimate partner against another. In most state laws addressing domestic violence, the relationship necessary for a charge of domestic assault or abuse generally includes a spouse, former spouse, persons currently residing together or those that have within the previous year, or persons who share a common child. In addition, as of 2007, a majority of states provide some level of statutory protection for victims of dating violence.

Dynamics of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is about power and control. The abuser wants to dominate the victim/survivor and wants all the power in the relationship-and uses violence in order to establish and maintain authority and power. Perpetrators of domestic violence are usually not sick or deranged, but have learned abusive, manipulative techniques and behaviors that allow them to dominate and control others and obtain the responses they desire.

An abuser will often restrict a victim's outlets, forbidding the victim to maintain outside employment, friends, and family ties. This has an isolating effect, leaving victims with no sup

port system, and creating dependency. Abusers also limit a survivor's options by not allowing access to checking accounts, credit cards or other sources of money or financial independence. 


The Effects of DV include:

Nightmares and sleep disturbances;
Difficulty concentrating;
Low self-esteem;
Shame and embarrassment;
Chronic physical complaints;
Substance abuse;
Social withdrawal;
Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness;
Numbness; and
Hyper-vigilance (inability to relax, jumpiness)  

Domestic violence victims will often blame their own behavior, rather than the violent actions of the abuser. Victims may try continually to alter their behavior and circumstances in order to please the abuser-believing that if they follow certain rules and make sure the abuser is happy-they will not be hurt. However, violence perpetrated by abusers is often self-driven and depends little on victims' actions or words.

 Domestic violence victims may minimize the seriousness of incidents in order to cope, and not seek medical attention or assistance when needed. Victims, because they fear the perpetrator and may be ashamed of their situation, may be reluctant to disclose the abuse to family, friends, work, the authorities, or victim assistance professionals. As a consequence, they may suffer in silence and isolation.

Perpetrators of Domestic Violence:  

 There is no typical domestic violence perpetrator, but psychologists have identified some common characteristics. Many abusers suffer from low self-esteem, and their sense of self and identity is tied to their partner. Therefore, if abusers feel they are somehow losing the victim, either through separation, divorce, emotional detachment, or pregnancy (fearing victims will replace love for them with love for a child), they will lash out. If victims "leave" through any of these methods, abusers feel they are losing power, control, and their self-identity. This is why it is particularly dangerous for victims during periods of separation or divorce from their partner. Abusers will often do anything to maintain control and keep the victim under control. This dynamic also makes escalating violence inevitable, as many victims must become emotionally unavailable, or must physically leave, in order to survive.

While the public may think of domestic violence abusers as out of control, crazy, and unpredictable, the contrary is most often true. Use of psychological, emotional, and physical abuse intermingled with periods of respite, love, and happiness are deliberate coercive tools used to generate submission. Abusers may violently assault, then minutes later offer words of regret. Many will buy gifts of flowers, candy and other presents in order to win favor and forgiveness. This creates a very confusing environment fo

r victims. Abusers may say they will never harm their partners again, and promise to obtain help or counseling. Often, these promises are only made to prevent victims from leaving. Without getting help, the violence will most likely recur.

The violence used by abusers is controlled and manipulative. Victims often can predict exactly when violence will erupt. Many law enforcement officers have commented on their surprise at finding significant evidence of a violent incident, a harmed victim, and a composed perpetrator casually speaking with officers as if nothing occurred.

Domestic violence victims are often exposed repeatedly to threats, violence, intimidation, and physical, emotional and psychological abuse. Constant, repeated exposure to violence has a profound effect on a victim's daily activities and functioning, thinking, interpersonal relationships, and sense of self. Some victims, because of the chronic nature of the violence, may develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a mental health disorder characterized by flashbacks, significant anxiety, depression and fatigue.

Perpetrators of domestic violence may constantly criticize, belittle and humiliate their partners. Causing the victim to feel worthless, ugly, stupid and crazy does not allow for a survivor's healthy self-perception. Low self-esteem may contribute to victims feeling they deserve the abuse, affecting their ability to see themselves as worthy of better treatment.

Finally, many victims describe domestic violence perpetrators as having a "Jekyll and Hyde" personality. Abusers often experience dramatic mood swings of highs and lows. They may be loving one minute, and spiteful and cruel the next. Abusers are frequently characterized by those outside the home as generous, caring, and good, and behave drastically differently in their home environment. Perpetrators of domestic violence are rarely violent to those outside of their domicile.

to: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Why Victims May Stay:

Very few individuals would become involved in a relationship they knew to be violent. Domestic violence has subtle origins. What starts out as love, courtship and concern, may turn into domination, forced adherence to rigid sex roles and obsessive jealousy. Victims are not masochists. They do not enjoy being hurt, abused, battered and controlled. Victims may stay with someone who is abusing them for various reasons which include:

      • Fear of the abuser;
      • Love;
      • Threats to harm the victim, loved ones or pets;
      • Threats of suicide;
      • Believing the abuser will take their children;
      • Religious reasons;
      • Believing the abuser will change;
      • Self-blame;
      • Limited financial options;
      • Believing that violence is normal;
      • Believing in the sanctity of marriage and the family;
      • Limited housing options;
      • Blaming the abuse on alcohol, financial pressures, or other outside factors;
      • Low self-esteem;
      • Fear of the unknown, of change;
      • Isolation;
      • Embarrassment and shame;
      • Believing no one can help;
      • Cultural beliefs;
      • Denial; and
      • Pressure from friends and family to stay. 

Suggestions for Domestic Violence Survivors:

  • Contact a local domestic violence program. These programs are in many communities around the country and can provide: counseling and support groups; information about legal options, the criminal justice system, and social services; shelter; attorney referrals; vocational counseling; safety planning; and case advocacy. Programs will assist victims regardless of their decision to stay in, or leave, the relationship.
  • Create a comprehensive safety plan. With assistance from a victim service professional, victims should create an individualized plan for safety in all situations, including a checklist of necessary items to take when leaving an abusive situation. For more safety planning suggestions, please refer to the GET HELP bulletin entitled, Domestic Violence: Safety Plan Guidelines.
  • Consider legal options. In every state, domestic violence is a crime. For information on criminal penalties for abusers, and protections for victims through the criminal justice system, victims should contact local law enforcement or prosecutor's office. Reporting domestic violence incidents may raise safety concerns, so this option should be discussed with a victim service professional. Whether victims choose to report, it may be helpful to document evidence of abuse (i.e., pictures, witness statements, tape recordings), to be used in criminal proceedings, or in custody or divorce hearings. Every state also has a process for obtaining civil protective orders (also known as no contact orders, or restraining orders) that prohibit contact between an abuser and a victim. For more information on civil protective orders, victims should contact a local domestic violence program. 

If Someone you Know is Involved in an Abusive Relationship:

  • Become involved. Advise victims of ways you can help (i.e., providing housing, money, child care, etc.). Help victims locate shelter and resources. Offer to call attorneys or make appointments with social service agencies. Provide transportation to the appointments and support throughout the decision-making process. If you hear a violent incident occurring, call the police.
  • Demonstrate concern. Tell victims the abuse is not their fault. Let them know you are afraid for their welfare and the welfare of their children. Many victims may not be able to see the harm violence does to their family until someone outside the family voices their concern. Hearing that others see the effects of violence on the children will often prompt victims to seek assistance.
  • Provide support and encouragement. Victims should hear from friends and family that they are worth better treatment and deserve to be loved. Supportive positive messages may enable victims to find the strength within themselves to escape the violence. Understand if victims are reluctant to leave: staying may be a survival strategy. Let victims know you are willing to help when they are ready to ask for assistance. 



Tjaden, Patricia & Thoennes, Nancy.  National Institute of Justice and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, "Extent, Nature and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey." (2000). U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Intimate Partner Violence in the United States," December 2006.

Catalano, Shannan M. "Criminal Victimization, 2005."  (Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2006).U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Family Violence Statistics," June 2005.

Benson, Michael and Fox, Greer. "When Violence Hits Home:  How Economics and Neighborhood Play a Role," (Washington, DC:  National Institutes of Justice, 2004).

Nicolaidis, Christina et al., "Violence, Mental Health and Physical Symptoms in an Academic Internal Medicine Practice," Journal of General Internal Medicine 19 (2004).

National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Domestic Violence: 2003 Supplement," (New York: National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 2004).


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