Anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse. It can happen to people of any age, race,
religion, ethnic group, or socioeconomic or educational background. Women are by far
the most common victims, but men can be victims, too. Domestic abuse can affect people
in all kinds of relationships, straight or gay, married, divorced, living together,
Though domestic abuse is common, it is often hidden. Many victims remain silent out of shame or fear or because they don't know that help is available.
Recognizing domestic abuse
Recognizing abuse is the first step toward getting help. Not all abuse involves hitting
or threats of physical violence. Remember that someone who is scared, denied access
to money, or put down is being abused as well. It might be you, your mother, your
sister, your child, a friend.
Domestic violence and abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of physical stature, income, or gender, yet the problem is often overlooked, excused, or denied. This is especially true when the abuse is psychological, rather than physical.
Domestic abuse often escalates from threats and verbal abuse to physical violence. And while physical injury may be the most obvious danger, the emotional and psychological consequences are also severe. The abuser may also threaten or hurt those around the abused. Emotionally abusive relationships can destroy your self-worth, lead to anxiety and depression, and make you feel helpless and alone.
Defining an abuser
There are many signs of an abusive relationship. The most telling sign is fear of
a partner. If someone feels they have to constantly watch what they say and do in
order to avoid a blow-up, its likely the relationship is unhealthy and abusive. Other
signs of an abusive relationship include when someone tries to belittle, control,
or isolate his or her partner from family members and friends. An abuser doesn't "play
fair." Abusers use fear, guilt, shame, and intimidation to wear their target down
and control him or her. The abused person may have feelings of self-loathing, helplessness,
Abusers can control their behavior; they do it all the time.
Abusers choose whom to abuse. They don't insult, threaten, or assault everyone in their life who angers or annoys them. They usually abuse the people closest to them, the ones they claim to love.
Abusers choose when and where to abuse. They control themselves until no one else is around to see their behavior. In public, they may act like everything is fine but lash out as soon as you're alone.
Abusers are able to stop their abusive behavior when it benefits them. Most abusers are able to immediately stop their abusive behavior when its to their advantage to do so (for example, when the police show up or their boss calls).
Violent abusers usually direct their blows where the marks wont show. Rather than act out in a mindless rage, many physically violent abusers carefully aim their kicks and punches where the bruises can't be seen.
Recognizing the warning signs of domestic violence and abuse
Its impossible to know for sure what goes on behind closed doors, but there are some telltale signs and symptoms of emotional abuse and domestic violence. If you witness any of the following warning signs of abuse in a friend, family member, or co-worker, take them seriously.
General warning signs of domestic abuse
People who are being abused may:
- seem afraid of or anxious to please their partner;
- go along with everything their partner says and does;
- check in often with their partner to report where they are and what they're doing;
- receive frequent, harassing phone calls from their partner; and/or
- talk about their partners temper, jealousy, or possessiveness.
Warning signs of physical violence
People who are being physically abused may:
- have frequent injuries, which they explain as accidents";
- often miss work, school, or social occasions, without explanation; and/or
- wear clothing designed to hide bruises or scars (e.g. long sleeves in summer or sunglasses indoors).
Warning signs of isolation
People who are being isolated by their abuser may:
- be restricted from seeing family and friends;
- rarely go out in public without their partner; and/or
- have limited access to money, credit cards, or the car.
The psychological warning signs of abuse
People who are being abused may:
- have very low self-esteem, even if they used to be confident;
- show major personality changes (e.g. an outgoing person becomes withdrawn); and/or
- be depressed, anxious, or suicidal.
What to do if you suspect abuse
If you suspect that someone you know is being abused, speak up! If you're hesitating thinking that it's none of your business, that you might be wrong, or that the person might not want to talk about it, keep in mind that expressing your concern will let the person know you care. It may even save his or her life.
Ask if something is wrong.
Listen and validate.
Refer for assistance and support.
Wait for him or her to come to you.
Judge or blame.
Pressure her or him.
Place conditions on your support.
Talk to the person in private and let her or him know you're concerned. Remember, abusers are very good at controlling and manipulating their victims. People who have been emotionally abused or battered are depressed, scared, ashamed, and confused. They need help to get out of the relationship, but they've often been isolated from family and friends. By picking up on the warning signs and offering support, you can help them escape an abusive situation and begin healing.
If you or someone you know is being abused, resources are available on campus and around New York City. Students can get help through FIT's Counseling Center. Faculty and staff members should contact the Employee Assistance Program.