SIGNS of abuse

Being able to identify the most common signs of abuse is a critical step in helping victims. Most of the time, they rationalize the situation and refuse to seek help themselves.

Common signs of an abusive relationship are if one or both partners:

  • Prevents contact and communication with friends and family
  • Controls money and important identification, such as driver’s licenses and passports
  • Causes embarrassment with bad names and put-downs
  • Critical about survivors appearance and/or behavior
  • Attempts to control what partner wears
  • Has unrealistic expectations, like partner being available at all times
  • Threatens to take away or hurt the children
  • Acts like abuse is not a big deal, or denies it’s happening
  • Plays mind games to place blame on the survivor
  • Destroys property or threatens to kill pets
  • Intimidates with guns, knives or other weapons
  • Shoves, slaps, chokes, hits or forces sexual acts
  • Threatens to commit suicide

Often, it can be difficult to identify what types of abuse are and what constitutes each type of abuse. These are some telltale signs of physical, sexual, emotional, economic and psychological abuse:

  • Physical. any use of force that causes pain or injury such as, hitting, slapping, shoving, grabbing, pinching, biting, hair pulling, etc.. This type of abuse also includes the use of weapons, denying a partner medical care or forcing alcohol and/or drug use upon him or her.
  • Sexual. Coercing or attempting to coerce any sexual contact or behavior without consent. Sexual abuse includes, but is certainly not limited to, marital rape, attacks on sexual parts of the body, forcing sex after physical violence has occurred, or treating one in a sexually demeaning manner.
  • Emotional. Any pattern of behavior that causes emotional pain that can include, but is not limited to constant criticism, diminishing one's abilities, name-calling, being unfaithful, or damaging one's relationship with his or her children.  Perpetrators may also be emotionally neglectful, such as not expressing feelings or respecting the survivor’s feelings and opinions.
  • Economic. Making or attempting to make an individual financially dependent by maintaining total control over financial resources, withholding one's access to money, or forbidding one's attendance at school or employment. Forcing a survivor to use his or her credit to rack up debt is also very common and can present problems in the future when attempting to obtain credit.
  • Psychological. Elements include—but are not limited to—causing fear by intimidation; threatening physical harm to self, partner, children, or partner's family or friends; destruction of pets and property; and forcing isolation from family, friends, or school and/or work.


  • On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.
  • 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime.
  • 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  • 1 in 7 women and 1 in 18 men have been stalked by an intimate partner during their lifetime to the point in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.
  • On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide.
  • The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%.
  • Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime.
  • Women between the ages of 18-24 are most commonly abused by an intimate partner.
  • 19% of domestic violence involves a weapon.
  • Domestic victimization is correlated with a higher rate of depression and suicidal behavior.
  • Only 34% of people who are injured by intimate partners receive medical care for their injuries.
  • 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the United States has been raped in their lifetime.
  • Almost half of female (46.7%) and male (44.9%) victims of rape in the United States were raped by an acquaintance. Of these, 45.4% of female rape victims and 29% of male rape victims were raped by an intimate partner.
  • A study of intimate partner homicides found that 20% of victims were not the intimate partners themselves, but family members, friends, neighbors, persons who intervened, law enforcement responders, or bystanders.
  • 72% of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner; 94% of the victims of these murder suicides are female.
  • 1 in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year, and 90% of these children are eyewitnesses to this violence.

reasons they stay

The one question our culture often asks of victims/survivors of domestic abuse is: “Why do/did you stay in an abusive relationship?” or “Why doesn’t she just leave?”  Sometimes the question is meant as an honest inquiry.  However, often it is spoken with an undercurrent of hostility or disbelief (i.e. “It couldn’t have been that bad” or “You must have liked it” or “If you wanted to leave, you would have.”), sending a message that women who stay in abusive relationships are somehow to blame for their abuse.

Our culture also sends equally powerful messages that women are expected to fill roles in their relationships that keep them dependent on their partners.  This combination of messages sets women up to feel ashamed, isolated and stuck.  Some may feel that they have no real choices.

Here are some more specific reasons that abused women have given for staying:

A woman may fear her partner’s actions if she leaves. The partner may threaten to kill her, or injure or kidnap the children.

The effects of abuse may make it difficult to leave. The woman may have come to believe she doesn't deserve better.

A woman may have concerns about her children. The woman may feel guilty if she were to remove their father from their lives.

A partner’s attempts to isolate a woman may make it difficult for her to leave or get help. The woman may not have any close friends anymore, or her partner may threaten to hurt or kill them if she talks to them.

A woman’s personal history may have shaped her attitude toward abuse in relationships. The woman may have seen her father abuse her mother, and believes it is expected in a relationship.

A woman may be deeply attached to her partner and hope for change. The woman may believe her partner when he says it won't happen again, or she may feel obligated to fulfill her wedding vows.

Some women are taught that it is their job to maintain the relationship and support their partners, so they may feel guilty about leaving or feel they have “failed.” The woman may fear that her partner will resort to drinking or another addiction if she leaves him, or may fear disappointing her family by admitting her relationship was a failure.

Women may be economically dependent on their partners or their partners may be economically dependent on them. The woman may fear not being able to support her children on her own, or her partner may have charged up all her credit cards to prevent her from finding a house/job.

Our culture sends the message that a woman’s value depends on her being in a relationship.  Women without partners tend to be devalued. The woman may feel she will fall apart without her partner, or may fear being labeled as a whore.