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How to spot the warning signs of domestic abuse

It’s easy to doubt your own instincts, but if you can’t shake the feeling that someone you love is experiencing abuse, you shouldn’t ignore those instincts.

The more you can learn about domestic violence and the signs that come with it, the more equipped you can be to help yourself or someone you love.  

What is domestic abuse? 

Domestic violence “is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship,” according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Anyone, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, education, or socioeconomic status, can be a victim. 

Types of domestic abuse can vary and aren’t necessarily just violent. According to the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, or even economic. It might look like control, intimidation, stalking, isolation, or blame. Many forms of abuse can occur at one time. 

Who are abusers? 

An abuser can be anyone: a partner, relative, friend, or roommate. And they don’t have to seem like the violent type. Many abusers are only violent with partners and may not have criminal records, according to the NCADV.

However, abusers can share similar characteristics. An abuser may often minimize the effects of violence on a victim or views a victim as property. Abusers often have low self-esteem or have feelings of inadequacy. Abusers blame their violence on external causes like their victim’s behavior, stress, or use of alcohol and drugs. An abuser might appear pleasant outside of violent episodes. 

According to the NCADV, abusers might display jealousy and possessiveness, a bad temper, verbal abuse, controlling behavior, and a bad temper. 

Abusers might force sex upon a partner; sabotage methods of birth control; control a victim’s finances; and demean, embarrass, harass, or humiliate a victim in front of others. 

Abusers might have grown up in a violent family, have a quick temper, overreact to small problems, abuse alcohol or drugs, have strong ideas about gender roles in relationships, exhibit jealousy, talk about using weapons on others, exhibit extreme emotional highs and lows, and threaten or abuse pets. 

What are the warning signs of domestic abuse? 

Have you seen or heard things that are leading you to believe that someone you care about is being abused? The National Domestic Violence Hotline outlines key warning signs. 

Does the partner of someone you love: 

  • Put the victim down in front of others? 
  • Grab, pinch, shove, push, or hit the victim?
  • Use threats or intimidation to control the victim? 
  • Check up on the victim’s whereabouts?
  • Blame physical or verbal abuse on drugs or alcohol? 
  • Blame their own feelings or actions on the victim?
  • Prevent the victim from spending time with friends or family? 
  • Pressure the victim into sexual activity?
  • Make the victim feel like there’s no way out of the relationship?

A victim of abuse might be: 

  • Worried about making their partner angry or avoiding confrontation
  • Scared about how their partner might react to something
  • Making excuses for their partner’s behavior
  • Blaming themselves for their partner’s behavior
  • Worried that their partner is never happy no matter what they do
  • Staying with their partner because they’re afraid of what will happen after a breakup
  • Depressed or anxious
  • Withdrawing from friends and family

How do I help a victim of domestic abuse? 

If you or someone you love is in immediate danger, call 911.

Next, remember that the victim is under pressure and control from their abuser. You shouldn’t try to force a victim to do anything, but instead, empower them to make decisions and offer your support. 

There are several ways you can show your support, according to the NDVH. Listen to the victim and offer your help. Remind them the abuse is not their fault and that they are not alone. Don’t pass judgment or criticize – a victim may leave and return to a relationship several times. Those are the times your loved one needs your support even more. 

The domestic violence cycle of abuse can be long and painful; victims might stay or go back to abusers out of fear, embarrassment, low self-esteem, lack of money, or many other reasons. 

If and when a victim leaves, continue to offer your support, as they might be mourning the relationship and dealing with feelings of sadness or loneliness. Encourage the victim to find support or activities outside of the relationship. Help them develop a plan to stay safe, encourage them to seek professional help, and accompany them for any counseling sessions, legal meetings, or court appearances.  

Lastly, you cannot save a victim from a situation of domestic abuse; ultimately, they must decide whether or not to stay. But you can support and love them no matter what. 

Get professional help for domestic abuse

Benner Law in Columbia, Missouri, has helped hundreds of families escape from domestic abuse situations. If you are experiencing domestic abuse and looking for a trusted ally to walk you through the legal process, start by filling out this simple form at bennerfamilylaw.com. 

A domestic abuse lawyer can obtain an ex parte order of protection that immediately separates the victim from the abuser. Next, a domestic abuse lawyer can obtain a protective order against the abuser.  

There are other resources available as well. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence offers a 24-hour, anonymous, confidential hotline for victims. Call 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224

The National Domestic Violence Hotline has online chats or a phone line at 1-800-799-7233 and will refer you to a support group or counseling near you.

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