Woman holding one hand over her eyes and other, palm up signifying "stop!"

Stop Violence in VirginiaFor caring, confidential support from trained advocates (available 24/7 all year round), contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline:1-800-799-7233 FREE (SAFE).

If you are in immediate danger, please call 911

If you are being abused by your partner, know there is nothing you have done or are doing to cause the abuse. It is solely the choice of the abuser to abuse. It may seem impossible to escape your abuser, change your circumstances, or find the help you need, but it is possible. However, you know your abuser best, so think carefully through your situation and circumstances and do what is the best for you.

While the information that follows may be helpful to you, please know it is not meant to be used as the only information you need to get and stay safe, nor is it inclusive of all the information you may need. It is critical that you connect with someone knowledgeable about domestic violence that can help you create a safety plan specifically for you, your family, and your specific needs.

Planning Ahead: If You Are In A Relationship

If you are in the relationship…

  1. Plan ahead where you can go if the abuser shows signs of escalating.
  2. Make a list of safe people to contact (DV program, friends, relatives, attorney, and important persons/services).
  3. Have numbers for local domestic violence programs.
  4. Pack and have ready a bag or suitcase of essentials, including medications.

Obtain and secure personal documents and information for you, and if you have children, for them as well:

  1. Birth certificates
  2. Driver’s license
  3. Social security cards
  4. Immunization records
  5. Passports
  6. Licenses
  7. Bank accounts
  8. Debit and credit cards
  9. Checkbooks
  10. W-2s
  11. Paystubs
  12. Insurance cards and policies
  13. School records
  14. Clothing and keys

Any documentation that you might have about the abuse, pictures, recordings, medical records, and police reports are also very important to have. Include cash if you can and any other valuable that you don’t want to leave behind. Keep in mind that large items like furniture might not be possible to hide.

Find a safe place to hide these—with a friend, relative, and/or another place the abuser cannot access.

Planning Ahead: If You Are NOT In A Relationship

  1. Change your phone number and other contact information.
  2. Consider getting a restraining/protective order. Speak to an advocate and find out if that is a good option for you—every situation is different.
  3. Screen your calls.
  4. Save and document all contact, messages, injuries, or other incidents involving the abuser.
  5. Change your locks.
  6. Avoid being alone.
  7. Plan how to get away if confronted by the abuser.
  8. If you have to meet the abuser do it in a public place.
  9. Vary your routine.

If you have a restraining or protective order, always have a copy with you. Leave a copy at work. If you have children, leave a copy at your children’s school and every place your children might spend time (childcare center, grandparents, friends, etc.).

Find out if there is a domestic violence response policy at your workplace and ask questions if you don’t understand how it works.Consider joining a support group at a local domestic violence program.

When leaving an abusive relationship, it is important to take with you the documents that you will need to get the resources and help you will require. You will need your driver’s license, passport, and birth certificate to verify your identity. Other important documents you will need include: social security cards (for yourself and any children), leases and deeds (that have your name attached), credit and debit cards, pay stubs, w-2s, insurance policies, bank statements, and checkbooks. Also, take any documentation that you might have about the abuse including pictures, recordings, medical records, and police reports. Never take the risk of being alone with the abuser when retrieving your things; ask for a police escort or bring friends with you.

Create your personalized Safety Plan

Although you can’t control an abuser’s use of violence, you can plan how you will respond to future abusive or violent incidents, prepare for the possibility of an incident happening, and plan how get to safety. It is your decision if and when you tell others that you have been abused, or that you are still at risk. Friends, family, and coworkers can help with your safety plan if they are aware the situation and want to help.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • When I have to talk to the abuser in person, I can:
  • When I talk on the phone with the abuser, I can:
  • I will make up a “code word” for my family, coworkers, friends, and counselor so they know when to call for help for me. My code word is:
  • When I feel a fight coming on, I will try to move to a place that is lowest risk for getting hurt such as:__________________ (at work), ________________ (at home), or _______ (in public).
  • I can tell my family, co-workers, boss, counselor, or a friend about my situation. I feel safe telling:
  • I can screen my calls, texts, emails, and visitors. I have the right to not receive harassing phone calls, texts, or emails. I can ask friends, family members, or coworkers to help me screen my contacts. I can ask these people for help:

I can call any of the following people for assistance or support if necessary and ask them to call the police if they see the abuser harassing me:

  • Friend:
  • Relative:
  • Co-worker:
  • Counselor:
  • Shelter:
  • Other:
  • When leaving work I can:
  • When walking, riding, or driving home, if problems occur, I can:
  • I can attend a victim’s/survivor’s support group with the Domestic Violence program.

Contact information I need to have:

  • Police Department:
  • Domestic Violence Program:
  • Sexual Assault Program:
  • Attorney:
  • Counselor:
  • Spiritual support/clergy:
  • Probation Officer:

Accessing Resources

When you are in crisis, it is very difficult to look for assistance, make decisions, and take care of yourself and others. An advocate, through your local domestic violence program, can help in many ways. She can identify resources in the community that otherwise may unseen (like churches and individuals that will serve as support). She can start contact with a service provider and facilitate the process. She can also give support and encouragement. In these times where budgets are limited, having an “out of the box” perspective is important. It is very likely that there are others looking for what you are trying to find as well. For example, if you need childcare and you can’t find financial assistance, look for other parents that also need childcare and trade days watching each other’s children.

Some useful guidelines for finding support

  1. Do not be discouraged by a rejection. If you can, try again.
  2. If you are not comfortable with the person you are working with, ask for another advocate or counselor or try and find another domestic violence program.
  3. Get a list of possible resources from different places/programs/organizations. Most states have the free phone service 2-1-1 which will connect you to advocates who can help you find additional resources in your area.
  4. Have essential documents available when you go to an appointment: birth certificates, identifications with pictures, driver’s license, passports, and utility bills (to show residency). Learn what documents you will need ahead of time.
  5. Make your calls from a place where you can engage in a conversation and take care of possible interruptions ahead of time (e.g., have little ones take a nap or call when children are playing at the neighbor’s).
  6. Be patient, speak clearly, and do not give your story to the person who answers the phone or the first contact person. More than likely, you will have to tell your story all over again to the person qualified to help you. Instead, give clear, specific information about what you need (e.g., “I need a pro-bono family law attorney for a child custody case and I am a victim of domestic violence”). Then let the service provider ask you for the information they need to qualify you for the services. If possible, have an advocate initiate the contact with the preferred service provider.

Getting Help From Law Enforcement (During an Incident)

  1. Speak clearly and give your location.
  2. After the police arrive and they have secured the area and taken your information, get the names and badge numbers of the officers you talked to. If they have business cards, get those.
  3. Ask questions about what is going to happen next.
  4. If there was an arrest, ask if they will notify you when the defendant bonds out of jail. Get the jail phone number so you can find this out yourself too.
  5. If the defendant is at large, ask if they are they going to notify you when he is arrested.
  6. Ask if they can facilitate you going into a safe house.
  7. Ask if there is an advocate for the police department who will follow up with you and offer services and referrals.
  8. Ask if you are you required to appear in court at the defendant’s arraignment. Some jurisdictions with fast-track domestic violence protocols require that you be present.
  9. Write down all information given to you by the officers. Ask for copies of any pictures they take or any reports of the incident.

Seeking Legal Assistance

Questions to ask before you hire an attorney:

  1. Have you or any members of your firm ever represented my partner or anyone else associated with my partner?
  2. Do you handle divorce or custody cases?
  3. How many of these cases have you handled?
  4. How many of them were contested?
  5. How many of them went to trial?
  6. Did any of these cases involve an expert witness?
  7. How many were before the judge who will hear my case?
  8. What kind of decisions does this judge usually make?
  9. Have you ever appealed a case, and if so, what were the issue(s) appealed?
  10. How many of these appealed cases did you win?

(Keep in mind that even an excellent attorney will lose a case.)

Questions about attorney fees and costs

  1. What are your fees?
  2. What work do these fees cover?
  3. Is this an hourly fee or a flat fee for the entire case?
  4. Is there an additional charge for appearing in court?
  5. Do you ever charge less for people who do not have much money?
  6. Do you charge a retainer?
  7. How much?
  8. What does it cover?
  9. Do you refund all or part of the retainer if my case ends up being dropped or not taking much time?(Attorneys should be willing to refund any part of the retainer not spent.)
  10. Are there other expenses that I may have to pay?
  11. What are they and how much are they likely to be?
  12. Will you be the only person working on my case?
  13. What will other people do?
  14. How will I be charged for their work?
  15. Will I be charged for speaking to your secretary and or receptionist?
  16. Are there ways that I can assist you to keep down my costs?
  17. Will you send me a copy of letters, documents, and court papers that you file or receive regarding my case?
  18. Do you charge extra if the case gets more complicated or we have to go back to court?
  19. Will you require that I have paid everything that I owe you before you will go to court with me or finish my case? (Many attorneys do this. They may also refuse to return your original papers or copies of your file, and in some states, this may be legal. Therefore, you should insist on getting a copy of any paper filed with the court or given or received from another party or otherwise relevant to your case. Be sure to keep all of them in a safe place, in case you ever need them.)
  20. Are you willing to work out a payment plan with me?
  21. Will you put our agreement about fees and work you will perform in writing?
  22. Questions about cases involving domestic violence:
  23. How much experience have you had with cases involving domestic violence? Which party did you represent (the victim, the abuser, or the children)?
  24. Do you generally believe women who tell you that they have been battered?
  25. Do you go to court with women wanting to obtain orders of protection against their abuse?
  26. How sympathetic to battered women are the judges who will hear my case?
  27. What are the laws of this state regarding which parent should be given custody when one parent has abused the other parent? Does the judge(s) who will probably hear my case follow these laws? What do they usually recommend?
  28. What do you think about mediation in cases where there has been domestic violence?
  29. Does the expert witness likely to be involved understand the need to protect battered women and children?
  30. What kind of custody and visitation arrangements do they usually recommend in cases involving domestic violence?
  31. Do the judges usually follow their recommendations?
  32. Do you have a working relationship with the local battered women’s program? If so, which one(s)?
  33. Do you have a working relationship with any batterer intervention program? If so, which one(s)?
  34. How helpful is the prosecutor’s office in handling domestic violence cases?

Questions about contested custody cases

  1. Do you usually believe mothers who tell you that their children’s father has physically or sexually abused them?
  2. How do you handle cases where parental alienation syndrome is alleged? (This is a popular theory that blames mothers for turning their children’s affection against the father, most often in cases where the father has abused the mother or the children. The American Psychiatric Association has not validated this claim.)
  3. How do the custody evaluators that you work with feel about cases where the father has abused the children? Do they usually believe a mother’s statements about the abuse? What kind of custody and visitation recommendations do they usually make?
  4. How does the judge who will probably decide my case feel about cases where there is child abuse by the father? Do they believe the mother who has made reports about the child abuse and or sexual abuse?
  5. Will someone be appointed for the children, and how will that person about father’s child and or sexual abuse?
  6. Will it matter if the child protective agency has substantiated the abuse? Will it matter if the father was convicted or pled guilty to the abuse in a criminal case? What do you do to protect children in cases when you know that their father is abusing them? Are you willing to stand up for my case, even if it angers the judge?
  7. If none of the abuse allegations have been reported yet, what do you recommend about whether to report it now, and how to keep my children safe?

National Statistics

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. 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.
  2. 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  3. 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.
  4. On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide.
  5. In domestic violence homicides, women are six times more likely to be killed when there is a gun in the house.
  6. Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime.
  7. Women between the ages of 18-24 are most commonly abused by an intimate partner.


  1. 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the United States has been raped in their lifetime.
  2. Almost half of the 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.


  • 19.3 million women and 5.1 million men in the United States have been stalked in their lifetime.1 60.8% of female stalking victims and 43.5% men reported being stalked by a current or former intimate partner.


  1. 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.
  2. 72% of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner; 94% of the victims of these murder-suicides are female.

Children & Domestic Violence

1 in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year, and 90% of these children are eyewitnesses to this violence.

Economic Impact

  1. Victims of intimate partner violence lose a total of 8.0 million days of paid work each year.
  2. The cost of intimate partner violence exceeds $8.3 billion per year.
  3. Between 21-60% of victims of intimate partner violence lose their jobs due to reasons stemming from the abuse.
  4. Between 2003 and 2008, 142 women were murdered in their workplace by their abuser, 78% of women killed in the workplace during this timeframe.

Physical/Mental Impact

  1. Women abused by their intimate partners are more vulnerable to contracting HIV or other STI’s due to forced intercourse or prolonged exposure to stress.
  2. Studies suggest that there is a relationship between intimate partner violence and depression and suicidal behavior.
  3. Physical, mental, and sexual and reproductive health effects have been linked with intimate partner violence including adolescent pregnancy, unintended pregnancy in general, miscarriage, stillbirth, intrauterine haemorrhage, nutritional deficiency, abdominal pain and other gastrointestinal problems, neurological disorders, chronic pain, disability, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as noncommunicable diseases such as hypertension, cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Victims of domestic violence are also at higher risk for developing addictions to alcohol, tobacco, or drugs.

What is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. It includes physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, and emotional abuse. The frequency and severity of domestic violence can vary dramatically; however, the one constant component of domestic violence is one partner’s consistent efforts to maintain power and control over the other.

Domestic violence is an epidemic affecting individuals in every community, regardless of age, economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or nationality. It is often accompanied by emotionally abusive and controlling behavior that is only a fraction of a systematic pattern of dominance and control. Domestic violence can result in physical injury, psychological trauma, and in severe cases, even death. The devastating physical, emotional, and psychological consequences of domestic violence can cross generations and last a lifetime.

It is not always easy to determine in the early stages of a relationship if one person will become abusive. Domestic violence intensifies over time. Abusers may often seem wonderful and perfect initially but gradually become more aggressive and controlling as the relationship continues. Abuse may begin with behaviors that may easily be dismissed or downplayed such as name-calling, threats, possessiveness, or distrust. Abusers may apologize profusely for their actions or try to convince the person they are abusing that they do these things out of love or care. However, violence and control always intensify over time with an abuser, despite the apologies. What may start out as something that was first believed to be harmless (e.g., wanting the victim to spend all their time only with them because they love them so much) escalates into extreme control and abuse (e.g., threatening to kill or hurt the victim or others if they speak to family, friends, etc.).

Some examples of abusive tendencies include but are not limited:

  1. Telling the victim that they can never do anything right
  2. Showing jealousy of the victim’s family and friends and time spent away
  3. Accusing the victim of cheating
  4. Keeping or discouraging the victim from seeing friends or family members
  5. Embarrassing or shaming the victim with put-downs
  6. Controlling every penny spent in the household
  7. Taking the victim’s money or refusing to give them money for expenses
  8. Looking at or acting in ways that scare the person they are abusing
  9. Controlling who the victim sees, where they go, or what they do
  10. Dictating how the victim dresses, wears their hair, etc.
  11. Stalking the victim or monitoring their victim’s every move (in person or also via the internet and/or other devices such as GPS tracking or the victim’s phone)
  12. Preventing the victim from making their own decisions
  13. Telling the victim that they are a bad parent or threatening to hurt, kill, or take away their children
  14. Threatening to hurt or kill the victim’s friends, loved ones, or pets
  15. Intimidating the victim with guns, knives, or other weapons
  16. Pressuring the victim to have sex when they don’t want to or to do things sexually they are not comfortable with
  17. Forcing sex with others
  18. Refusing to use protection when having sex or sabotaging birth control
  19. Pressuring or forcing the victim to use drugs or alcohol
  20. Preventing the victim from working or attending school, harassing the victim at either, keeping their victim up all night so they perform badly at their job or in school
  21. Destroying the victim’s property

It is important to note that domestic violence does not always manifest as physical abuse. Emotional and psychological abuse can often be just as extreme as physical violence. Lack of physical violence does not mean the abuser is any less dangerous to the victim, nor does it mean the victim is any less trapped by the abuse.

Additionally, domestic violence does not always end when the victim escapes the abuser, tries to terminate the relationship, and/or seeks help. Often, it intensifies because the abuser feels a loss of control over the victim. Abusers frequently continue to stalk, harass, threaten and try to control the victim after the victim escapes. In fact, the victim is often in the most danger directly following the escape of the relationship or when they seek help: 1/5 of homicide victims with restraining orders are murdered within two days of obtaining the order; 1/3 are murdered within the first month.

Unfair blame is frequently put upon the victim of abuse because of assumptions that victims choose to stay in abusive relationships (see common myths about victims of domestic violence here). The truth is, bringing an end to abuse is not a matter of the victim choosing to leave; it is a matter of the victim being able to safely escape their abuser, the abuser choosing to stop the abuse, or others (e.g., law enforcement, courts) holding the abuser accountable for the abuse they inflict.

Dynamics of Abuse

Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence. There is NO “typical victim.” Victims of domestic violence come from all walks of life, varying age groups, all backgrounds, all communities, all education levels, all economic levels, all cultures, all ethnicities, all religions, all abilities, and all lifestyles.

Victims of domestic violence do not bring violence upon themselves, they do not always lack self-confidence, nor are they just as abusive as the abuser. Violence in relationships occurs when one person feels entitled to power and control over their partner and chooses to use abuse to gain and maintain that control. In relationships where domestic violence exists, violence is not equal, even if the victim fights back or instigates violence in effort diffuse a situation. There is always one person who is the primary, constant source of power, control, and abuse in the relationship.

Every relationship differs, but what is most common in all abusive relationships is the varying tactics used by abusers to gain and maintain power and control over the victim. Nearly 3 in 10 women and 1 in 10 men in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner [or former partner] and reported at least one impact related to experiencing these or other forms of violent behavior in the relationship (i.e., feeling fearful, concern for safety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), need for health care, injury, crisis support, need for housing services, need for victim advocacy services, need for legal services, missed work or school).3

Physical and sexual assaults, or threats to commit them, are the most apparent forms of domestic violence and are usually the actions that make others aware of the problem. However, regular use of other abusive behaviors by the abuser, when reinforced by one or more acts of physical violence, make up a larger scope of abuse. Although physical assaults may occur only occasionally, they instill fear of future violent attacks and allow the abuser to control the victim’s life and circumstances.

The illustrations found here (power and control wheel) and here (post-separation power and control wheel) are particularly helpful tools in understanding the overall pattern of abusive and violent behaviors used by abusers to establish and maintain control over their partners both within and following a relationship. Very often, one or more violent incidents are accompanied by an array of these other types of abuse. They are less easily identified, yet firmly establish a pattern of intimidation and control in the relationship.

As the wheels illustrate, abuse is cyclical. There are periods of time where things may be calmer, but those times are followed by a buildup of tension and abuse, which usually results in the abuser peaking with intensified abuse. The cycle then often starts to repeat, commonly becoming more and more intense as time goes on. Each relationship is different and not every relationship follows the exact pattern. Some abusers may cycle rapidly, others over longer stretches of time. Regardless, abusers purposefully use numerous tactics of abuse to instill fear in the victim and maintain control over them.

Domestic violence affects all aspects of a victim’s life. When abuse victims are able to safely escape and remain free from their abuser, they often survive with long-lasting and sometimes permanent effects to their mental and physical health; relationships with friends, family, and children; their career; and their economic well-being.

Victims of domestic violence experience an array of emotions and feelings from the abuse inflicted upon them by their abuser, both within and following the relationship. They may also resort to extremes in an effort to cope with the abuse. Victims of domestic violence may:

  1. Want the abuse to end, but not the relationship
  2. Feel isolated
  3. Feel depressed
  4. Feel helpless
  5. Be unaware of what services are available to help them
  6. Be embarrassed of their situation
  7. Fear judgment or stigmatization if they reveal the abuse
  8. Deny or minimize the abuse or make excuses for the abuser
  9. Still, love their abuser
  10. Withdraw emotionally
  11. Distance themselves from family or friends
  12. Be impulsive or aggressive
  13. Feel financially dependent on their abuser
  14. Feel guilt related to the relationship
  15. Feel Shame
  16. Have anxiety
  17. Have suicidal thoughts
  18. Abuse alcohol or drugs
  19. Be hopeful that their abuser will change and/or stop the abuse
  20. Have religious, cultural, or other beliefs that reinforce staying in the relationship
  21. Have no support from friends or family
  22. Fear cultural, community, or societal backlash that may hinder escape or support
  23. Feel like they have nowhere to go or no ability to get away
  24. Fear they will not be able to support themselves after they escape the abuser
  25. Have children in common with their abuser and fear for their safety if the victim leaves
  26. Have pets or other animals they don’t want to leave
  27. Be distrustful of local law enforcement, courts, or other systems if the abuse is revealed
  28. Have had unsupportive experiences with friends, family, employers, law enforcement, courts, child protective services, etc. and either believe they won’t get help if they leave or fear retribution if they do (e.g., they fear they will lose custody of their children to the abuser)

These are among the many reasons victims of domestic violence either choose to stay in the abusive relationship or feel they are unable to leave. For more examples, see “Understanding Why Victims Stay ” below.

Characteristics of an abuser

Anyone can be an abuser. They come from all groups, all cultures, all religions, all economic levels, and all backgrounds. They can be your neighbor, your pastor, your friend, your child’s teacher, a relative, a coworker—anyone. It is important to note that the majority of abusers are only violent with their current or past intimate partners. One study found that 90% of abusers do not have criminal records and that abusers are generally law-abiding outside the home.

There is no one, typical, detectable personality of an abuser. However, they do often display common characteristics.

An abuser often denies the existence or minimizes the seriousness of the violence and its effect on the victim and other family members.

An abuser objectifies the victim and often sees them as their property or sexual objects.

An abuser has low self-esteem and feels powerless and ineffective in the world. He or she may appear successful, but internally, they feel inadequate.

An abuser externalizes the causes of their behavior. They blame their violence on circumstances such as stress, their partner’s behavior, a “bad day,” on alcohol, drugs, or other factors.

An abuser may be pleasant and charming between periods of violence and is often seen as a “nice person” to others outside the relationship.

Red flags and warning signs of an abuser include but are not limited to:

  1. Extreme jealousy
  2. Possessiveness
  3. Unpredictability
  4. A bad temper
  5. Cruelty to animals
  6. Verbal abuse
  7. Extremely controlling behavior
  8. Antiquated beliefs about roles of women and men in relationships
  9. Forced sex or disregard of their partner’s unwillingness to have sex
  10. Sabotage of birth control methods or refusal to honor agreed upon methods
  11. Blaming the victim for anything bad that happens
  12. Sabotage or obstruction of the victim’s ability to work or attend school
  13. Their control of all finances
  14. Abuse of other family members, children, or pets
  15. Accusations of the victim flirting with others or having an affair
  16. Control of what the victim wears and how they act
  17. Demeaning the victim either privately or publicly
  18. Embarrassment or humiliation of the victim in front of others
  19. Harassment of the victim at work

Understanding why victims stay

When it is a viable option, it is best for victims to do what they can to escape their abusers. However, this is not the case in all situations. Abusers repeatedly go to extremes to prevent the victim from leaving. In fact, leaving an abuser is the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence. One study found in interviews with men who have killed their wives that either threat of separation by their partner or actual separations were most often the precipitating events that lead to the murder.

A victim’s reasons for staying with their abusers are extremely complex and, in most cases, are based on the reality that their abuser will follow through with the threats they have used to keep them trapped: the abuser will hurt or kill them, they will hurt or kill the kids, they will win custody of the children, they will harm or kill pets or others, they will ruin their victim financially—the list goes on. The victim in violent relationships knows their abuser best and fully knows the extent to which they will go to make sure they have and can maintain control over the victim. The victim literally may not be able to safely escape or protect those they love. A recent study of intimate partner homicides found that 20% of homicide victims were not the domestic violence victims themselves, but family members, friends, neighbors, persons who intervened, law enforcement responders, or bystanders.

Additional barriers to escaping a violent relationship include but are not limited to:

  1. The fear that the abuser’s actions will become more violent, and may become lethal if the victim attempts to leave
  2. Unsupportive friends and family
  3. Knowledge of the difficulties of single parenting and reduced financial circumstances
  4. The victim felt that the relationship is a mix of good times, love, and hope along with the manipulation, intimidation, and fear
  5. The victim’s lack of knowledge of or access to safety and support
  6. Fear of losing custody of any children if they leave or divorce their abuser or fear that the abuser will hurt, or even kill, their children
  7. Lack of the means to support themselves and/or their children financially or lack of access to cash, bank accounts, or assets
  8. Lack of having somewhere to go (i.e., no friends or family to help, no money for a hotel, shelter programs are full or limited by the length of stay)
  9. Fear that homelessness may be their only option if they leave
  10. Religious or cultural beliefs and practices may not support divorce or may dictate outdated gender roles and keep the victim trapped in the relationship
  11. The belief that two parent households are better for children, despite the abuse

Social Barriers to escaping a Violent Relationship

In addition to individual obstacles, victims face when escaping violent relationships, society in general presents barriers. These include:

  1. A victim’s fear of being charged with desertion, losing custody of children, or joint assets.
  2. Anxiety about a decline in living standards for themselves and their children.
  3. Reinforcement of clergy and secular counselors of “saving” a couple’s relationship at all costs, rather than the goal of stopping the violence.
  4. Lack of support to victims by police officers and law enforcement who may treat violence as a “domestic dispute,” instead of a crime where one person is physically attacking another person. Often, victims of abuse are arrested and charged by law enforcement even if they are only defending themselves against the batterer.
  5. Dissuasion by police of the victim filing charges. Some dismiss or downplay the abuse, side with the abuser, or do not take the victim’s account of the abuse seriously.
  6. Reluctance by prosecutors to prosecute cases. Some may convince the abuser to plead to a lesser charge, thus further endangering victims. Additionally, judges rarely impose the maximum sentence upon convicted abusers. Probation or a fine is much more common.
  7. Despite the issuing of a restraining order, there is little to prevent a released abuser from returning and repeating abuse.
  8. Despite greater public awareness and the increased availability of housing for victims fleeing violent partners, there are not enough shelters to keep victims safe.
  9. Some religious and cultural practices that stress that divorce is forbidden.
  10. The socialization of some made to believe they are responsible for making their relationship work. Failure to maintain the relationship equals failure as a person.
  11. Isolation from friends and families, either by the jealous and possessive abuser, or because they feel “ashamed” of the abuse and try to hide signs of it from the outside world. The isolation contributes to a sense that there is nowhere to turn.
  12. The rationalization of the victim that their abuser’s behavior is caused by stress, alcohol, problems at work, unemployment, or other factors.
  13. Societal factors that teach women to believe their identities and feelings of self-worth are contingent upon getting and keeping a man.
  14. The inconsistency of abuse. During non-violent phases, the abuser may fulfill the victim’s dream of romantic love. The victim may also rationalize that the abuser is basically good until something bad happens and they have to “let off steam.”

Signs of an Abusive Partner

The following signs often occur before the manifestation of full abuse and may serve as clues to one person in a relationship becoming abusive of the other. Think about the following questions and apply them to your partner. If you can identify with one or more of these scenarios or answer “yes” to any of the questions below, you may be with an abusive partner.

Did your partner grow up in a violent family? People who grow up in families where they have been abused as children, or where one parent beats the other, have grown up learning that violence is normal behavior.

Does your partner tend to use force or violence to “solve” their problems?

Does your partner have a quick temper? Do they over-react to little problems and frustration? Are they cruel to animals? Do they punch walls or throw things when they are upset? Any of these behaviors may be a sign of a person who will work out bad feelings with violence.

Do they abuse alcohol or other drugs? Substance abuse does not cause domestic violence, but it can make it worse. There is a strong link between violence and problems with drugs and alcohol. Be alert to his possible drinking/drug problems, particularly if your partner refuses to admit that they have a problem, or refuses to get help. Do not think that you can change them.

Do they have strong traditional ideas about “roles” in relationships? For example, do they think all women should stay at home, take care of their husbands, and follow their wishes and orders?

Are they jealous of your other relationships—anyone you may know? Do they keep tabs on you? Do they want to know where you are at all times? Do they want you with them all of the time?

Do they have access to guns knives or other lethal weapons? Do they talk of using them against people, or threaten to use them to get even?

Do they expect you to follow their orders or advice? Do they become angry if you do not fulfill their wishes or if you cannot anticipate what they want?

Do they go through extreme highs and lows almost as though they are two different people? Are they extremely kind one time, and extremely cruel another?

When your partner gets angry, do you fear them? Do you find that not making them angry has become a major part of your life? Do you do what they want you to do, rather than what you want to do?

Do they treat you roughly? Do they physically force you to do what you do not want to do?

Do they threaten or abuse your pets? There is a strong link between the abuse of animals and perpetrators of domestic violence. In a recent study of victims of domestic violence, 71% reported that their partners killed, harmed, or threatened animals as a means of demonstrating their authority over the victim.

Threats and physical abuse are prevalent in relationship violence, often occurring in an escalating cycle.

Do you think you are being abused?

Look over the following questions. Think about how you are being treated and how you treat your partner. Remember, when one person scares, hurts, or continually puts down the other person, it is abuse.

Does your partner…

  1. Embarrass or make fun of you in front of your friends or family? Put down your accomplishments or goals?
  2. Make you feel like you are unable to make decisions? Use intimidation or threats to gain compliance?
  3. Tell you that you are nothing without them?
  4. Treat you roughly-grab, push, pinch, shove or hit you? Threaten or abuse your pets?
  5. Call you several times a night or show up to make sure you are where you said you would be?
  6. Use drugs or alcohol as an excuse for saying hurtful things or abusing you?
  7. Blame you for how they feel or act?
  8. Pressure you sexually for things you aren’t ready for?
  9. Make you feel like there “is no way out” of the relationship?
  10. Prevent you from doing things you want-like spending time with your friends or family?
  11. Try to keep you from leaving after a fight, or leave you somewhere after a fight to “teach you a lesson?”

Do You…

  1. Sometimes feel scared of how your partner will act?
  2. Constantly make excuses to other people for your partner’s behavior?
  3. Believe that you can help your partner change if only you changed something about yourself?
  4. Try not to do anything that would cause conflict or make your partner angry?
  5. Feel like no matter what you do, your partner is never happy with you?
  6. Always do what your partner wants you to do instead of what you want?
  7. Stay with your partner because you are afraid of what your partner would do if you broke up?

If any of these situations are happening in your relationship, talk to someone you trust or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (available 24/7/365): 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE).

Without help, the abuse will continue.

Domestic Shelters in our area

  • Sexual Assault Response & Awarenees, Inc. – SARA, Inc. 540-9891-9352 Hot Line
  • 540-343-7273 Office
  • Salvation Army Turning Point 540-345-0400 Hot Line 540-345-0400 Office
  • Total Action Against Poverty In Roanoke Valley 540-345-6781
  • Rescue Mission Of Roanoke 540-343-7227

Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance

008 Monument Avenue, Suite A
Richmond, VA 23230
Office: 804-377-0335
Fax: 804-377-0339
Website: www.vsdvalliance.org
E-mail: info@vsdvalliance.org

If you or someone you know is struggling, you are not alone. Visit Wanna Talk About It? to find resources for help.