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The Domestic Violence Survivor’s Handbook is an important resource that addresses what domestic violence is, how it impacts victims, and how to get help.
Is It Abuse?
Domestic violence (also referred to as intimate partner violence (IPV), dating abuse, or relationship abuse) is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.
Domestic violence does not discriminate. People of any race, age, gender, sexuality, religion, education level, or economic status can be a victim — or perpetrator — of domestic violence. That includes behaviors that physically harm, intimidate, manipulate, or control a partner, or otherwise force them to behave in ways they do not want to, including through physical violence, threats, emotional abuse, or financial control.
Multiple forms of abuse are usually present at the same time in abusive situations, and it is essential to understand how these behaviors interact, so you know what to look for.
Warning Signs of Abuse
- Telling you that you never do anything right.
- Showing extreme jealousy of your friends or time spent away from them.
- Preventing or discouraging you from spending time with friends, family members, or peers.
- Insulting, demeaning, or shaming you, especially in front of other people.
- Preventing you from making your own decisions, including about working or attending school.
- Controlling finances in the household without discussion, including taking your money or refusing to provide money for necessary expenses.
- Pressuring you to have sex or perform sexual acts you are not comfortable with.
- Pressuring you to use drugs or alcohol.
- Intimidating you through threatening looks or actions.
- Criticizing your parenting
- Intimidating you with weapons like guns, knives, bats, or mace.
- Destroying your belongings or your home, or threatening to harm or take away your children or pets.
Power and Control
Domestic violence is a pattern of behaviors used to gain or maintain power and control. At Every Woman’s Place, our frame of reference for describing abuse is the Power and Control Wheel developed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth, MN. The Power and Control Wheel assumes she/her pronouns for the victim and he/him pronouns for the perpetrator, but the abusive behavior that it details can happen to people of any gender or sexuality.
The wheel serves as a diagram of tactics that an abusive partner uses to keep their victims in a relationship. The inside of the wheel is made up of subtle, continual behaviors over time, while the outer ring represents physical and sexual violence. Abusive actions like those depicted in the outer ring often reinforce the regular use of other, more subtle methods found in the inner ring.
The complexities of relationship abuse can never be summarized completely in a single diagram, but the Power and Control Wheel presents a useful lens through which to examine domestic violence.
Worried About Someone?
from The National Domestic Violence Hotline
Starting the Conversation
Watching someone experience abuse is challenging, especially if that person is someone you know and love. Abuse is about power and control, meaning there may be a clear imbalance in the relationship where one partner has or ends up with more power and control over the other.
Conversations with a survivor about their situation can be hard: they may not want to discuss the abuse they are experiencing for any number of reasons, including fear, shame, or even concern for their partner who has abusive behavior.
If you have noticed warning signs of abuse affecting someone in your life, your instinct may be to intervene or even “save them” from the relationship, but it is never that simple.
There are countless reasons why people stay in abusive relationships, and leaving can be an especially dangerous period for them.
Knowing how to have conversations that empower survivors to make their own decisions is one of the most important ways you can help someone in an abusive relationship reach a safer place.
The experience of surviving relationship abuse is traumatic, and people in any stage of an abusive relationship should be able to depend on others for support as they process complex emotions and navigate next steps.
You can provide essential emotional support by:
- Acknowledging that their situation is difficult, scary, and brave of them to regain control of.
- Not judging their decisions and refusing to criticize them or guilt them over a choice they make.
- Remembering that you cannot “rescue them,” and that decisions about their lives are up to them to make.
- Not speaking poorly of the abusive partner.
- Helping them create a safety plan.
- Continuing to be supportive of them if they do end the relationship and are understandably lonely, upset, or return to their abusive partner.
- Offering to go with them to any service provider or legal setting for moral support.
Depending on the situation, a survivor may be financially dependent on an abusive partner or otherwise lacking access to material resources. One of the most immediate ways you can support someone experiencing relationship abuse is by helping them with their material needs.
- Help them identify a support network to assist with physical needs like housing, food, healthcare, and mobility as applicable.
- Help them by storing important documents or a “go bag” in case of an emergency.
- Encourage them to participate in activities outside of their relationship with friends and family and be there to support them in such a capacity.
- Encourage them to talk to people who can provide further help and guidance, like The Hotline or a resource geared toward teens and young adults called Project Love is Respect.
- If they give you permission, help document instances of domestic violence in their life, including pictures of injuries, exact transcripts of interactions, and notes on a calendar of dates that incidents of abuse occur.
- Do not post information about them on social media that could be used to identify them or where they spend time.
- Help them learn about their formal legal rights through resources like Women’s Law, which provides information on domestic violence laws and procedures.
- With their permission, ensure that others in the buildings where the survivor lives and works are aware of the situation, including what to do (and what not to do) during a moment of crisis or confrontation with an abusive partner.