Interpersonal abuse comes in many forms, such as physical abuse, child abuse, emotional abuse and more. Understanding the sings of various types of abuse can help to mitigate potentially lethal consequences. While it is never easy, taking steps to ensure you and your loved ones are safe is vital, and Peace House is here to help. Learn more about the different forms of abuse below.
Domestic violence is defined as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over another person in a domestic setting, such as in marriage or cohabitation. Abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological (or any combination therein) or threats of actions that influence another person (such as the abuser threatening to kill themselves). This includes behaviors that frighten, terrorize, manipulate, blame, or injure someone.
Domestic violence does not discriminate. It can affect anyone regardless of age, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or religion. It can happen to couples who are married, living together, or dating. Domestic Violence affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds & education levels. This type of violence can greatly affect the direct victim and any children or bystanders who witness the abuse.
Any hurtful or unwanted behavior inflicted upon you can be classified as abusive. It is important to remember that domestic violence is not the fault of the victim. It is possible to be a survivor by relying on personal strength, courage, and the help of others.
Statistics on Domestic Violence (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence)
- 25% of women have experienced domestic violence in their lifetime
- 85% of domestic violence victims are women
- An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner every year in the US
- Females who are 20-24 are at the greatest risk for nonfatal intimate partner violence
- According to the U.S. Department of Justice 835,000 men are physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually in the United States
Is Your Life In Danger?
Domestic violence and abuse are serious and can lead to personal harm and even death. Know the signs and symptoms of abuse which can turn lethal for you or your children and seek help if any of these signs are present in your relationships. Review the list below to identify if you are in danger. The greater number of indicators below, the greater the chance of a life threatening attack.
- Has the abuser ever used, or threatened to use, a gun, knife, or other weapon against you or your children?
- Has the abuser ever threatened to kill or injure you?
- Has the abuser ever tried to strangle (choke) you?
- Is abuser violently or constantly jealous?
- Has abuser ever forced you to have sex?
- Has the abuser expressed ideas, dreams, or fantasies about killing you or your children?
- Has the abuser made more than one threat? How often? What are the threats?
- Does the abuser have a history of arson or threats of arson?
- Does the abuser express ownership of you ("If i can't have you no one can")?
- Has there been separation violence?
- Has there been stalking, hostage taking, or abduction?
- Is the abuser acutely depressed, seeing little hope for life?
- Is there frequent use of alcohol or drugs?
If these factors are a part of your relationship with your spouse or partner there is an increased threat to your personal safety and possible the life of you and or your children or relatives. Seek help immediately if you feel your life is threatened. Call the Peace House if you feel you have time and your safety is not immediately at risk. If you feel an immediate threat, call 911.
Being afraid of your partner is the number one sign that you are in a domestic violence situation. It is helpful to ask yourself the questions below in order to get a clearer picture of what a violent relationship can look like. If you find that you feel most of the emotions listed below, you could be in a violent intimate partner relationship and at risk for greater harm.
- Nervous about how my partner will act or react in certain situations?
- Afraid of my partner most of the time?
- Feeling like there is nothing I can do right for my partner?
- Feeling like I deserve to be mistreated and that it is my fault?
- Feeling helpless or emotionally numb?
- Always doing what my partner wants me to do, instead of what I want to do?
- Constantly making excuses for my partner’s behavior?
Does my partner:
- Threaten or yell at me and make me afraid for my safety?
- Prevent me from going to school or work?
- Show jealousy towards my other relationships including friends, family, and/or co-workers?
- Kick, hit, slap, push or physically harm me?
- Pressure me sexually to do things I don’t want to do?
- Not see me as a person, but as a piece of property?
- Intimidate me and make me stay even thought I don’t want to?
Domestic violence usually falls into a specific pattern that repeats itself and does not change over time. The cycle below is an outline of the phases an abusive relationship may go through, and the behaviors abusers use to gain control in the relationship. It is important to know that the pattern seen below is never-ending, and if the cycle does not stop it will continue to repeat itself.
Does your relationship look or feel like this?
Emotional abuse involves constantly embarrassing, criticizing, or putting you down verbally. An abuser will take advantage of your emotional state in order to control you, your mind, and eventually tear down how you feel about yourself. If you are suffering from emotional abuse over time you may begin to suffer from emotional and psychological difficulties, including believing you are worthless, which you are not. It is important to understand that this is another form of abuse that is used to control you.
Signs of emotional abuse
- Emotional abuse can be just as harmful as physical abuse and is a way for someone to break down your self-worth and self-esteem
- Emotional abuse involves verbal yelling, humiliation, insults, and constant put-downs, often in front of others
- Emotional abuse involves intimidation, threats, and talking you into something you do not want to do
- Emotional abuse can involve controlling your money, credit cards, or savings
What you can do about emotional abuse
- Remind yourself that it is not your fault
- Build a strong support system—make your friends, family, or co-workers aware of what is going on
- Document incidents and feelings in a journal in order to process your emotions
- Practice self care—make sure you are eating, sleeping, and maintaining a sense of daily routine in order to stay grounded
- Obtain counseling services to give you support, guidance, and resources
- Consider joining a local support group
- Call 911 if you are in a dangerous situation with your abuser
- Make an escape plan
- Decide where you will go and who you will call if you find yourself in a dangerous situation
- Plan how you will leave your home if you are in danger
- Pack a bag with your identification and extra clothes in case you have to escape a dangerous situation quickly
Children who witness domestic violence often develop behavioral and emotional problems— problems vary based on their age, sex, and role in the family. Often children will feel guilty, thinking they are the cause of the violent behavior. Many children carry these emotional feelings with them throughout their lives. It is common for children to begin to act quietly, stay more to themselves, and resist expressing their feelings because they feel this will help protect the victim. They may also act out more and get in trouble at home and school more often than before.
Common physical reactions:
- Frequently tired and sluggish
- Stomachaches or headaches
- Short attention span
- Often ill or sick
- Overeating or under-eating
Common emotional reactions:
- Anger and depression
- Guilt and feeling responsible for the abuse
- Shame and embarrassment
- Confusion about feelings towards parents
- Frequent nightmares
- Refusing to go to school
- Learning problems
- Acting out and getting in trouble
- Avoiding going home
- Isolation from friends and family
- Trouble forming relationships and keeping friends
- Poor coping and anger management skills
What parents can do:
- Talk to your children in order to make them feel comfortable and safe
- Invite your children to express their feelings
- Set rules and be sure to enforce them consistently
- Keep yourself healthy so that you may serve as a role model for your children
- Give affection and encouragement to your children
- Show interest in your child’s life
Sexual Assault and Trauma
At Peace House we view sexual assault as a broad term for unwanted sexual contact including rape, date rape, acquaintance rape, sexual abuse, incest, marital rape, childhood sexual abuse, molestation, or any other unwanted sexual contact. We offer extensive counseling for survivors in order to help them live normal and enriching lives.
Survivors of sexual assault are faced not only with the emotional and physical effects of a violent crime, but also with many mis-perceptions that society and even close friends or family members may have about sexual assault. Victims often feel a sense of shame about the abuse leading to underreporting and a lack of seeking help. Learn more about different forms of sexual assault below.
Statistics on Sexual Assault:
- 77% of survivors know their attacker
- 84% of rapes are never reported to authorities
- 46% of acquaintance-rape survivors and 27% of stranger-rape survivors never tell anyone
- 1 in 7 married women will be raped by her husband at some point during the marriage
Rape is not a crime of passion and is not driven by the perpetrator’s sexual desire. Rape is driven by a desire for domination and control, by the perpetrator’s need to overpower another human being. Therefore, regardless of what you were wearing, how you were acting, or if you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol, rape is not your fault.
Survivors pay a steep physical and emotional price for the perpetrator’s crime. They experience significant feelings of loss in many areas of their lives—loss of control, loss of self, loss of security, loss of sexual interest, comfort, or desire. Individual survivors of rape experience many different emotions and reactions and have different ways of coping. Many survivors find it comforting, however, to learn about common reactions, and to know that they are not alone.
Because rape is an emotional and physical trauma, many survivors experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress. These symptoms are usually grouped into three broad categories:
- Intrusions, such as flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive thoughts
- Avoidance of situations, people, or places that bring on the intrusions
- Hyperarousal, including hypervigilance, sleeplessness, and increased startle response (“jumpiness”)
The following list provides a more specific and comprehensive picture of common psychological and behavioral reactions.
Emotional Responses to Sexual Assault
- Guilt, as if you did something to deserve to be raped (dressed provocatively, drank too much, acted recklessly, etc.)
- An overwhelming sense of anger—at the rapist, at yourself, at the world, etc.
- Loss of control over your life
- Fear that you will be raped again
- Fear of being alone
- Avoidance of anything that reminds you of the assault, including talking about it
- Loss of trust, especially if you were raped by someone you know
- Experiencing flashbacks and nightmares of the assault
- Lack of interest in or fear of sexual intimacy
What You Can Do:
- Remind yourself that this is not your fault
- Call our Helpline at (800) 647-9161 to speak with an advocate
- Seek help from a mental health professional
- Consider joining a support group for survivors
- Reach out to friends and family who make you feel supported, loved and heard
- Limit your time with people who are emotionally demanding or only contact you when they need something
- Consider ending or pausing relationships with people who are judgmental or don’t believe you
- Take care of yourself. Pay special attention to your eating, sleeping and exercise habits. Maintaining a positive daily routine can help you feel more in control.
- Consider keeping a journal to help process your emotions
- Utilize your spiritual side. Prayer, meditation, visualization and engaging in your religious or spiritual community can often feel strengthening and restorative.
Many of the effects of child sexual abuse can carry over into adulthood. The psychological world created by the abuser, in which the child is not allowed to tell anyone and often feels responsible for the abuse, can lead to intense emotional withdrawal, shame, guilt and mistrust. The survivor often experiences a major loss as a result of the abuse—loss of the ability to form strong, positive relationships with others. Nonetheless, many survivors of child sexual abuse are able to heal and live happy and productive lives.
Common Reactions to Child Sexual Abuse:
- Extreme difficulty trusting others and trusting in yourself
- Trouble forming strong relationships with others
- A tendency to be controlled and abused in relationships, or to be controlling and abusive yourself
- Sexual difficulties, anywhere from promiscuity to avoiding sex altogether
- Frequent feelings of anger that are difficult to explain
- Trouble concentrating, focusing, and/or remembering things
- Recurrent episodes of “zoning out” or feeling “out of body”
- Symptoms of depression—depression is the most common symptom in survivors of child sexual abuse
- Constant anxiety or fear
- Eating problems, including restricting, bingeing and pursing
- Other self-harming behaviors, such as cutting or burning
- Suicidal thoughts
What You Can Do:
- Be patient with yourself—know that there is no quick fix for what you have endured, but also remember that it is possible to heal
- Seek help from a mental health professional who is experienced in working with sexual trauma
- Consider joining a support group for Child Sexual Abuse survivors
- Consider keeping a journal to help process your feelings about your childhood abuse
- Consider calling a hotline for survivors
- Evaluate your relationships with others—consider changing or letting go of relationships in which you feel used, abused, invalidated or not heard
- Think about ways to empower yourself by turning your experience into something positive
Child sexual abuse is defined as any sexual contact between a child and a person older than they are, usually an adolescent or adult. This includes touching, fondling, flashing, forced viewing of pornography, and prostitution, and any other sexual act. Sexual abuse is very common in the United States. According to the DC Rape Crisis Center, one in three girls and one in six boys are abused before age of 18, with the median age for abuse at just nine years old.
Child victims almost always know their abuser. According to the National Center for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, 30% of child sex abusers are family members, 60% are known to the child in some other way (e.g., a babysitter, coach, or teacher), and the remaining 10% are strangers. Abusers are most often men, regardless of the sex of the victim, while women are the perpetrators in only 14% of sexual abuse cases. The violation is often ongoing and habitual, though it can certainly be isolated to a single encounter and still have devastating effects. There are many emotional and psychological losses associated with child sexual abuse, and they often carry into adulthood.
It can be difficult to know when a child is being sexually abused. Perpetrators typically create an isolated, secretive world in order to maintain the abusive relationship—the child is either manipulated or intimidated into keeping it a secret. Because the abuser is often an authority figure of some kind, children can feel that they are being punished for doing something wrong.
Possible Indicators of Child Sexual Abuse
- Emotional isolation or withdrawal
- Behavior changes, such as acting out in school
- Changing or dropping friends
- Sleep disturbances—both sleeping a lot and trouble sleeping
- Nightmares or bed-wetting
- Change in eating habits
- Increased clinginess
- Sudden fear of a certain person, place, or activity
- Fascination with sex at a very young age
- Physical discomfort in the private areas—itching, bleeding, rawness
- Self-harm behaviors, such as cutting
It is important to note that many of the symptoms listed above, such as irritability and behavior change, are indicators that anything could be wrong with your child, not just sexual abuse. It is important to have a non-threatening and open conversation with him or her and try to establish the root of the problems.
Many children fear that no one will believe them and have internalized the abuse as their fault or something they deserved. It is important to emphasize that you believe your child. If he or she discloses the abuse, stress that it is not his/her fault and that you are proud of him/her for telling you.
What You Can Do
- Remember that it is possible for your child to heal from this, especially with your help
- Seek out a child advocacy center in your area that is experienced and skilled at interviewing families who are reporting child sexual abuse
- Take your child to see a mental health professional who is experienced in working with child sexual abuse survivors
- If you are one of the abused child’s primary caregivers, be sure to get support for yourself as well as the child
- Do not downplay the abuse to the child—it is important to send the message that any type of abuse is unacceptable and that you will always take it seriously
- It is natural to feel a sense of protectiveness after learning that your child has been sexually abused—try to manage your overprotective instincts, so that your child does not pick up on your fear