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Domestic Violence - Topic Overview

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence is abuse that happens in a personal relationship. It can happen between past or current partners, spouses, or boyfriends and girlfriends.

Domestic violence affects men and women of any ethnic group, race, or religion; gay or straight; rich or poor; teen, adult, or elderly. But most of its victims are women. In fact, 1 out of 4 women will be a victim at some point.1

The abuser may use fear, bullying, and threats to gain power and control over the other person. He or she may act jealous, controlling, or possessive. These early signs of abuse may happen soon after the start of the relationship and might be hard to notice at first.

After the relationship becomes more serious, the abuse may get worse.

  • The abuser may begin making threats, calling the other person names, and slamming doors or breaking dishes. This is a form of emotional abuse that is sometimes used to make the person feel bad or weak.
  • Physical abuse that starts with a slap might lead to kicking, shoving, and choking over time.
  • As a way to control the person, the abuser may make violent threats against the person's children, other family members, or pets.
  • Abusers may also control or withhold money to make the person feel weak and dependent. This is called financial abuse.
  • Domestic violence also includes sexual abuse, such as forcing a person to have sex against her will.

Money troubles and problems with drugs or alcohol can make it more likely that abuse will happen.

Abuse is also common in teens who are dating. It often happens through controlling behaviors and jealousy.

What should you do if you're being abused?

It's important to get help. Talk with someone you trust, such as a friend, a help center, or your doctor. Talking with someone can help you make the changes you need.

Your first step is to contact a local advocacy group for support, information, and advice on how to stay safe. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233) for the nearest program. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in English, Spanish, and other languages.

You can also see the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence website at www.ncadv.org/resources/StateCoalitionList.php to find the program nearest to you that offers shelter and legal support.

Here are some other things you can do:

  • Know your legal rights. Consider asking the police for help.
  • Make sure that you know phone numbers you can call and places you can go in an emergency.
  • Teach your children not to get in the middle of a fight.
  • If you think you may leave, make a plan to help keep you safe. This will help when you are getting ready to leave. Your plan might include:
    • Putting together and hiding a suitcase of clothing, copies of your car and house keys, money or credit cards, and important papers, such as Social Security cards and birth certificates for you and your children. Keep the suitcase hidden in your home or leave it with friends or family or at work if possible.
    • Open a savings account or get a credit card, if you can do so in secret.
    • If you are a teen, talk to a trusted adult, such as your parents, family friend, or school counselor. You can also call the National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline toll-free: 1-866-331-9474.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 08, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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