April 24, 2000 (Portland, Ore.) -- The statistics are in: A report from the U.S. Department of Justice found that one in three women who visit emergency rooms do so because of the effects of domestic abuse. So it's more important than ever to catch abuse before it starts. Protect yourself and those you love by knowing the warning signs and some common traits of a potential abuser. According to Stacey Kabat, executive director and founder of the advocacy group Peace at Home, abusers often follow a pattern of behavior and may exhibit some of these common warning signs:
- Abusers try to rush the relationship: Abusers often get attached to the relationship very quickly and rush through the getting-to-know-you phases of a courtship so that you know little about their past or family. "They may disguise this hurried behavior as romantic by saying, 'I can't live without you' or 'I've never felt loved like this by anyone,' " says Kabat. They may want to marry you or move in together right away. They are extremely emotionally dependent or needy early in the relationship. If you try to slow things down, they will make you feel like you are being over-reactive. Suicide threats are also common.
- Abusers try to isolate you: Abusers want to wear away at your support network. To do this, they may discourage you from being with family and friends or may even initiate conflict with them, causing them to avoid both of you. Abusers will often try to control your access to phones and transportation or will attempt to tell you where you can and cannot go, even going so far as tracking the mileage on your car or asking others to watch you for them. Frequent moves are another way to keep you isolated.
- Abusers are very jealous: Your relationships with other people such as friends, co-workers, and even family are threatening to them. They may accuse you of being unfaithful with co-workers or friends or forbid you to see them. Often mistaken for romantic or protective behavior in the initial stages of a relationship, jealousy can later be the justification used for violence.
- Abusers try to control your money: Abusers seek to limit your options, including your financial ability to leave. They may encourage you to not work at all, or try to cause trouble for you at work. They may even show up at your job on payday to collect your paycheck. If you are on welfare or other financial assistance, they may threaten to report you to the welfare services or other authorities if you don't do what they want.
- Abusers are verbally or emotionally abusive: Verbal abuse often starts long before any physical battering and is intended to wear away at your self-esteem, says Kabat. Public humiliation (such as calling you stupid or commenting negatively on your appearance in front of others), name-calling, mockery, yelling, blaming, swearing, or making insulting gestures either alone or in front of others are all warning signs of imminent physical abuse. They may use verbal abuse to wear you down in arguments or to make you feel at fault. They may twist your words to put the blame on you. They withhold affection when they don't get their way.
- Abusers will mistreat your property or animals: They may throw or break objects when upset. They may shove, kick, or hit animals out of anger or in order to get them to do what they want. Hurting your pets or destroying your property is a way of hurting you.
- Abusers don't respect your privacy: They may call at odd hours "just to check in." They may "just show up" at work or other places unannounced to check up on you or refuse to leave when asked. If you continue to ask them to leave, they may embarrass you publicly or make a scene. This behavior is often mistaken as romantic initially, perhaps justified by saying, "I can't be away from you" or "I had to hear your voice."
- Abusers are often addicted to drugs or alcohol: Drug and alcohol abuse, while not a direct cause of domestic violence, often goes hand in hand with it, says Kabat. They may blame their violent or abusive behavior on the drug or alcohol use, saying, "I didn't know what I was doing. I was drunk," or "I was high. I don't remember."
- Abusers may have a past history of violence: People who commit domestic violence are often violent in general, says Kabat. A past record or history of assault, fighting, or abuse is a sign that they think violence is a way to solve problems. They may have elaborate excuses for these incidents or blame the person they attacked by saying they "had to" or that they "were provoked."
Michele Bloomquist is a freelance writer in Portland, Ore.