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Home Articles Frequently Asked Questions You Ask, We Answer: Domestic Violence FAQs

You Ask, We Answer: Domestic Violence FAQs

Answers to your top questions about domestic abuse and intimate partner violence

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You Ask, We Answer: Domestic Violence FAQs

DomesticShelters.org has been helping and supporting domestic violence victims, survivors, advocates and allies since 2014. Over the years, we’ve learned what some of the most frequently asked questions about domestic abuse are. Read on to get answers to these common questions about domestic violence, also known as domestic abuse or intimate partner violence.

Table of Contents

    1. Identifying and Defining Domestic Violence
      1. What is domestic violence?
      2. Am I being abused?
      3. What is the difference between domestic abuse, domestic violence and intimate partner violence?
      4. Are there different types of domestic violence?
      5. Is there ever a reason for domestic violence?
      6. Can men be victims of domestic violence?
      7. Do LGBTIQ+ people experience domestic violence?
      8. What are warning signs of domestic abuse?
    2. Escaping Domestic Abuse
      1. I’m being abused. How can I find help?
      2. What if the shelter near me is full?
      3. How can I support myself financially if I leave my abusive partner?
      4. How do I get a restraining order against my abuser?
      5. Can my abuser get my kids in a divorce?
    3. Domestic Violence Victims and Survivors
      1. How can I help someone who is being abused?
      2. Am I a victim or a survivor of domestic violence?
      3. Why do victims sometimes return to or stay with abusers?
      4. Why is it so hard to leave an abusive situation?
      5. How are children affected by domestic violence?
    4. Abusers and Perpetrators
      1. Why do people abuse others?
      2. Can abusers change?
    5. Ending Domestic Violence
      1. What can I do to help end domestic violence?
      2. How can I support domestic violence programs or shelters near me?
      3. How can I become a domestic violence advocate?

    Do you have a question you’d like us to answer? Message us on Facebook or Twitter, or email askamanda@domesticshelters.org. 

    1. Questions About Identifying and Defining Domestic Violence

    What is domestic violence?

    Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another partner. This occurs through a systematic pattern of intimidation, manipulation, humiliation, isolation, fear, terror, coercion, threats, blaming or injury to the victim. 

    The relationship can be between a married couple, cohabitating partners, dating partners or relatives. It can involve children or siblings. Domestic violence can happen to anyone–regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, education, profession or socioeconomic status.

    Learn more: 

    What is Domestic Violence? (downloadable toolkit) 

    What is Domestic Violence? (video)

    What is Domestic Violence? (comprehensive guide)

    Am I being abused?

    Most survivors of domestic violence say that it was difficult to accept that they were being abused. It’s incredibly hard to understand you’re being abused by someone you love, care for or live with. The most important thing to remember is that you don’t deserve it. No one deserves to be abused.

    While physical abuse is “easier” to identify, it can still be hard to understand that there is never any reason for someone to physically harm you, and that doing so is domestic violence, no matter how you’re harmed. Some common methods of physical abuse include punching, slapping, pushing or strangling. But the bottom line is: if someone is hurting you physically, you’re being abused.

    But domestic violence isn’t just physical abuse. Domestic violence can take many forms including:

    • Psychological abuse (stalking, threats of violence)
    • Emotional abuse (humiliation, isolation)
    • Verbal abuse (name-calling, belittling)
    • Sexual abuse (forced sexual contact)
    • Financial abuse (controlling money, preventing a you from having a job)
    • Spiritual abuse (preventing or forcing religious beliefs)

    Here are some signs of abuse to look for both in yourself and your partner:

    You…

    …feel like you’re being controlled. 

    …are fearful that your partner might hurt you.

    …are constantly on edge or feel unsafe.

    …feel like you have to justify your partner’s actions with explanations, defenses, or accommodations.

    …start to doubt your memory or interpretation of events because they trivialize, call you too sensitive or tell you you’re remembering things wrong.

    Your partner…

    …has a pattern of low self-esteem or expresses feelings of inadequacy or powerlessness. 

    …treats you more like property than an equal partner.

    …constantly blames their outbursts, anger or controlling behavior on external circumstances like job stress, family drama, drinking too much or just having a bad day.

    …put you down or call you names.

    … threatens to leave or take your children away from you.

    …is "overly kind" outside the home with friends, family or coworkers, then changes into a more threatening person with you in private.

    …bullies or pressures you into having sex or claim they “deserve” sex simply for being in a relationship with you.

    …hits, slaps, strangles or shoves you.

    …threatens to or actually does hurt your children or pets.

    …threaten to kill themselves or you.

    Learn more:

    Am I Experiencing Abuse? (downloadable toolkit)

    Am I Being Abused? (video)

    Am I Being Abused? (comprehensive guide)

    This is What Abuse Looks Like (article)

    How to Recognize Emotional Abuse (article)

    How Abusers Speak (article)

    Gaslighting: Could You Be Missing the Signs? (article)

    The Big Deal About Belittling (article)

    What is the difference between domestic abuse, domestic violence and intimate partner violence?

    There’s generally not much of a difference between these terms–they all refer to the same thing—a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another partner. 

    “Domestic violence” or “domestic abuse” are terms that can sometimes evoke the traditional view that violence within a relationship is only applicable when two individuals are in a heterosexual marriage and the abuser is typically the husband and the wife is the victim—that’s why it’s “domestic.” 

    But as we’ve learned and researched more and societal views have expanded, we now understand that there are many types of violence that can exist within relationships. We also know those relationships aren’t always straight marriages and that any gender can be an abuser or victim-survivor. 

    That’s why the term “intimate partner violence” is used sometimes–it can help encompass a broader understanding and recognition of violence in relationships.

    Learn more: The Lingo of Domestic Violence (article) 

    Are there different types of domestic violence?

    Yes, domestic violence can take many forms. It’s not always the traditional depiction of a black eye and bruises–though physical abuse is definitely a form of abuse. Here are some forms of domestic abuse (follow the links to learn more about each type):

    Power and Control Wheels also illustrate the different forms domestic violence can take and how abusers often use a variety of tactics to exert power and control.

    Is there ever a reason for domestic violence?

    No. Abusers will use all manner of excuses to justify their behavior as a way of continuing to control a victim-survivor, but there is no justifiable reason for anyone to ever be abused. Healthy relationships do not include abuse. 

    A survivor may believe the abuser’s excuses to justify the violence, excuses like job stress, PTSD or substance abuse. Domestic violence is not caused by stress, alcohol or any other substance abuse (though these things can exacerbate the problem). The majority of people with substance abuse problems, high stress lifestyles or mental illness don’t become abusers.

    Not only will abusers attempt to justify their actions but victims are often also blamed by society in general simply for being victims. Elise Lopez, a researcher in sexual and domestic violence prevention and response at the University of Arizona, told us that victim-blaming is about self-preservation. 

    “A lot of people have a gut reaction to violence. It’s emotionally charged. They think if somebody is being abused, they probably did something to incite it.” Basically, if people can find a reason why abuse is the victim’s fault, then abuse is something that can not only be controlled but prevented. And, in turn, it won’t happen to them.

    Learn more:

    Why Do Abusers Abuse (video)

    How Abusers Trick Survivors Into Denying Abuse (article)

    Yes, Abusive Partners Brainwash Their Victims (article)

    Why We Blame Victims of Domestic Violence (article)

    Abuse Cannot Be Blamed on Mental Illness (article)

    Why We Can’t Blame Abuse on Alcohol (article)

    Can men be victims of domestic violence?

    Yes, absolutely. Contrary to the traditional, outdated view of domestic abuse, we know that men of any sexual orientation can be victims and survivors of domestic violence—in truth, anyone can be a victim. Being a victim of domestic abuse isn’t limited by any status including gender. 

    According to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four men have been physically abused by an intimate partner, while one in seven men have been severely physically abused by an intimate partner. Both 48 percent of women and men have experienced some form of psychological aggression by an intimate partner, according to the CDC.

    While domestic violence shelters are frequently also called “women’s shelters,” there are many that also support male survivors. Men who are experiencing domestic abuse can use the Find Help tool to locate shelters in their area that also support male survivors.

    Learn more:

    Guide to Male Survivors of Domestic Violence (comprehensive guide)

    Resources for Male Survivors (resource list)

    Men Experiencing Domestic Violence (article)

    Women as the Abusers (article)

    Male Victims of Abuse Face Stigmas (article)   

    Do LGBTIQ+ people experience domestic violence?

    Yes, they do. In fact, according to a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study, more than one in four gay men, more than one in three bisexual men, more than four in 10 lesbian women and six in 10 bisexual women have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime.

    In a survey of one year’s time, 44 percent of victims of LGBTIQ+ domestic violence identified as men while 36 percent identified as women. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that more than half (54 percent) of transgender and non-binary respondents had experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetimes.

    Domestic violence doesn’t spare any demographic. Regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression, anyone can become a victim. However, LGBTIQ+ people struggle with being believed, with institutional biases from law enforcement and the legal system and other effects of homophobia, transphobia and discrimination when they attempt to escape. 

    Learn more:

    Resources for LGBTIQ+ Survivors (resource list)

    Violence Just as Prevalent in LGBTQ Relationships (article)

    Domestic Violence in the Transgender Community (article)

    What are the warning signs of domestic abuse?

    Domestic violence isn’t just physical abuse. It’s any form of power and control. Unfortunately, that can make it hard to recognize, even for the person being abused. 

    Abusers use abusive tactics to gain and keep control over their partner for personal benefit, and because they feel entitled to whatever they want. An abuser wants you to:

    Comply with their demands

    • Cater to them
    • Be subservient or submissive to them
    • Allow unlimited access to a survivor’s time and attention, money and their body
    • Keep the survivor’s life centered around the abuser

    Warning signs might include when a partner…

    …pressures you to move fast in a relationship or push for immediate commitment.

    …has been abusive in previous relationships.

    …monitors your communications, expects you to give them your passwords, or checks your phone.

    …believes in stereotypical gender roles and/or male supremacy.

    …is jealous and possessive. 

    …isolates you from your friends and family. 

    …tries to persuade you not to have a job.

    …has two sides to their personality—others see them as a good person, but they’re angry and aggressive with you in private.

    …experiences most emotions in the form of anger and has difficulty conveying other emotions.

    …has a violent temper and quickly changes moods.

    …is cruel to animals or children and is insensitive to their suffering.

    …monitors your whereabouts, activities or spending.

    …won’t listen to you when you say "no" or try to assert your boundaries. 

    Learn more:

    9 Factors That May Help Identify an Abuser (video)

    Abusive Red Flags Everyone Should Know (article)

    10 Relationship Red Flags You May Be Missing (video)

    Normal Jealousy or the Start of Abuse? (article)

    Three Ways to Listen to Your Gut (article)

    Profiling an Abuser: 6 Signs You Should Pay Attention To (article)

    2. Questions About Escaping Domestic Violence

    I’m being abused. How can I find help?

    Use the Find Help tool; click the link and enter your zip code. You’ll get a list of the shelters and domestic violence programs in your area that offer housing, safety planning, advocacy, job training, legal assistance and more.

    The National Domestic Violence Hotline also offers a 24/7 hotline (1-800-799-7233), live online chat, or text (text “START” to 88788) support for domestic violence survivors.

    Learn more:

    I’m Ready to Leave, Now What? (downloadable toolkit)

    I’m Ready to Leave My Abuser, Now What? (video)

    National and Global Domestic Violence Resources (resource list)

    Canadian Domestic Violence Provincial Groups (resource list)

    U.S. Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault State Coalitions (resource list)

    What if the shelter near me is full?

    Overcrowding and underfunding are sometimes unfortunate realities for domestic violence shelters. However, most shelters and domestic violence programs have alternatives to emergency shelters including motel vouchers and referrals. 

    Even if your local shelter is full, it’s crucial to connect with a local shelter or domestic violence program. Advocates at these programs will help you learn more about and apply for resources available to you. To find a complete list of domestic violence programs in your area, enter your ZIP code in our Find Help search tool.

    The National Domestic Violence Hotline also offers a 24/7 hotline (1-800-799-7233), live online chat, or text (text “START” to 88788) support for domestic violence survivors.

    Learn more:

    No Room at the Shelter, Now What?

    Finding a Safe Place

    How can I support myself financially if I leave my abusive partner?

    It’s not uncommon for abusers to create a situation in which they’re the survivor’s only or main source of income–this is one of their common control tactics. Finances are one of the most significant barriers to leaving. But there is help out there for you; domestic violence programs and shelters can often offer emergency funding assistance, help cover immediate costs and needs, and connect you with financial resources and help you apply for them. Resources like housing assistance, childcare programs and job placement all help to speed up your journey to financial freedom. 

    Learn more:

    What is Financial Abuse (comprehensive guide)

    Finding Your Financial Footing After Abuse (article)

    19 Ways to Start Over Financially (list)

    Five Ways to Get Money Matters in Order (article)

    How do I get a restraining order against my abuser?

    Restraining orders, also called orders of protection or protective orders, are civil documents ordering an abuser to refrain from contacting, threatening, assaulting or stalking you. They’re not magic, and some survivors report abusers do break them. But they’re also important tools in safety planning, can send a clear message to an abuser that you’re drawing a boundary and can be the best first line of defense after leaving an abuser. 

    There are different ways in which these orders can be obtained. Restraining orders can be civil or criminal. In some states, the immediate though temporary disposition (the current status of an arrest or prosecution) can include a protective order.

    For instance, a victim of domestic violence can request a protection order from civil court for free, even if there has never been a criminal charge against the abuser. Usually in order to qualify for a domestic violence protection order, the person you wish to have restrained must have engaged in some of the following behaviors: harassment, stalking, physical violence or threats of physical violence.

    A domestic violence advocate can help you understand more about a restraining order, what you need to do to get one, and can even help you file for one. Get started by using the Find Help tool to find your local shelters and domestic violence programs so you can connect with an advocate.

    Learn more:

    Guide to Restraining Orders (comprehensive guide)

    Guide to Restraining Orders (downloadable toolkit)

    Frequently Asked Questions about Protection Orders (FAQ)

    How to Get a Protective Order Served on an Abuser (article)

    Legal Help for Domestic Violence Issues (article)

    Can my abuser get my kids in a divorce?

    Navigating the family court system isn’t easy. Be ready for a long road ahead, says attorney Thomas Shanahan. “When you’re dealing with someone abusive and they can’t hit you or control you anymore, they’re going to figure out ways to use the judicial system against you.” 

    While courts in civil cases don’t appoint attorneys, people who can’t afford their own legal counsel do have options, says Wendy Murphy, JD, an attorney and professor of sexual violence law at New England Law Boston. “Some lawyers do free work a portion of the time, and then there are nonprofit organizations that offer free legal services.”

    There may also be lay legal advocates in your community who have been trained in domestic violence cases and who provide services free for victims. Use the Find Help tool to find your local shelters and domestic violence programs–advocates at these programs and shelters can help you find legal resources.

    Murphy also suggests inquiring for help at a law school. “The younger the students, the more likely they are to do the right thing because they haven’t been trained to do the wrong thing,” she says. “Reach out to recent graduates. They can take on your case for free or little money because they’re still learning. They’re far more likely to file an appeal partly because they’re looking for the experience.”

    There’s a lack of adequate training about domestic violence in the U.S. court system, which means a lack of context about how abuse affects children and the victimized parent and an understanding about the complexities of intimate partner violence–including what it looks like. Because of this, judges may award custody to a parent that they have no reason to believe is controlling, manipulating or intimidating the other parent behind the scenes.

    Judge Anne Hirsch, a trial judge, a mentor judge with the Family Court Enhancement Project (FCEP) and a frequent facilitator for the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges says, “Any judge I talk to wants to make the right decision. It’s difficult to do that when we don’t get the right information or all the information, or the systems in place make it difficult to get that information.” 

    She also warns that survivors and abusers will often minimize abuse. 

    “It’s got to be frightening for someone to come to court and tell a perfect stranger that your partner’s been abusing you and your children. You have been living [with an abusive partner], you have decided that you cannot stay, but you’re terrified of losing your kids. You come to court for help but you are scared and don’t understand the process.”

    Learn more:

    What About My Kids? (downloadable toolkit)

    5 Myths About Child Custody and Domestic Violence (video)

    Looking for a Lawyer? (article)

    Legal Help for Domestic Violence Issues (article)

    Free Attorneys: Godsends or Too Good to be True? (article)

    Moms: Protect Yourself in Court (article)

    Why Are Abusers Getting The Kids in a Split? (article)

    Why Family Courts Fail Protective Mothers & Children: 20 Common Mistakes in Evaluations Judges Miss (webinar)

    3. Questions About Domestic Violence Victims and Survivors

    How can I help someone who is being abused?

    It’s painful and difficult to see someone you care for being abused. The fact you’re concerned is the best first step you can take–victims and survivors struggle with being believed, so believing and listening is crucial.

    Some victims don’t even realize that they’re being abused, so be prepared for a potentially defensive reaction. Dara Carlin, domestic violence advocate and expert with Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence, says the best way to broach the topic is by starting to talk about it. Outwardly support Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October. Bring up a news story you recently read regarding domestic violence or start visibly reading a book about domestic violence in front of your friend. Share what you’ve learned with your friend in a casual manner. You’re basically establishing trust and a safe space with the person you’re worried about. 

    “If you're comfortable about domestic violence, they’ll be comfortable in approaching you and saying something when they’re ready,” says Carlin. She also says that unfortunately, it often takes a horrible wake-up call for survivors of domestic violence to realize they are being abused. Why can it take so much for someone to realize the danger of their situation? “It’s actually not that hard to understand: no one wants to be a victim of domestic violence or own up to being one,” Carlin, a survivor herself, says.

    Learn more:

    I Know Someone Who’s Being Abused, What Should I Do? (comprehensive guide)

    I Know Someone Who’s Being Abused, What Should I Do? (video)

    How to Ask About Abuse (article)

    5 Ways to Intervene When You Suspect Domestic Violence (article)

    25 Ways to Help Those Experiencing Abuse (list)

    24 Things You Shouldn’t Say to Someone With an Abusive Partner (list)

    How to Help a Child Who’s Being Abused (article)

    Am I a victim or a survivor of domestic violence?

    Whether you refer to yourself as a victim or survivor comes down to personal preference. Some people prefer to consider themselves survivors to show how they got through the danger and trauma of abuse. Others use the term “victim” to emphasize how domestic violence is a crime, that perpetrators are criminals and that as victims, they are continually harmed and retraumatized.

    Learn more:

    Appreciating Survivors of Abuse While Supporting Its Victims

    Why do victims sometimes return to or stay with abusers?

    One of the most common questions about domestic abuse is “Why didn’t they just leave the abuser?” It’s easy to make a judgment about a situation that you’re not in or not understand why someone would stay in a painful and dangerous situation. But it’s rare that a survivor can “just leave” when it comes to domestic violence.

    Fear is real in domestic violence and a daily reality for victims. Abusers who have already established a pattern of fear, control, intimidation and power over a victim will often escalate their behavior. They will threaten to hurt or murder the victim, pets, family members and children–and their actions up to that point make the victim understand those aren’t necessarily empty threats.

    Leaving is actually the most dangerous time in an abusive situation. As reported by the U.S. Department of Justice, victims threatening to leave or actually leaving were the most common events precipitating the abuser murdering the victim.

    Abusers are also master manipulators. Their abuse can happen in a cycle: 1) the “honeymoon phase” where the abuser is sweet, charming and loving 2) tension building where the abuser begins to slip back into anger, aggression and other abusive behaviors and 3) violent incident; this can be an explosive outburst of emotional and verbal abuse, escalated threats to harm or kill or actual physical violence. After the third phase of the cycle, abusers will rotate back to the “honeymoon phase,” often showing remorse and promising to be better.

    While not all domestic violence follows this cycle, the point is that abusers manipulate their victims into believing that they’re sorry or that the victim just has to do something different and that the abuse will stop. 

    The vast majority of domestic violence cases also include financial abuse, where the abuser has control over the victim’s money, leaving the victim without means of escape or a way to support themselves or their children. Abusers also like to hide their abuse behind the sham of a happy marriage, which means victims can have a difficult time being believed by people they know–or even worse, being encouraged to return to the abuser by well-meaning family and friends.

    Children are another barrier to escape. Abusers will use children as tools for control, threatening victims with harming or taking their kids or making it so the victim will never see their children again. 

    There are many, many reasons why victims stay with abusers. There are better, more meaningful questions to ask which aren’t putting the blame on the victim; such as: 

    “How can we help the victim leave?”

    “How did the abuser stop their partner from leaving?” 

    “Why does society tolerate abuse?”

    Learn more:

    Why Doesn’t She Just Leave? (article)

    Why We Blame Victims of Domestic Violence (article)

    14 Misconceptions About Domestic Violence (article)

    But I Love Him (article)

    Why is it so hard to leave an abuser?

    Michelle Kaminsky, the chief of the Brooklyn DA's Office of Domestic Violence Bureau says, “I wish people could put themselves in [a domestic violence] situation: If I had to all of a sudden leave my husband, where am I going to go? Would you want to go in a shelter? Or be relocated but all your family and everything you know and your kids' school is in your old neighborhood? People say ‘she could go here and she could do that,’ but I wish they would think, ‘would it be so easy for me to do that?’"

    Abusers purposefully manipulate their relationships to make it hard for victims to escape. Financial abuse is present in almost all domestic violence, where the abuser may not allow the victim to have a job or any control over money. Isolation is also extremely common, where the abuser restricts access to family, friends, community and other avenues of support. 

    Survivors also have an incredibly difficult time with people actually believing they’re victims of abuse. It’s common for society to default to asking, “Why didn’t she (or he or they) just leave if it was that bad?” or even “What did they do to deserve it?” Abusers work to cultivate a pleasant outward mask, often hiding violence and abuse behind closed doors—which just makes it harder for people to believe they’re the monster they actually are with their victim(s).

    There are many, many barriers to escaping domestic violence. Here are just a few:

    • Threats of harm to the victim, children, pets and family members.
    • Cultural, racial and religious stigma.
    • Fear of losing child custody.
    • Disabilities that make the victim dependent on the abuser.
    • Fear of abuse escalating and the abuser retaliating.

    Lack of a safe space to live and the possibility of homelessness.

    • Worries about what’s best for children.
    • The abuser is a member of law enforcement.
    • Pressure from family not to leave a marriage or who don’t believe the survivor.
    • Low self-esteem leading the victim to believe they “deserve” the abuse.
    • It’s safer to stay because the abuser has made death threats or has stalked the victim–staying lets the victim keep an eye on the abuser and know when they’re about to become violent.
    • Shame and embarrassment.
    • Fear of deportation for undocumented survivors.

    Learn more:

    50 Barriers to Leaving Domestic Abuse (list)

    Barriers to Leaving (5-part series)

    14 Misconceptions About Domestic Violence (article)

    How are children affected by domestic violence?

    In households where an abuser commits domestic violence in the presence of the children, those children face an increased likelihood of physical harm or even death. According The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence and Firearms, 30 to 60 percent of children living in households with domestic violence are victims of direct child abuse themselves. At least 636 children have been murdered by a parent in a domestic violence situation in the past 10 years in the U.S.

    Unremitting, serious stressors like exposure to domestic violence can cause long-lasting changes to the brain that can create serious vulnerabilities, especially for kids who don’t have supportive caregiving help and comfort to develop positive coping strategies. The constant bombardment of stress hormones caused by exposure to domestic violence can affect every aspect of a child’s functioning. By examining images of the brain, researchers found evidence that exposure to trauma changes the brain.

    Children of all ages who are exposed to domestic violence exhibit signs. Here’s what to look for:

    Infants: Decreased responsiveness, fussiness, trouble eating and sleeping

    Pre-Schoolers: Aggression, behavior problems, frequent bed wetting, isolating themselves from peers, feeling unsafe, suffering separation anxiety, bad dreams, self-blame, lower verbal skills

    Grade Schoolers: Aggression, frequent outbursts, bullying others, frequent bed-wetting, poor quality peer relations, emotionally withdrawn, fear, emotional responses not matching situation, lower verbal skills and reading levels

    Adolescents: Dating violence, bullying, use of drugs or alcohol, early sexual activity, emotionally withdrawn or detached, frequent health complaints, short attention span, lower verbal skills, difficulty trusting others

    It’s easy to connect mental health disorders in both adults and children (like depression and anxiety) to childhood trauma. But it turns out there are physical effects that can result from childhood trauma as well. Adults who experienced damaging childhoods are more likely to have chronic health problems such as heart disease, cancer, liver disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Study. The study found that the more adverse experiences people had as children, the more likely they were to have adverse outcomes as adults related to health, behavior and opportunity, such as:

    • Poor academic achievement
    • Alcoholism and alcohol abuse
    • Illicit drug use
    • Smoking, beginning at an early age
    • Depression
    • Suicide attempts
    • Poor work performance
    • Financial stress
    • Early initiation of sexual activity
    • Adolescent pregnancy
    • Risk for intimate partner violence
    • Risk for sexual violence
    • Sexually transmitted diseases
    • Unintended pregnancies
    • Ischemic heart disease
    • Liver disease
    • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

    Chronic stress can also make it more likely that people will experience autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and be at greater risk for cancer, stroke and heart disease.

    Learn more:

    Kids Caught in the Crossfire (article)

    How to Recognize Trauma in Kids (article)

    When Kids Witness Violence (article)

    Healing and Recovery in Children Exposed to Domestic Violence (webinar)

    Does Childhood Trauma Cause Health Problems in Adults? (article)

    4. Questions About Domestic Abusers

    Why do people abuse others?

    Why do abusers abuse? Abusers want power and control over their victim for whatever reason–it may be for personal benefit like free labor or money or simply to satisfy their ego. They feel entitled to this power and control over their partner. Abusers feel they deserve to do whatever they want and that their victim should accommodate them in whatever way the abuser desires. 

    There can be a lot of contributing factors to why someone becomes an abuser including exposure to abuse and violence during their childhood and other childhood traumas. The Childhood Domestic Violence Association (CDVA) reports children who witnessed domestic violence in their childhood home were three times more likely to commit domestic violence as adults. In fact, the CDVA calls childhood domestic violence the most significant predictor of domestic violence later in life. But it’s incredibly important to note that not everyone who has witnessed or been the victim of abuse becomes an abuser. 

    The way society views women also plays a role in why men abuse women–women are objectified and sexual violence is often normalized or even romantized during our daily lives through pop culture and rhetoric. Some religions normalize women as “property” of their husbands, brothers or fathers, leading to objectification of the women and entitlement from the man. 

    For those in LGBTIQ+ communities, sometimes the more “femme” or “submissive” partner or a partner who doesn’t pass as straight or as a particular gender identity might also be treated like a second-class citizen. This discrimination and bias can also lead to objectification, discriminatory sexualization and abuse.

    While abusers do come from all walks of life, poverty can also play a role. Studies have shown higher incidences of domestic violence within lower income communities. Poverty can lead to increased stress levels, exacerbating an existing violence problem. Financial insecurity also makes it more difficult for survivors to find a way out of a relationship with an abuser. 

    What we know for sure is that substance abuse from drugs or alcohol and mental illness do not create abusers. While these factors can exacerbate an abuser’s actions, they don’t cause people to become abusers. Nancy Erickson, an attorney and consultant on domestic violence legal issues, says, “Domestic abuse is a behavior, not a symptom of a mental illness.”

    Learn more:

    What Makes People Choose to Abuse? (article)

    Why Do Abusers Abuse? (video)

    What Fuels Domestic Violence? (series)

    Part 1: A Family Pattern

    Part 2: Misogyny

    Why Does He Do That? The Profile and Tactics of Men Who Abuse Women (webinar)

    When Masculinity is Toxic (article)

    Abuse Cannot Be Blamed on Mental Illness (article)

    Why We Can’t Blame Abuse on Alcohol (article)

    Can abusers change?

    Abusers often abuse because of learned attitudes and feelings of entitlement and privilege, which can be difficult to reverse. Abusive behavior may be so ingrained in a person that one-hundred-percent reform may not always be possible, experts say. 

    Ten to 18 percent of those arrested for domestic violence are arrested again within six months, 15 to 30 percent face a second arrest within 28 months, and up to 60 percent are rearrested within 10 years. These numbers only tell part of the story, considering most domestic violence is never reported to law enforcement.

    All that said, it may be possible for some abusers to change. But it doesn’t happen overnight, and it takes a lot of work—and counseling—for it to be a possibility.

    “In order to change, the abuser has to consciously choose to change and take responsibility for being abusive, permanently,” says Gretchen Shaw, associate director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

    In other words, someone who hits you and then comes back a week later and says they’ll never do it again is probably not telling the truth. It’s best to move on from someone who’s abused you or a previous partner.

    Learn more:

    Will Domestic Abuse Happen Again? (article)

    What is Batterer Counseling? (article)

    What Makes People Choose to Abuse? (article)

    5. Questions About Ending Domestic Violence

    What can I do to help end domestic violence?

    There are a lot of ways to get involved! The more people who are dedicated to ending domestic violence means the more we can collectively work towards ending the behaviors and situations that create it. Educating yourself and others about domestic violence is crucial–the more we know what domestic violence is, how widespread it actually is, and what to do about it, the better.

    Make a Donation

    It is easy to ignore this message. Please don't. We and the millions of people who use this non-profit website to prevent and escape domestic violence rely on your donations. A gift of $5 helps 25 people, $20 helps 100 people and $100 helps 500 people. Please help keep this valuable resource online.

    Another good place to start is by refusing to support societal causes of domestic violence. Turn off movies or shows that normalize sexual violence. Refuse to support or condone celebrities convicted of abuse. Talk to your family and friends about domestic violence–and challenge when people make sexist or discriminatory comments or jokes. Believe survivors! Contact your lawmakers about domestic violence legislation and current issues.

    If you have kids, model healthy relationships for them. Encourage boys to express their emotions in a healthy way instead of bottling it up or resorting to aggression. Teach girls about their self-worth and agency in relationships. Have conversations with kids about how society and pop culture can often view women as sexual objects and how that’s not acceptable. 

    All children should understand how important consent is. You can start age-appropriate conversations even with young children by making sure they’re never forced to hug or kiss when they don’t want to. Teach them to ask other kids if they want to play and to take no for an answer.

    Younger kids should be praised not for behavior and personality qualities instead of physical characteristics. For example, say “You’re so smart” or “You’re really brave” instead of “You’re beautiful” or “You’re going to be such a lady-killer.”

    Other ways to help fight domestic violence include volunteering and donating. If you’d like to make a monetary contribution, consider donating to DomesticShelters.org so we can help even more victims and survivors. If you’d like to help your local shelter with their current needs, you can use our Wishlist platform to find a shelter near you and buy them supplies–all without even leaving your house!

    If you want to volunteer at your local shelter, domestic violence program, or crisis hotline, use our Find Help tool to discover what’s in your area. Contact them or check out their website to learn about their volunteer opportunities.

    Learn more:

    10 Ways You Can Help Prevent Domestic Violence Where You Live (video)

    10 Ways You Can Help Prevent Domestic Violence Locally (article)

    To Do: Start a Movement (article)

    Why We Need to Let Boys Cry (article)

    Turns Out, 3 Isn’t Too Early to Talk About Boundaries (article)

    Teaching Teens About Healthy Sex in a Porn-Saturated Culture (article)

    It’s Time to Challenge Sexist Humor (article)

    How to Call Your Lawmakers (article)

    How can I support domestic violence programs or shelters near me?

    Volunteering and donating are the two best ways to help fight domestic violence in your area. 

    If you’d like to make a monetary contribution, consider donating to DomesticShelters.org so we can help even more victims and survivors. If you’d like to help your local shelter with their current needs, you can use our Wishlist platform to find a shelter near you and buy them supplies–all without even leaving your house!

    If you want to volunteer at your local shelter, domestic violence program, or crisis hotline, use our Find Help tool to discover what’s in your area. Contact them or check out their website to learn about their volunteer opportunities.

    Learn more:

    How Do I Donate Items to Shelters? (article)

    Donating to DomesticShelters.org (donation information)

    Domestic Violence Shelter Wishlists (digital item donation platform)

    How can I become a domestic violence advocate?

    From trained domestic violence advocates who work within a nonprofit to volunteers who want to give their time, advocacy groups and shelters are always looking for smart, caring people who are passionate about ending domestic violence. 

    You don’t need to be a survivor of domestic violence to join the cause, but knowledge of domestic violence—the history of the movement, the psychology behind abuse and abusers, how to best help a survivor and the myriad reasons why it’s often difficult for a survivor to untangle themselves from an abuser—is vital. You’ve already started by reading this! Now check out the rest of DomesticShelters.org’s information including articles, comprehensive guides, videos and webinars.

    A comprehensive domestic violence training, typically a 40-hour, week-long course offered by a domestic violence nonprofit or state coalition can also give you a thorough overview of the dynamics of abuse. Typically, domestic violence organizations will hold this training for the community, and they’re often a requirement for anyone who wants to volunteer with them. Use our Find Help tool or State Coalitions (U.S.) or Provincial (Canada) directories to find an organization near you. Reach out to the organization to learn more about upcoming training opportunities.

    Learn more:

    How Do I Become A Survivor Advocate? (Ask Amanda column)

    Speaking Out; 4 Steps to Becoming a Domestic Violence Advocate (article)

    National and Global Domestic Violence Resources (resource list)

    Canadian Domestic Violence Provincial Groups (resource list)

    U.S. Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault State Coalitions (resource list)