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When people think of domestic violence, they often picture women with black eyes, bruises on their arms, or with unexplained bandages or casts. But the sad truth is that domestic violence doesn’t always come with visible proof. Abusers may harm their victims physically, or they may harm them verbally, psychologically or emotionally. Their tactics are varied, and sometimes, this means the victim herself doesn’t even recognize certain behaviors initially as abuse, says Carmen Pitre, executive director of the Sojourner Family Peace Center, the largest nonprofit provider of domestic violence support services in Wisconsin.
“Some people just don’t identify that what’s going on in their relationship as domestic violence. And for lots of women, abuse doesn’t happen everyday. The breaks in-between the abuse instill hope that things will change.”
According to Tami Sullivan, director of family violence research and programs at Yale University, “There’s always psychological abuse if there’s physical or sexual abuse.” And while survivors will attest that the physical abuse is awful, they often state the psychological abuse is worse. “It erodes their self-esteem, self-worth, ability to maintain employment, parent their kids. There are no bruises or broken bones, so people can’t see how awful things are.”
Most times, abusers will use an array of the following tactics in conjunction, adding up to a pattern of violence and control.
Physical abuse may include:
- Suffocating or Strangling
- Pushing or shoving
- Physically abusing or threatening to abuse children
Sexual abuse tactics can include:
- Forcing the survivor to go further or do things sexually she isn’t comfortable doing
- Objectifying or treating the survivor like a sexual object
Emotional, psychological and verbal abuse can involve:
- Harassment or stalking
- Name-calling, constant criticism or insults (see patterns of verbal abuse)
- Destroying or apprehending the survivor’s possessions
- Forcing the survivor to participate in illegal activities
- Blaming the survivor for the abuse or mistakes
- Falsely accusing the survivor of things, such as infidelity, in order to justify the abuse
- Harming the survivor’s pets
- Showing off weapons and/or making threats with weapons
- Isolating the survivor from her family and friends
- Spying on or controlling the frequency of a survivor’s phone calls or internet use
- Now allowing the survivor to make any decisions
- Turning friends and family against the victim
You can find a complete list of emotional abuse signs on our site.
Financial abuse, another way an abuser can control his victim, may include:
- Not allowing the survivor to hold a job or complete her education
- Not allowing the survivor to access income, open a bank account or have a credit card
- Forcing the survivor to ask or beg for money
- Stealing money
- Providing an allowance
- Complete list of financial abuse signs
Remember, no matter what type of abuse is implemented, it’s never your fault. Whether or not you’re sure that what you’re experiencing is abuse, you can always talk to someone, confidentially, by reaching out to a domestic violence advocate. Find one near you by using the search tool available on this website.
Looking for someone to speak with? Enter your location to find phone numbers for domestic violence experts in your area.
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