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Harvard Commentaries
35320
Harvard Commentaries
Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School


Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence


March 02, 2010

Sexual And Reproductive Health
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Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence
Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence
Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence
htmDomesticIntimatePartnerViolence
Domestic violence and abuse, also called intimate partner violence, is when one person purposely causes either physical or mental harm to another. If you are being abused or have a loved one who is being abused, here's how to get help.
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National Women's Health Information Center
2012-03-02

National Women's Health Information Center

Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence

Domestic violence and abuse, also called intimate partner violence, is when one person purposely causes either physical or mental harm to another, including:

  • Physical abuse
  • Psychological or emotional abuse
  • Sexual assault
  • Isolation
  • Controlling all of the victim's money, shelter, time or food

Often, the violent person is a husband, former husband, boyfriend, or ex-boyfriend, but sometimes the abuser is female. Domestic violence and abuse are common and must be taken very seriously.

One in four women report that they have been physically assaulted or raped by an intimate partner. These crimes occur in both heterosexual and same-sex relationships. Physical and emotional trauma can lead to increased stress, depression, lowered self-esteem, and post-traumatic stress disorder (an emotional state of discomfort and stress connected to the memories of a disturbing event).

Violence against women by anyone is always wrong, whether the abuser is a current or past spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend; someone you date; a family member; an acquaintance; or a stranger. You are not at fault. You did not cause the abuse to happen, and you are not responsible for the violent behavior of someone else.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of intimate partner violence, seek help from family members, friends, or community organizations. An important part of getting help is knowing if you are in an abusive relationship. It can be hard to admit you're in an abusive relationship. But, there are clear signs to help you know if you are being abused. If the person you love or live with does any of these things to you, it's time to get help:

  • Monitors what you're doing all the time
  • Criticizes you for little things
  • Constantly accuses you of being unfaithful
  • Prevents or discourages you from seeing friends or family, or going to work or school
  • Gets angry when drinking alcohol or using drugs
  • Controls how you spend your money
  • Controls your use of needed medicines
  • Humiliates you in front of others
  • Destroys your property or things that you care about
  • Threatens to hurt you, the children, or pets, or does hurt you (by hitting, beating, pushing, shoving, punching, slapping, kicking, or biting)
  • Uses or threatens to use a weapon against you
  • Forces you to have sex against your will
  • Blames you for his or her violent outbursts

Get Help for Domestic Abuse

Here are things you can do:

  • Make a plan in case you need to leave. Set aside some money and find a place to go. Put important papers and items in a place where you can get them quickly. Review a full checklist of items you'll need, such as marriage license, birth certificates, and checkbook.
  • If you're in danger, call the police or leave.
  • If you're hurt, go to a local hospital emergency room.
  • Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE or TDD 800-787-3224, which is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in English, Spanish, and other languages. The Helpline can give you the phone numbers of local domestic violence shelters and other resources.
  • Look up state resources for a list of local places to get help.
  • Reach out to someone you trust — a family member, friend, co-worker, or spiritual leader.
  • Contact your family court (or domestic violence court, if offered by your state) for information about getting a court order of protection.

Domestic Violence Shelters and Transitional Housing

Domestic violence shelters offer victims of domestic violence and their children temporary housing as well as counseling and assistance. Other services may include job training, support groups and legal help. Transitional housing focuses on giving families a safe space and time to recover from domestic violence. Families live independently, in separate apartments, while they also receive counseling, job training, help finding affordable, permanent housing and legal help.

Why Women Don't Leave

People who have never been in an abusive relationship may wonder, "Why doesn't she just leave?" There are many reasons why a woman may not leave an abusive relationship. She may have little or no money and have no way to support herself and her children. She may reach out for help only to find that all the local domestic violence shelters are full. She may not be able to contact friends and family who could help her. Or she may worry about the safety of herself and her children if she leaves.

Older Women Face Unique Challenges

Women of all ages are at risk for domestic and intimate partner violence and face similar challenges when trying to leave an abuser, like feelings of shame and money concerns. However, women who are 55 years and older and are abused face unique challenges. These women grew up and married during a time when domestic abuse was often ignored. Now, at an older age, they have endured many years of abuse and may have problems with poor self-image and shame. Older women who have been abused also are less likely to tell anyone about it; have health problems that keep them dependent on their abusive partner; feel committed to caring for their abusive aging partners; and are fearful of being alone.

Additional Resources

National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life
1-608-255-0539
www.ncall.us/directory.html

National Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
1-800-787-3224 (TTY).
www.ndvh.org

National Sexual Assault Hotline
1-800-656-4673
www.rainn.org

 

 

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