Do you need help now?
Call 911 if you are in immediate danger
Call the National Hotline at 1.800. 799. SAFE
What victims should expect when they ask for help.
You deserve -ALWAYS- to be heard, respected and empowered by everyone you encounter. When you call your local domestic violence prevention program, you should be treated like the expert in your particular relationship - because you are. You know your partner, the relationship dynamics, and what he is capable of better than anyone. The advocate’s job is to listen to you, support you, and help you find the right resources for your unique situation. If you feel like you are not being heard or respected, ask to speak to someone else. You are not a number; you are a survivor.
Advocates know that ending violence in relationships is not an event; it’s a process. They believe that, if done correctly, with dignity and respect for everyone involved, the process itself can be empowering for the victim and an important first step for the abuser.
Assess your risk of lethal danger.
If any of these things are happening in your relationship, you should contact your local domestic violence program right away and talk with an advocate.
- Has he/she ever used a weapon against you or threatened you with a weapon?
- Has he/she threatened to kill you or your children?
- Do you think he/she might try to kill you?
- Does he/she have a gun or can he/she get one easily?
- Has he/she ever tried to choke/strangle you?
- Is he/she violently or constantly jealous or does he/she control most of your daily activities?
- Have you left him/her or separated after living together or being married?
- Is he/she unemployed?
- Has he/she ever tried to kill himself/herself?
- Do you have a child he/she knows is not hers/his?
- Does he/she follow or spy on you or leave threatening messages?
Look for signs of a battering personality.
Many women are interested in how to identify someone who may become abusive. There are characteristics, traits and belief systems that are common in men who are, or become, abusive. Battering is common in heterosexual relationships (1 out of every 4 women will experience violence in an intimate relationship during their lifetime) but it also happens in gay and lesbian relationships.
Myths are just that: myths. Battering, coercion, intimidation and abuse happen in all socio-economic, ethnic, and religious groups. In fact, the greatest predictor of whether or not someone may be a victim of abuse is simply being female. Women are the victims in 85% of reported domestic violence incidents. There are some cases where women are the true primary aggressors, but many women become violent because they feel they must protect themselves and/or their children.
Signs to Look for in a Battering Personality
Below is a list of traits and tactics abusers use on their partners to coerce, intimidate and control them. These tactics are used by choice: the abuser is not “out of control.” He sees his partner as his property, not as an independent person, and the more he invests in controlling her, the greater the risk for the victim. Violence and abuse reflect a sense of both entitlement and victimization on the part of the abuser. If she doesn’t follow his orders and respond appropriately to his every whim or demand, he feels entitled to correct her. The abuser often seeks to isolate the victim from family and friends and cut her off from everyone but him.
It is important to understand that abuse takes many forms and is often, initially, unrecognizable because it involves the romantic, “falling in love” aspect of the relationship. But there are warning signs, even early on, and it is important to recognize those signs and be realistic about them. Often, men who are abusive are not interested in changing or stopping their controlling tactics, because control is the goal. And “love” can’t change them either. Women must be honest with themselves about what they really see and must not try to excuse the warning signs away.
If a person has these traits and uses these tactics with his partner, there is a strong potential for the abuse to increase in severity and frequency. The more of these traits a person has, the more likely he/she will become a batterer.
- Morbid jealousy: Jealousy is a normal human emotion, but with abusers, it is extreme. Jealousy, in the context of domestic violence, is both an excuse (“I love you so much I want us to be together all the time.”) and a tactic (“You are my wife/girlfriend and we’re supposed to be together.”). This is not a sign of “true love”: it’s a sign of possessiveness. If he starts to monitor the time you spend with others or the time you take to go shopping, this is a sign of morbid jealousy, not love. If he accuses you of flirting, of spending more time with the children/your family than he thinks is proper, or wants you to stop working (or calls constantly while you are at work), these are signs of morbid jealousy. If he says: “If I can’t have you, no one can.” that is a lethality indicator, not a sign of his love for you.
- Quick involvement: Many battered women report that their abuser “swept them off their feet” and courted them intensely before the abuse started. This too, is a tactic, and is part of what makes it so difficult for a battered woman to reconcile the abusive behavior they begin to experience after a period of time with the charismatic and attentive behavior at the beginning of the relationship. He may want to solidify the relationship and begin, early on, to discuss having children and wanting to get married or move in together. This, too, is a red flag. It is not a sign of love, affection and respect: it is an indication of his insecurity.
- Controlling behavior: Initially, he may use language like “I just want to know where you are and make sure you’re safe” or, perhaps, that he should be the one “making the big decisions.” To some women (and society), these may seem, at first, to be acceptable or reasonable, and many women are socialized to defer to men, but this kind of subtle control often goes unrecognized until it morphs into more extreme controlling behavior like monitoring where she goes, who she talks with/to, how long it takes to go to get the kids or go to the grocery store, etc. And it can lead to stalking behavior, which is another lethality indicator.
- Dual Personality (Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde): Many batterers have distinctly different personalities in public and private settings. This is one of the key indications that he is NOT out of control, that he is choosing who he can be violent with, and when he can be violent. His violence is calculating and calculated. He thinks of his partner as his property and has a strong sense of entitlement (“my way or else”), and when things “don’t go his way-to a T” he feels he is being victimized. Many abusers DO NOT get into fights with someone their own size or with someone who is in a position superior to them (their boss, a law enforcement officer, etc.) because they know they must maintain the façade of respectability. And by choosing to be violent only behind closed doors, he, in effect, is demonstrating that he knows his abuse is wrong but also knows that it will be his word against hers, and if he is polite and responsible in public, it will make it that much more difficult for her to convince family, friends, neighbors, law enforcement, etc. that he is abusive.
- Unrealistic expectations: Abusers tend to expect their partners to meet all their needs and perform their “tasks” and responsibilities perfectly every time. He might say: “If you love me, then I’m all you need and you are all I need.” The expectation can (and often does) include the most minute of details: he expects her to weigh the same thing every day; to look a certain way; to be able to read his mind and anticipate his every wish. His “standards” are exact. This tactic demonstrates his need for complete control. When his “expectations” are not met, he feels entitled to point out her “failings” and may use this as an excuse for a threat or an assault. He becomes the authoritarian figure in her life, not her partner.
- Malicious teasing: It is common for couples to gently tease one another about all kinds of things, but in abusive relationships, the teasing is done specifically to hurt the feelings of the victim. The abuser may mock her if she asks him to stop, or tell her she’s overreacting. If he minimizes the effect the teasing is having on her, that is a warning sign that he feels entitled to say/do whatever he wants to her and she is supposed to just accept it. He is using her to work out something he feels bad about but can’t articulate, so he chooses teasing or sarcasm and tries to make her feel lower than him.
- Verbal abuse: Relationships can be horribly abusive without any physical abuse at all. It can be passive verbal abuse (ignoring her) and/or direct and cutting abuse (calling her names like bitch, cunt, whore, etc.). The scars run deep but remain invisible to the public. In fact, many people she turns to for help may minimize the verbal abuse by saying to her: “At least he’s not hitting you.” And even when the verbal abuse includes threats to her life, or to the lives of her family and friends, the threats are often not taken seriously. Many women have predicted their own murders, with chilling precision, on their applications for Orders of Protection. Verbal abuse can be psychologically damaging and should be taken seriously by the victims, her family and friends, advocates, and criminal justice and health care professionals.
- Isolation: This tactic is used in a variety of ways. Early in the relationship, he may want them to be together all the time. This can seem like loving behavior and positive attention, but it becomes problematic when/if she decides she wants to do something on her own or with friends and/or family members. If he uses coercive tactics to make her feel guilty while trying to control whom she sees and when she sees them, this is a clear warning sign. Women can be isolated in both rural and urban settings. If they feel disconnected from their support system, from family and friends, he becomes the one who controls the interactions she has. Isolating her is both a tactic and a goal.
- Blames her (or others) for his problems, feelings and actions: Abusers tend to externalize the unpleasant things that happen in their lives and project onto their victims their frustration about their own shortcomings and insecurities. He may say: “You made me so mad I had to hit you” or “you know better than to piss me off like that.” By saying this, he is taking himself off the hook for his choice to be controlling and abusive, and placing all the blame for his behavior onto her. And society often colludes with him, backing up his belief system that his behavior is somehow her fault.
- Intimate terrorism: This is not hyperbole; this is reality. When men control women, when they stalk, humiliate, harass, threaten, degrade, and assault them, this is intimate terrorism, not “domestic violence.” That term is too benign; it is cleaned-up language used by the public to make violence against women more palatable. By using terminology that makes it seem like the violence is “not really that bad” it allows society to look away. But it is a form of terrorism nonetheless. When men beat women with their fists; when they strangle them; when they threaten to kill them or their children or family members; when they drive fast and erratically, specifically to terrorize the victims; when they hold a gun to their heads or a knife to their throats; when they threaten to burn down the house—these are acts of terrorism. The problem is that these “terrorists” often seem like such nice guys.