Domestic Violence Information

Definition of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive behavior in which one person attempts to control another through threats or actual use of tactics, which may include any or all of the following: physical, sexual, verbal and psychological abuse. The behavior may occur during the relationship or after the relationship has ended.

All the information below is provided as either a link to a Web site or as a downloadable PDF file.

For information on Statewide statistics for domestic violence and sexual assault, please visit the NC Council for Women's Website at:

Common Myths and Why They are Wrong

Domestic violence only happens to poor women and women of color.

  • Domestic violence happens in all kinds of families and relationships. Persons of any class, culture, religion, sexual orientation, marital status, age, and sex can be victims or perpetrators of domestic violence.

Some people deserve to be hit.

  • No one deserves to be abused. Period. The only person responsible for the abuse is the abuser.
  • Physical violence, even among family members, is wrong and against the law.

Alcohol, drug abuse, stress, and mental illness cause domestic violence.

  • Alcohol use, drug use, and stress do not cause domestic violence; they may go along with domestic violence, but they do not cause the violence. Abusers often say they use these excuses for their violence. (Michigan Judicial Institute, Domestic Violence Benchbook, 1998, p. 1.6 - 1.7)
  • Generally, domestic violence happens when an abuser has learned and chooses to abuse. (Michigan Judicial Institute, Domestic Violence Benchbook, 1998, p. 1 - 5)
  • Domestic violence is rarely caused by mental illness, but it is often used as an excuse for domestic violence. (Michigan Judicial Institute, Domestic Violence Benchbook, 1998, p. 1 - 8)

Domestic violence is a personal problem between a husband and a wife.

  • Domestic violence affects everyone.
  • About 1 in 3 American women have been physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives. (Commonwealth Fund, Health Concerns Across a Woman's Lifespan: the Commonwealth Fund 1998 Survey of Women's Health, 1999)
  • In 1996, 30% of all female murder victims were killed by their husbands or boyfriends. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1997)
  • 40% to 60% of men who abuse women also abuse children. (American Psychological Association, Violence and the Family, 1996)

If it were that bad, she would just leave.

  • There are many reasons why women may not leave. Not leaving does not mean that the situation is okay or that the victim want to be abused.
  • Leaving can be dangerous. The most dangerous time for a woman who is being abused is when she tries to leave. (United States Department of Justice, National Crime Victim Survey, 1995)


Signs to Look for in a Battering Personality

Many women are interested in ways they can predict whether they are about to become involved with someone who will be physically abusive. Usually battering occurs between a man and a woman, but battering also takes place in same-sex relationships. Below is a list of behaviors seen in people who beat their partners; the last four signs listed are battering, but many women do not realize that this is the beginning of physical abuse. If a person exhibits several of the other behaviors, say, three or more, there is strong potential for physical violence. The more signs a
person has, the more likely the person is a batterer. In some cases, a batterer may have only a few behaviors that the woman can recognize, but they are very exaggerated (for example, will try to explain the behavior as a sign of love and concern); a woman may be flattered at first. As time goes on, the behaviors become more severe and serve to dominate and control the woman.

  1. JEALOUSY. At the beginning of a relationship, an abuser may say that jealousy is a sign of love. Jealousy has nothing to do with love. It is a sign of possessiveness and lack of trust. The abuser may question his partner about who she talks to, accuse her of flirting, or be jealous of time she spends with family, friends, or children. As the jealousy progresses, he may call her
    frequently during the day or drop by unexpectedly. He may refuse to let her work for fear she'll meet someone else, or even engage in behaviors such as checking her car mileage or asking friends to watch her.
  2. CONTROLLING BEHAVIOR. At first the batterer will say this behavior is due to his concern for her safety, her need to use her time well, or her need to make good decisions. He will be angry if the woman is "late" coming back from the store or an appointment; he will question her closely about where she went and who she talked with. As this behavior progresses, he may not let the
    woman make personal decisions about the house, her clothing, or even going to church. He may keep all the money or even make her ask permission to leave the house or room.
  3. QUICK INVOLVEMENT. Many battered women dated or knew their abuser for less than six months before they were married, engaged, or living together. He comes on like a whirlwind, claiming, "you're the only person I could ever talk to", or "I've never been loved like this by anyone." He will pressure the woman to commit to the relationship in such a way that later the woman may feel very guilty or that she's "letting him down" if she wants to slow down involvement
    or break off the relationship.
  4. UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS. Abusive people will expect their partner to meet all their needs. He expects a perfect wife, mother, lover, friend. He will says things such as "if you love me, I'm all you need, and you're all I need." His partner is expected to take care of everything for him emotionally and in the home.
  5. ISOLATION. The abusive person tries to cut his partner off from all resources. If she has male friends, she's a "whore." If she has women friends, she's a lesbian. If she's close to family, she's "tied to the apron strings." He accuses people who are the woman's supports of "causing trouble." He may want to live in the country, without a telephone, or refuse to let her drive the car, or he
    may try to keep her from working or going to school.
  6. BLAMES OTHERS FOR PROBLEMS. If he is chronically unemployed, someone is always doing him wrong or out to get him. He may make mistakes and then blame the women for upsetting him and keeping him from concentrating on the task at hand. He may tell the woman she is at fault for virtually anything that goes wrong in his life.
  7. BLAMES OTHERS FOR FEELINGS. The abuser may tell his partner "you make me mad," "you 're hurting me by not doing what I want you to do," or "I can't help being angry ." He is the one who makes the decision about what he thinks or feels, but he will use these feelings to manipulate his partner. Harder to catch are claims, "you make me happy," or "you control how I feel.”
  8. HYPERSENSITIVITY. An abuser is easily insulted, claiming his feelings are "hurt," when in actuality he is angry or taking the slightest setback as a personal attack. He will "rant and rave" about the injustice of things that have happened, things that are just a part of living (for example, being asked to work late, getting a traffic ticket, being asked to help with chores, or being told some behavior is annoying).
  9. CRUELTY TO ANIMALS OR CHILDREN. Abusers may punish animals brutally or be insensitive to their pain or suffering. An abuser may expect children to be capable of things beyond their abilities (punishes a 2-year old for wetting a diaper). He may tease children or young brothers and sisters until they cry. He may not want children to eat at the table or may expect them to be kept in their rooms when he is home. Studies indicate that about 60% of men who
    physically abuse their partners also abuse their children.
  10. "PLAYFUL" USE OF FORCE IN SEX. An abuser may enjoy throwing the woman down or holding her down during sex. He may want to act out fantasies during sex where the woman is helpless. He is letting his partner know that the idea of rape is exciting. He may show little concern about whether the woman wants to have sex and uses sulking or anger to manipulate her into compliance. He may begin having sex with the woman while she is sleeping or demand
    sex when she is ill or tired.
  11. VERBAL ABUSE. In addition to saying things that are intentionally meant to be cruel and hurtful, verbal abuse is also apparent in the abuser's degrading of his partner, cursing her, and belittling her accomplishments. The abuser tells her she is stupid and unable to function without him. This may involve waking her up to verbally abuse her or not letting her go to sleep.
  12. RIGID SEX ROLES. The abuser expects his partner to serve him. He may even say the woman must stay at home and obey in all things-even acts that are criminal in nature. The abuser sees women as inferior to men, responsible for menial tasks, and unable to be a whole person without a relationship.
  13. DR. JEKYL/MR. HYDE PERSONALITY. Many women are confused by the abuser's sudden changes in mood. She may think he has some sort of mental problem because one minute he's agreeable, the next he's exploding. Explosiveness and moodiness are typical of men who beat their partners. These behaviors are related to other characteristics, such as hypersensitivity.
  14. PAST BATTERING. The abuser may say he has hit women in the past, but blame them for the abuse ('~hey made me do it"). The women may hear from relatives or ex-partners that he is
    abusive. A batterer will abuse any woman he is with if the relationship lasts long enough for the violence to begin~ situational circumstances do not make one's personality abusive.
  15. THREATS OF VIOLENCE. This includes any threat of physical force meant to control the partner: "I'll slap your mouth off," "1'11 kill you," "I'll break your neck." Most people do not threaten their partners~ abusers will try to excuse their threats by saying "everybody talks like that."
  16. BREAKING OR STRIKING OBJECTS. Breaking loved possessions is used as a punishment, but mostly to terrorize the woman into submission. The abuser may beat on the table with his fist, or throw objects around or near his partner. Again, this is remarkable behavior. Not only is this a sign of extreme immaturity, but there is great danger when someone thinks he has the right to
    punish or frighten his partner.
  17. ANY FORCE DURING AN ARGUMENT. This may involve the abuser's holding the woman down, physically restraining her from leaving the room, or any pushing or shoving. He may hold his partner against the wall, telling her "You're going to listen to me!"

So Why Do They Stay?

By Linda A. Osmundson

Slapping, hair-pulling, kicking, biting…battered women relate a litany of abuse experienced at the hand of our intimate partners. The results are bruises, broken bones, black eyes, internal injuries, sometimes and death. Always there are broken hearts.

Yet, most battered women really do not want to leave their abusive partners. Many of the women who call shelter crisis lines tell the staff and volunteers that they just want the abuse to end. We hope for fantasy TV endings like the lives of Claire and Heathcliff Huxtable or Ward and June Cleaver.

So why do we stay? When the person who had promised to love and cherish us beats us, what makes us stay for the second and third beating? When I speak to community groups about domestic violence, I am nearly always asked this question. Often women in the audience would exclaim, "if my partner laid a hand on me, I would be out the door!"

Imagine, for a moment, your own family. Would you really be able to walk out the door? Could you leave your home, neighborhood and friends? Where would you go? Could you, your two lively children, plus the dog, stay at your brother’s apartment on his couch for an indefinite period of time? What would his two roommates have to say about that? Could you stay with your parents who live in one of those adults-only condos?

I would not be surprised if the first time it happened you would help your partner rationalize why it happened. Your partner was (tired, stressed, angry, drinking, jealous, upset about losing a job or worried about expenses). Any excuse will fill the blank! YOU (made a mistake, came home late, disagreed with your partner, bought lunch at the mall….) fill this blank with the reason your partner says you caused the abuse.

But abuse is not about reason. It is about power. It is about control of one’s partner. And it works. The physical abuse is only the most obvious. It is reinforced by a whole spectrum of other kinds of abuse. We’ve already mentioned the excuses, the minimizing and blaming, saying it was her fault or it really wasn’t that serious. Abusers isolate their victims and keep them from having friends or family around. They control what we do, who we see, what we read and where we go.

Abusers abuse our psyche and emotions by calling us unprintable names, humiliating us, constantly criticizing us.

Abusers are intimidating. I knew an abuser who left a single bullet on the kitchen counter! It takes only a look, a threat, to instill fear. Abusers are coercive, threatening to leave, forcing us to participate in illegal activities. Abusers make sure we have no money, keep us from getting a job, making us put our check in to their account. Abusers treat their partners like servants, acting like "master of the castle," making all the important decisions.

Finally, abusers use the children by making us feel guilty about them, threatening to take the children, using the children to relay messages to their mother.

Abuse works because many of us continue to pretend it does not happen to "good" women. So anyone who is abused must be "bad"! We blame the victim for her own abuse by calling her codependent. We expect her to prevent the abuse instead of why the abuser chose to abuse. In short, we collude with the abuser.

Abusers succeed because they are not abusive all the time. In fact, sometimes they are fun and charming. They are almost always charming around other people.

Battered women stay because we are afraid. We are afraid no one will believe the truth. We fear we will lose our children. We are afraid we will have nowhere to go. We are fearful we will not be able to support the children. We are afraid our church or family will condemn us. We are terrified the abuser will hurt our friends or family. Ultimately, we fear we will be killed trying to leave.

All these fears are legitimate. Most battered women, killed by their abusers, have tried to leave. Some die in the process of leaving and many are killed trying to start over. The blood of millions of battered women is on the hands of friends and families, social workers, clergy, doctors, police, attorneys, judges and anyone else who failed to believe them, failed to heed their pleas for help.

Maybe we should reverse that question, "why does she stay?" and ask, "So why does the abuser abuse?" With all the obstacles in our path the real question is, "How can we possibly leave?"

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