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Understanding Relationship Abuse

What is Domestic Abuse?

Domestic abuse is a pattern of controlling behaviors that may include physical assaults, sexual assaults, emotional abuse, isolation, threats, stalking, manipulation, and/or intimidation. These behaviors are used by one person in an intimate relationship to control the other. The partners may be married, engaged, separated, or dating; heterosexual or gay; living together or not.

Abuse can happen to anyone regardless of someone’s religion (or lack of), gender identity or expression, age, race or nationality, cultural background, class, ability, and/or education.

1 in 3


1 in 4


in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime (2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

1 in 4


1 in 7


in the U.S. have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime (2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Examples of Abusive Behavior

  • Ridicules opinions/beliefs
  • Belittles or puts down
  • Continually criticizes or calls names
  • Humiliates in public or private
  • Threatens harm or suicide if relationship ends
  • Lies/contradicts, plays mind games
  • Withholds access/information about family finances
  • Destroys property or threatens to kill pets
  • Pushes, kicks, bites
  • Hits, slaps, punches
  • Throws objects or destroys property
  • Locks partner out of home
  • Refuses to help when partner is ill or injured
  • Uses weapons against partner
  • Abandons partner in dangerous situations
  • Threatens physical abuse
  • Forces unwanted sexual acts on partner
  • Accuses partner of cheating
  • Insists partner dress in a sexual manner
  • Constantly criticizes partner sexually
  • Endangers partner’s sexual health with unprotected sex
  • Sabotaging forms of birth control
  • Reproductive coercion, including forcing partner to have unwanted children
  • Infecting partner with a sexually transmitted infection (STI)
  • Quotes scripture to justify abusive, dominating, or other oppressive behaviors
  • Forces partner to violate religious beliefs
  • Prevents partner from attending church
  • Constantly checking texts, emails, and/or social media accounts without permission
  • Sending or distributing sexual photos of partner
  • Using GPS or other electronic devices to track whereabouts
  • Recording telephone conversations

Signs of Abuse

Victims of domestic violence are not likely to speak openly about their relationship, but may show subtle signs of having an abusive partner. Signs may include:

If you notice someone exhibiting these characteristics, don’t be afraid to privately ask if the person feels safe at home. If the person tells you they do not, encourage them to seek support from an organization such as Safe Haven. Our advocates are also available to speak with a supportive person in a victim/survivor’s life.