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Domestic violence encompasses a wide range of acts committed by one person against another in an intimate relationship or within a family. It is a pattern of coercive behavior that is used by one person to gain power and control over another. This may include physical violence, sexual, emotional and psychological intimidation, verbal abuse, stalking and economic control. It may take the form of breaking objects, hurting/killing pets, yelling, driving recklessly to endanger or scare the victim, isolating the victim from friends and family members and controlling resources like money, vehicles, credit, medications and time. In same gender relationships, it can include threats to out the victim.
Domestic violence can happen to people of all racial, economic, educational and religious backgrounds and in heterosexual and same gender relationships. While both men and women may be victims of domestic violence, research shows that the overwhelming majority of adult victims are women and that domestic violence is a major cause of injury to women.
The following is a list of early warning signs that someone may be abusive. This list was put together by survivors of domestic violence who reflected on the early phases of the battering relationship and identified some of the early warning signs of abusers.
- Wants to move too quickly into the relationship
- Does not honor your boundaries
- Is excessively jealous and accuses you of having affairs
- Wants to know where you are all of the time and frequently calls, emails and texts you throughout the day
- Criticizes you or puts you down; most commonly tells you that you are “crazy,” “stupid” and/or “fat,” or that no one would ever want or love you
- Says one thing and does another
- Takes no responsibility for their behavior and blames others
- Has a history of battering
- Blames the entire failure of previous relationships on their partners
- Grew up in an abusive or violent home
- Insists that you stop spending time with your friends or family
- Seems “too good to be true”
- Insists that you stop participating in leisure interests
- Rages out of control and is impulsive
Pay attention to the “red flags” and trust your instincts. Survivors of domestic violence frequently report that their instincts told them that there was something wrong early on but they disregarded the warning signs and didn’t know that these signs were indicative of an abusive relationship. Always take time to get to know a potential partner and watch for patterns of behavior in a variety of settings. Keeping in touch with your support system and participating in good self-care can lower your risk of being involved in an abusive relationship.
Some form of sexual abuse is common in abusive relationships but it is often the least discussed. It can be subtle or overt. The impact on the victim is commonly feelings of shame and humiliation. Sexual violence violates a person’s trust, autonomy and feeling of safety. It occurs any time a person is forced, coerced, and/or manipulated into any unwanted sexual activity.
The range of sexual violence includes rape, incest, child sexual assault, ritual abuse, date and acquaintance rape, statutory rape, marital or partner rape, sexual exploitation, sexual contact, sexual harassment, exposure, human trafficking and voyeurism.
Rape is a crime. It is motivated by the need to control, humiliate, and harm. It is not motivated by sexual desire. Rapists use sex as a weapon to dominate and hurt others.
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Emotional abuse occurs in some form in all abusive relationships. It is a very effective tactic used by abusive partners to obtain power and control and it can cause extreme damage to the victim’s self esteem. Commonly, emotional abuse makes the victim feel like they are responsible for the abuse and to feel crazy, worthless and hopeless. It is so damaging that many survivors of domestic violence report that they would rather “be hit” than endure the ongoing psychic damage of emotional abuse.
Emotional abuse can include: constant put downs or criticisms, name-calling, “crazy-making”, acting superior, minimizing the abuse or blaming you for their behavior, threatening and making you feel fearful, isolating you from family and friends, excessive jealousy, accusing you of having affairs, and watching where you go and who you talk to.
Child sexual abuse is any sexual contact with a child. It can take many forms — including both touching and non-touching behaviors.
Touching behaviors include:
- Touching a child’s genitals for sexual pleasure or other unnecessary reason;
- Making a child touch someone else’s genitals;
- Putting objects or body parts inside the vulva or vagina, in the mouth, or in the anus of a child for sexual pleasure or other unnecessary reason.
Non-touching behaviors include:
- Exposing a child to, or using him or her for, pornography or prostitution;
- Encouraging a child to perform sexual acts;
- Exposing a person’s genitals to a child;
- Performing sexual acts in a child’s presence;
- Photographing a child in sexual poses;
- Watching a child undress or use the bathroom, often without the child’s knowledge;
- Using computers and the Internet to make sexual overtures or expose a child to sexual behavior.
A child sexual abuser may spend months “grooming” a victim with nonsexual hugging and touching — behavior that appears to be perfectly normal and acceptable. When the behavior becomes increasingly sexual, the child is confused, frightened and powerless to make it stop.
Elder sexual abuse is considered in Pennsylvania to be the sexual assault of a person over the age of 60. Only 30% of rape/sexual assault victims age 65 or older reported to the police.
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