Domestic abuse is a pattern of behavior used
to establish and maintain power or control over a domestic partner or family member. The
behavior may include acts of violence, intimidation, threats, psychological abuse,
isolation, etc. to coerce and control the other person. Although the violence may not
happen often, the potential for violence is constantly present as a terrorizing factor.
Abuse may not always leave the victim with
bruises or broken bones, it does always leave emotional scars whether the victim is an
infant, child, spouse, or elderly parent.
This discussion focuses on abuse of an
intimate partner -- a current or former spouse, lover, boyfriend, or girlfriend. It
is geared toward women because about 85% of domestic violence is perpetrated against
women, only 15% against men. 1
Here are warning signs that a mate or date
may be a potential or actual abuser. 2
- Jealousy of your time with co-workers,
friends, and family.
- Controlling behavior. (Controls your comings
and goings and your money and insists on "helping" you make personal decisions.)
- Isolation (Cuts you off from supportive
resources, such as telephone pals and colleagues at work.)
- Blames others for his or her problems.
(Unemployment, family quarrels everything is "your fault.")
- Hypersensitivity. (Easily upset by annoyances
that are a part of daily life, such as being asked to work overtime, criticism of any
kind, being asked to help with chores or child care.)
- Cruelty to animals and children. (Insensitive
to their pain and suffering, may tease and/or hurt children and pets.)
- "Playful" use of force in sex. (May
throw you down and hold you during sex. May start having sex with you when you are
sleeping or demand sex when you are ill or tired.)
- Verbal abuse. (Says cruel and hurtful things,
degrades and humiliates you, wakes you up to verbally abuse you or doesnt let you go
- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality. (Sudden
mood swings and unpredictable behavior one minute loving, the next minute angry and
- Past history of battering. (Has hit others but
has a list of excuses for having been "pushed over the edge.")
- Threats of violence. (Says, "Ill
slap you," "Ill kill you," or "Ill break your neck.")
- Breaking or striking objects. (Breaks your
possessions, throws objects near or at you or your children.)
- Uses force during an argument. (Holds you down
or against a wall, pushes, shoves, slaps, or kicks you. This behavior can easily escalate
to choking, stabbing, or shooting.)
When domestic violence occurs, it often
follows a pattern of three stages: 3
- It starts with a build-up of tension --
criticism, yelling, swearing, using angry gestures, coercion, threats.
- This leads to physical or sexual attacks or
threats of attack or other punishment. The perpetrator's rage is out of control.
- The final stage is seduction -- the
perpetrator apologizes, blames the behavior on being drunk, promises to change, gives
gifts. This reinforces the victim's hope for a healthy, loving relationship and allows the
cycle to be repeated.
Three reasons explain why it is often
difficult for a victim to leave an abusive relationship: love, hope, and fear.
- Love for the partner. Most relationships have
their good points -- they aren't all bad.
- Hope that the relationship will change. The
relationship obviously didn't begin with abuse, and the abuser often keeps promising to
- Fear that the abuser's threats will become
Some women do not realize they are being
abused until it is pointed out to them. They have developed such low self-esteem that they
believe abusive treatment is what they deserve.
Relevance to Security
assault is a criminal offense. Emotional outbursts with inability to control anger raise
questions about an individual's judgment and reliability. This is an especially serious
security concern if the person's job involves authority to carry a gun.
Many cases of domestic
violence in the workplace each year, as stalking, threats, and violence often follow women
to work. Anyone who fears they may become a victim is encouraged to contact the
security office for advice and assistance.
Helping the Victim
If you know or suspect that a friend,
relative, or co-worker is being abused, dont be afraid to offer help. It can make a
great difference to a woman in danger if she knows that her colleagues and bosses will
support her efforts to protect herself and her children.
Here are some basic steps you can take to
assist someone who may be a target of domestic violence.3 Again, this
discussion is oriented toward the woman, although the victim could be a man.
Approach your friend,
relative, or co-worker in a compassionate, understanding, non-blaming way. Tell her that
she is not alone, that there are many women like her in the same kind of situation, and
that it takes strength to survive and trust someone enough to talk about it.
Acknowledge that it is scary
and difficult to talk about domestic violence. Tell her she doesn't deserve to be
threatened, hit, or beaten. Nothing she can do or say makes the abuser's violence okay.
Share information. Show her
the list of indicators above. Discuss the dynamics of violence and how abuse is a means of
gaining power and control.
Support her as a friend. Be a
good listener. Encourage her to express her hurt and anger. Allow her to make her own
decisions, even if it means she isn't ready to leave the abusive relationship.
Ask if she has suffered
physical harm. Go with her to the hospital to check for injuries, if appropriate. Help her
report the assault to the police, if she chooses to do so.
Provide information on help
available to battered women and their children, including social services, emergency
shelter, counseling services, and legal advice. To find this information, start with the
Inform her about legal
protection that is available in most states under abuse prevention laws. Go with her to
district, probate, or superior court to get a protective order to prevent further
harassment by the abuser. If you can't go, find someone who can.
Plan safe strategies for
leaving an abusive relationship. These are often called "safety plans." Never
encourage someone to follow a safety plan that she believes will put her at further risk.
Sources for More
Your doctor, local counseling service, or
Employee Assistance Program will have relevant information. Books that may be available in
your library or book store include:
- What to Do When True Love Turns Violent: A
Practical Resource for Women in Abusive Relationships, Marian Betancourt.
Harperperennial Library, 1997.
- When Love Goes Wrong: What to Do When You
Can't Do Anything Right, Ann Jones and Susan Schechter. Harper Collins, 1992.
- Men Who Hate Women and Women Who Love
Them: When Loving Hurts and You Don't Know Why, Susan Forward. Bantam, 1986
For information on the Internet, search
for information on Domestic Abuse or Spouse Abuse. One key site is the Family Violence Prevention Fund at
There is a National Domestic Violence Hotline
at 1-800-799-SAFE. Your telephone book will probably have a phone listing for a local
crisis intervention hot line. Look in the Yellow Pages under Abused Person's Aid, Domestic
Violence, Crisis Intervention, or Women's Organizations and Services.
1. Violence by Intimates (NCJ-167237), Department of
Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, March 1999.
2. Letter in Ann Landers syndicated newspaper column, April 5, 1999.
Permission to use this letter granted by Ann Landers and Creators Syndicate.
3. Domestic Violence: The Facts, Peace At Home, Boston.