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Screening: Domestic Abuse

Are you concerned about your relationship with a partner, boyfriend or husband? It can be very hard to realize or even believe that such a person could be abusing you. But domestic abuse happens to women (and some men) from every culture, race, age group, religion or occupation, and it may be happening to you. If you are being abused, you are not alone, as it is estimated that 40 percent of all women will be hurt by domestic violence during their lifetimes. Most cases of domestic abuse are committed by men against women, but abuse also occurs within gay and lesbian couples, and occasionally by women against men.

Physical violence is one form of abuse. But abuse can also occur by verbal attacks, emotional cruelty or sexual acts. Sometimes abuse starts with verbal attacks and turns to physical or sexual violence. Since disagreements and arguments are part of almost every intimate relationship, you may have difficulty telling when normal arguing leads to abuse. But remember that you are the ultimate judge. Take seriously any suspicions you have that a relationship has become abusive.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you feel safe at home?
  • Are you afraid of your partner?
  • Has your partner ever hit, pushed, shoved, kicked, punched, or otherwise hurt or frightened you?
  • Has your partner ever threatened you?
  • Do you feel that your partner controls (or tries to control) your behavior?
  • Do you feel that your partner is overly jealous?
  • Does your partner prevent (or try to prevent) you from spending time with friends or family?
  • Does your partner prevent (or try to prevent) you from using the phone or leaving the house?
  • Does your partner frequently criticize you?
  • Does your partner tell you that you are worthless or that no one else would want you?
  • Does your partner ever put you down in public or humiliate you?
  • Are you often fearful that you will do or say something "wrong," that will upset your partner?
  • Has your partner (or anyone) made you do something sexual that you didn't want to do?
  • Has your partner ever damaged your possessions or injured your pet?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, you may be in an abusive relationship. This is not your fault. You are not causing your partner's behavior and you do not deserve to be treated this way. Help is available. There are laws and programs to protect you and your children.

It is essential to your health and the health of your children that you get the help you need. Domestic violence and child abuse are closely related. Children of abused mothers are more likely to be abused themselves. Even witnessing violence can be as traumatic for a child as being a direct victim of violence. Children who grow up in violent homes are more likely to have behavior and health problems, and may become victims or perpetrators of violence as adults.

If you have been abused and you are in immediate danger, call 911 or your local police for emergency assistance.

If you think you might be in an abusive relationship, but you are not in immediate danger, get help as soon as possible:

  • Call your local shelter or battered women's hotline (look in the yellow pages under "Social and Human Services" or call for directory assistance).
  • Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE (799-7233).
  • Go to the nearest hospital or doctor.
  • Ask somebody you trust, such as a friend, family member or co-worker, for help.
  • Seek help from a local religious group or social service agency.
  • Put together an emergency kit of things you would need if you decide to, or need to leave your home suddenly. This may include an extra set of car keys, identification, medicine, money, list of phone numbers and a change of clothes (for yourself and your children).

It can be difficult to leave an abusive relationship — there are many complicated reasons why people feel so attached — but abuse is never justified. Remember that you are not alone; there are people who will support and help you (and your children) through this, physically and emotionally.

Last updated April 14, 2008