Domestic Abuse

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

Recognizing Domestic Abuse

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 doesn’t let you go to sleep.)
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality. (Sudden mood swings and unpredictable behavior – one minute loving, the next minute angry and punitive.)
  • Past history of battering. (Has hit others but has a list of excuses for having been "pushed over the edge.")
  • Threats of violence. (Says, "I’ll slap you," "I’ll kill you," or "I’ll 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 change.
  • Fear that the abuser's threats will become reality.

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

Physical 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, don’t 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 Yellow Pages.

  • 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 Information

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.




The Chroma Group, Ltd.