Domestic ViolenceWe have all heard the phrase domestic abuse.  But all too often the phrase draws up only thoughts of physical violence.  Domestic abuse, however, may take other forms as well.  It is not uncommon to find a combination of physical abuse and emotional and/or mental abuse.  However, some struggle to see the red flags of domestic violence when there is no physical component.  This page aims to identify some telltale signs of domestic abuse, in the hopes of helping readers recognize and address any abusive behavior they may encounter.

Although each may present itself in different ways, physical, mental, and emotional abuse are ultimately about the same thing—an abuser asserting his or her control over a victim.  And while this post differentiates between types of abuse, please bear in mind that instances of domestic abuse tends to be, by nature, very fluid, moving back and forth between or encompassing an overlap of the characteristics described below. When determining whether you or someone you know is the victim of domestic abuse, be sure to ask yourself whether the potential abuser is attempting to assert unwanted and un-welcomed power/control over you or the person you know.  Identifying a power/control dynamic is key to recognizing when a situation may be abusive.  With that said, below is a brief discussion of various signs of domestic abuse.

Psychological Abuse – The signs of emotional and mental abuse are often very similar. The two terms are, therefore, generally used interchangeably and grouped under the broader category of “psychological abuse.”  Stated simply, emotional and mental abuse result in non-physical harm to the victim, including feelings of humiliation, intimidation, isolation, worthlessness, self-consciousness, guilt, and other negative feelings.

Since it does not always lead to physical violence, the signs of psychological abuse are often more easily overlooked than those of physical abuse.  They are generally more recognizable when viewed as patterns of conduct rather than single incidents. These patterns include name-calling, belittling, criticizing, minimizing or delegitimizing of emotions, blame, threats (sometimes of self-harm) and/or punishment, dominating or withholding access to finances, over-jealousy, constant “checking-up” on location and/or activities, demands to “prove” one’s love, and degrading/humiliating jokes. However, psychological abuse does not always present itself through overt actions.  Signs may also include withholding of affection (particularly if one has “done something wrong”), direct or indirect isolation from friends and/or loved ones, refusal to communicate, and ignoring or exclusion from activities.

Though psychological abuse is not always accompanied by physical abuse, most instances of physical abuse are preceded by patterns of psychological abuse, which subsequently escalated into physical violence.  Therefore, it is crucial to recognize and not downplay the signs of psychological abuse.

Physical Abuse – Conventional wisdom would suggest that this type of abuse is more easily spotted than its psychological counterpart, as it generally involves the use of actual physical violence.  All physical abuse, however, does not result in significant injury.  Physical abuse may also occur in the form of “minor” pushing, pinching, slapping, hair pulling, breaking or throwing items, or even violence towards pets.  If you find yourself in a similar situation, you must be cautious not to simply dismiss or minimize the abusive behavior simply because it did not result in serious bodily injury.  In fact, abusers sometimes use an indirect threat of violence to assert control over their victims.  Common examples of this occur when an abuser hovers over the victim or stands blocking the exit, both of which create a fear of violence if the victim fails to comply or tries to leave the situation.  It is important to note that, just because a violent act is not actually carried out, this does not mean that the conduct is not abusive in nature.

Not to be overlooked, individuals in a marriage or committed relationship may also be the victim of sexual abuse.  Of course, physical intimacy is a natural and healthy part of a committed relationship.  However, like any other sexual encounter, this is only true to the extent the act takes place between two consenting parties.  You do not give up the right to refuse consent to sexual acts (or any physical contact for that matter) simply because you are in a marriage or committed relationship.  Moreover, even where the sexual act is initially consensual, the use of unwanted, excessive force during sex may also be a red flag as to a person’s potential violent propensities.  These propensities may later emerge as instances of nonsexual physical aggression and should not be taken lightly.

As to marriages, there is a not-uncommon misconception that rape cannot occur between spouses.  This is simply untrue.  California’s marital rape law makes it a felony to engage in sexual intercourse with one’s spouse without his or her consent.  In fact, under California law, the punishments available for marital rape are essentially equivalent to those for the rape of a stranger.  Therefore, be cautious to avoid misinformation as to your rights in this regard.

We hope this page has helped readers identify various signs of domestic violence.  As you can see, domestic abuse extends well beyond, and often does not even involve, actual physical violence.  Nonetheless, where there is an unwanted assertion of power or control over a party, there is likely the presence of abusive behavior.

Please note, however, that this page is not intended as a comprehensive resource regarding domestic violence, but rather an overview of the same.  Nor is this post intended as any form of legal advice.  If you believe you or someone you know is the victim of domestic abuse, immediately consult an attorney to discuss the details of your situation.