Domestic Violence can happen to anyone regardless of race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender.
Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior used by an individual to establish and maintain control over an intimate partner.
There is no typical survivor or victim of intimate partner violence. If you are wondering about the health of your relationship, the following considerations may be helpful.
Does your partner:
- Make all your decisions?
- Try to control who you can see, where you can go or who you can talk to?
- Embarrass you with put-downs?
- Control the money in your relationship? Demand to take your checks or make you ask for money?
- Tell you that you are a bad parent or threaten to take your children away?
- Stop you from seeing your family or your friends?
- Tell you the abuse is your fault or in your own mind?
- Destroy your belongings or threaten your pets?
- Threaten to commit suicide or to kill you?
- Push, hit, slap or choke you?
If you answered “yes” to any one or more of these questions you may be in an abusive relationship. Please use the resources of this website to learn more about what abusive relationships look like, why they are so hard to leave and what help is available.
Call 360.715.1563 at any time to speak with an advocacy counselor to find more help or resources.
Types of Abuse
You may be experiencing physical abuse if your partner has done or repeatedly does any of the following tactics of abuse:
- Pulling your hair, punching, slapping, kicking, biting or choking you
- Forbidding you from eating or sleeping
- Damaging your property when they’re angry (throwing objects, punching walls, kicking doors, etc.)
- Using weapons to threaten to hurt you, or actually hurting you with weapons
- Trapping you in your home or keeps you from leaving
- Preventing you from calling the police or seeking medical attention
- Harming your children
- Abandoning you in unfamiliar places
- Driving recklessly or dangerously when you are in the car with them
- Forcing you to use drugs or alcohol (especially if you’ve had a substance abuse problem in the past)
When we refer to physical abuse, we are not talking about self-defense. Self-defense, or reactive violence, is a response to violence being committed against a person. The result of reactive violence does not create a system of dominance or control in the relationship.
Sometimes people ask if a one time incident (i.e. throwing an object once) is always domestic violence. Contextualizing the incident in the relationship and looking at other forms of controlling behavior will help to determine if this is something that could escalate. However, a one-time incident can be a warning sign that future abuse could occur.
A relationship can be unhealthy or abusive even without physical violence. Verbal abuse can cause both emotional pain and trauma. Survivors may often internalize the abuse and begin to believe the messages they receive: that they brought the abuse upon themselves, they deserve to be hurt, or that they are unworthy of being loved.
Emotional Abuse may also include:
- Name calling and put downs
- Yelling or screaming
- Intentionally embarrassing partners in public
- Preventing survivors from seeing or talking with friends and family.
- Telling their partners what to do and wear.
- Using online communities or cell phones to control, intimidate or humiliate victims.
- Blaming the survivor for their abusive or unhealthy behavior.
- Threatening to commit suicide.
- Threatening to harm you, your pet or people you care about.
- Pressuring their partners when they don’t consent to sexual activity.
- Threatening to expose secrets such as your sexual orientation or immigration status.
- Starting rumors.
- Threatening to have children taken away.
The following are ways in which an abuser can use technology to abuse or harass a partner:
- Monitoring your e-mail communication
- Sending you repeated e-mail or instant messages
- Using your online identity to post false information or to send your demographic information and/or picture to sexually oriented or pornographic sites
- Using social networking sites, like Facebook and MySpace, to get information about you and to monitor who sends you messages and who your friends are
- Sending you repeated text messages
- Using GPS devices to monitor your location
The following are examples of sexual abuse:
- Unwanted touching
- Demanding sex
- Forcing sex
- Name-calling with sexual epithets
- Demanding sex after a violent incident
- Forcing you to engage in prostitution or pornography
- Forcing you to have sex with others besides your partner
- Insisting on anything sexual that frightens or hurts you
- Refusing to use safe sex practices
- Preventing you from using birth control
- Controlling your decisions about pregnancy and/or abortion
- Withholding sex as a form of control
- Videotaping or photographing sexual acts and posting it without your permission
- Alleging that you have a history of prostitution on legal papers
- Telling you that “as a matter of law” in the United States that you must continue to have sex with them whenever they wants until you are divorced.
Help for you
There is nothing you can do or have done to cause some one to abuse or assault you. The only person responsible for abuse is the person who chooses to engage in that behavior.
In your current circumstance, it may seem impossible to get safe or to heal. But there is someone here to help you. There is someone here to listen.
You know your situation and circumstances best and are the only one who can decide what is best for you. While the information and resources below may be helpful, it is not inclusive of all the information you may need.
Please call 360.715.1563 to connect with a trained advocate who can help you develop a personal safety and healing plan.
If you have been experiencing abuse from an intimate partner, you have likely taken many actions to keep yourself safe, whether you know it or not. You are the expert of your situation. When thinking about safety planning, try to identify what you’ve done in the past to help yourself stay safer, and think of ways you may feel safer should another violent incident occur. Remember: only the abuser can stop the abuse.
Below are some things to consider if you believe an incident may escalate into physical violence:
- Identify your partner’s use and level of force so that you can assess the risk of physical danger to you and your children before it occurs. Trust your gut. If it’s telling you there is danger, there probably is.
- Identify safer areas of your home where there are no weapons and there are ways to escape. If arguments occur, try to move to those areas.
- If violence becomes unavoidable, it may help to make yourself a small target. Dive into a corner and curl up into a ball with your face protected and arms around each side of your head, fingers entwined.
- If possible, have a phone accessible at all times and know what numbers to call for help. Know where the nearest public phone is located. Memorize the DVSAS helpline number (360.715.1563). If your life is in danger or you need medical assistance, call 911.
- Think about keeping a packed bag in a safe place with anything you might need if you had to leave your home in a hurry: important documents, extra clothes, medications, items your children may need, etc.
- Consider letting trusted friends and neighbors know of your situation and develop a plan and /or visual signal for when you need help.
- Practice how to get out safely. Practice with your children.
- Plan for what you will do if your child tells your partner of your plan or if your partner otherwise finds out about your plan.
- Keep weapons like guns and knives locked away and as inaccessible as possible.
- Make a habit of backing the car into the driveway and keeping it fueled. Consider keeping the driver’s door unlocked and others locked for a quick escape.
- Try not to wear scarves or long jewelry that could be used for strangulation.
- Consider creating several plausible reasons for leaving the house at different times of the day or night.
If children are in the home, a safety plan should include ways that they can stay safe when violence is happening. If the violence is escalating, avoid running to the children if you believe your partner may hurt them as well.
Planning for Violence in the Home
- Teach your children when and how to call 911.
- Instruct them to leave the home if possible when things begin to escalate, and where they can go.
- Come up with a code word that you can say when they need to leave the home in case of an emergency — make sure that they know not to tell others what the secret word means.
- Tell your children that violence is never right, even when someone they love is being violent. Tell them that neither you, nor they, are at fault or are the cause of the violence, and that when anyone is being violent, it is important to stay safe.
- In the house: identify a room they can go to when they’re afraid and something they can think about when they’re scared.
- Instruct them to stay out of the kitchen, bathroom and other areas where there are items that could be used as weapons.
- Teach them that although they want to protect their parent, they should never intervene.
- Help them make a list of people that they are comfortable talking with and expressing themselves to.
- Enroll them in a counseling program. Call DVSAS (360.715.1563) or Brigid Collins Family Support Center (360.734.4616) for referrals or more information.
Pets can be an important part of a family, and for many victims a critical source of comfort. Statistics show that up to 65% of domestic violence victims are unable to escape their abusive partners because they are concerned about what will happen to their pets when they leave. Fortunately, there are resources available to help you. If you’re creating a safety plan, either to stay in an relationship or to leave one, you can plan for your pet as well.
- Establish ownership of your pet by transferring veterinarian records and licenses in your name.
- Obtain safe emergency shelter for pet, somewhere that won’t be disclosed to your abuser (e.g. veterinarian, friend, or family). The DVSAS Safe Housing Program (shelter) does allow pets, companion animals, and service animals, and The Whatcom Humane Society is also able to provide a safe place for survivors' pets when needed. Both of these options are limited depending on space. Please talk with an advocate for more information.
- Pack a bag for your pet that includes:
- documents of ownership (receipts from adoption or purchase of pet, license to establish ownership, receipts for animal purchases)
- health documents (veterinary and vaccination records)
- a leash
- an ID and rabies tag if you have a dog or cat (these will also help establish ownership)
- pet carrier
If you have left the abuser:
- Keep pets indoors (if possible).
- Do not let the pet outside alone.
- Pick a safe route and time to walk your pet. Do not exercise/walk your pet alone.
- Change your veterinarian.
Help for a friend
Be supportive and listen.
Acknowledge that they are in a scary and difficult situation. Let them know that the abuse is not their fault. Reassure them that they are not alone and that there is help and support out there. It may be difficult for them to talk about the abuse. Let them know that you are available to help. What they need most is someone who will believe and listen.
Respect your friend or family member’s decisions. There are many reasons why victims stay in abusive relationships. They may leave and return to the relationship many times. Do not criticize their decisions or try to guilt them. While it may be challenging, frustrating or even hurtful to watch their choices, survivors deserve consistent support.
Should they choose to end the relationship, continue to be supportive of them.
Even though the relationship was abusive, your friend or family member may still feel sad and lonely once it is over. They may need time to mourn the loss of the relationship and will especially need your support at that time. Focus on your friend and their experience rather than on the abusive partner or assailant. Should your friend stay in a relationship with that partner, it’s important they will still feel safe talking with you. And if they do leave, they may experience mourning and sadness. They’ll still need you.
Encourage them to build and participate in relationships outside their relationship.
Support is critical and the more they feel supported by people who care for them, the easier it will be for them to take the steps necessary to get and stay safe away from their abusive partner. However, many abusive partners deliberately isolate their victims from these networks. Try to stay supportive, even if your loved one seems unavailable.
Help them develop a safety plan.
Talk about things they can do when they are feeling at risk of experiencing violence to feel safer. Identify resources for themselves and their children. Help them think about the ways they’ve stayed safe in the past, and what options they may have for their future.
Encourage them to talk to people who can help.
Call DVSAS at (360)715-1563 to talk to an advocacy counselor and help them schedule an appointment. Offer to go with them if they need extra support. If they have to go to the police, court or lawyer’s office, offer to go along for moral support.
Remember that you cannot "rescue" them.
Although it is difficult to see someone you care about get hurt, ultimately they are the one who has to make the decisions about what they want to do. It may feel frustrating, terrifying or baffling to be with your loved one in such a challenging time. No matter what they decide, your support is important and can help them find a way to safety and peace.
Don't forget to take care of yourself.
Supporting someone in an abusive relationship can be mentally and emotionally exhausting. Make sure you have the support you need, are practicing your own self-care and modeling healthy relationships of your own. Know that if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, DVSAS advocates are also here for you. Call 360.734.4616 any time, day or night to speak with an advocate.
Remember: being supportive and caring IS doing a lot. You’re showing your friend they are worthy of being loved and respected.
It is difficult to see someone you care about hurt others. You may not want to admit that this person is abusive, but no matter why it happens or who is doing the abuse it is never okay and it's never justified.
- Domestic violence and abuse stem from a desire to gain and maintain power and control over an intimate partner. Abusive people believe they have the right to control and restrict their partners, and they may enjoy the feeling that exerting power gives them. They often believe that their own feelings and needs should be the priority in their relationships, so they use abusive tactics to dismantle equality and make their partners feel less valuable and deserving of respect in the relationship.
- Abuse is a learned behavior. Sometimes people see it in their own families. Other times they learn it from friends or popular culture. However, abuse is a choice, and it’s not one that anyone has to make. Many people who experience or witness abuse growing up decide not to use those negative and hurtful ways of behaving in their own relationships. While outside forces such as drug or alcohol addiction can sometimes escalate abuse, it’s most important to recognize that these issues do not cause abuse.
Who can be in an abusive relationship?
- Anyone can be abusive and anyone can be the victim of abuse. It happens regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, race or economic background. While an abusive person often blames their partner to justify their behavior, abuse has nothing to do with the person it’s directed at, and it’s never a result of anything to do with the relationship or a particular situation. Abuse is a personal choice and a strategic behavior used to create the abusive person’s desired power dynamic. Regardless of the circumstances of the relationship or the pasts of either partner, no one ever deserves to be abused.
- Ultimately, the abuser is the only person who can decide to change, but there are things you can do to encourage them to engage in healthier behaviors. It’s not easy for abusive people to admit that their violent behavior is a choice and accept responsibility for it. They may benefit from having control over their partner and may turn to you to help justify the abuse. Do not support the abuse in any way. Remember, you’re not turning against your friend or family member — you’re helping them have a healthy relationship.
Is change possible?
- While people do have the capacity to change, they need to deeply want to and be committed to all aspects of change in order to begin to do so.
- A lot of the causal factors behind abusive behaviors are learned attitudes and feelings of entitlement and privilege, which can be very hard to change. But change is possible — and reaching out for help is a great first step.
- One part of changing may involve an abusive partner willingly attending a certified batterer intervention program that focuses on behavior, reflection and accountability. We don’t recommend couples counseling, anger management, substance abuse programs or mental health treatments for abusers to learn about and deal with their abusive patterns (although oftentimes these can helpfully supplement a batterer intervention program).
Ask an Advocate
Have more questions? Ask an advocate.