Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence

On January 31st, 2020 the United States declared a public health emergency in response to the global coronavirus outbreak. By mid-March the US declared a national emergency and put forth mandatory stay-at-home orders in hopes of reducing transmission of the COVID-19 virus. While the pandemic has taken an economic and psychological toll on people all across the globe, it has also fanned the flames of another global crisis – domestic violence. Since these stay-at-home orders went into effect, rates of domestic violence (DV)/intimate partner violence (IPV) have significantly increased (Boserup, McKenney, & Elkbuli, 2020). Although the national lockdowns have led to an increase in DV/IPV, this is by no means a new issue. 

Prior to 2020, over 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in the US reported experiencing physical violence, rape, and/or stalking by an intimate partner (National Domestic Violence Hotline [NDVH], 2011). On average, more than 12 million people are victims of DV/IPV every year in the U.S. (NDVH, 2011). It is important to note that DV/IPV is gendered in that men are disproportionately more likely to be perpetrators of abuse – men make up anywhere from 90-97% of perpetrators of DV/IPV (Belknap & Melton, 2005). Moreover, when women do engage in abusive/violent behavior it is often in retaliation to abuse they are experiencing at the hands of their male partner (Belknap & Melton, 2005). Additionally, most of the data regarding DV/IPV is limited to heterosexual relationships. With that said, DV/IPV in any form is unacceptable regardless of the perpetrator’s gender or sexual orientation. Despite the alarming frequency at which DV/IPV occurs in the U.S., many people are unaware of the various ways that abuse can manifest. Abusers often do not immediately display acts of physical violence; in fact, many abusive partners appear to be perfect within the early stages of the relationship. Instead, they slowly build trust with their victims and overtime capitalize on this trust as a way to gain power and control. Additionally, emotional/psychological abuse is just as serious and can be just as harmful as physical abuse. As such, it is important to be aware of the following ways in which abuse, both psychological and physical, can take shape. 

–       Gaslighting:

o   Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which a person makes an individual question their reality, sanity, and/or memories. The term “gaslighting” comes from the 1938 play Gas Light, in which a husband was intentionally dimming the gas-powered lights in the home and whenever the wife pointed out that the lights had dimmed, he denied that the lights had changed. Gaslighting is used to sew doubt into victims’ minds, leading them to question their own experiences and reality. Gaslighting is without a doubt a form of abuse in and of itself; however, it is common for abusers to use gaslighting and other forms of psychological/emotional abuse to make their victims rely on them more and more over time, ultimately making it difficult for victims to escape these situations. For more information on various gaslighting techniques, as well as ways to recognize gaslighting, visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline [].

–       Controlling/possessive behavior

o    One of the main features of an abusive relationship is control. An abuser will seek to control the victim in numerous ways. Often in the early stages of the relationship this can take shape in the form of jealousy, whether overt forms of jealousy or more subtle forms such as constantly “checking in” when they are away or becoming upset when their partner wants to do something without them. Over time this can turn into the abuser preventing their partner from spending time with friends and family, controlling their finances, or even keeping the victim confined to the house and barred from speaking/socializing with others. Again, these behaviors can make it difficult for the victim to leave the situation or even seek help. 

–       Intimidation

o   Though this may seem obvious, intimidation is also a hallmark of an abusive relationship. Acts of intimidation can include, but are not limited to, throwing or breaking objects/possessions, banishing weapons, and even threatening looks. Even if the abuser never physically touches the victim, these acts of intimidation are yet another tactic used by abusers to gain power and control over their victims.

–       Physical/sexual violence 

o   Physical violence is likely what most people think of when they picture an abusive relationship. However, even physical violence can present in many different ways. Similar to intimidation, the throwing of objects at or near an individual is a form of physical violence. As is grabbing, pushing, hitting, and any other instance in which the abuser physically harms the victim – including forced drug use. 

o   Sexual violence is another form of DV/IPV. Sexual violence can include pressuring or forcing the victim to have sex when they do not want to or forcing them to perform sexual acts that they’re not comfortable with. This is also known as marital (or spousal) rape. Throughout most of US history it was acceptable for men to force their wives to have sex with them – this was largely due to sexist ideas and attitudes surrounding marriage and gender roles, including the fact that women were considered property. It wasn’t until 1993 that marital rape became a crime in all 50 states (Bergen & Barnhill, 2006). Still, between 10-14% of married women in the US experience marital rape (Bergen & Barnhill, 2006). 

It is important to note that abuse, whether it be physical or psychological, can manifest in ways that vary from the aforementioned. It is never okay for a partner to make you feel unsafe. If you or someone you know is experiencing DV/IPV or any form of physical/emotional abuse call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or visit their website to chat live with an advocate