Understanding abuse is not always the easiest task. Abuse is a complex concept, one that can be clearly defined and yet very difficult to understand and identify. Simply put, abuse is any behavior or action that is considered to be cruel, violent, or performed with the intent of harming the victim The term “abuse” covers a broad spectrum of behaviors and actions; the following examples are the most commonly recognized forms of abuse in a partnership, marriage, or long-term relationship: emotional, psychological, verbal, and physical.
What does abuse look like?
Those who have experienced abuse for extended periods of time or from multiple relationships typically have difficulty seeing the unhealthy relationships patterns that exist in their lives. Abuse and its effects can vary greatly, so there is no formula for being able to identify when a relationship is a threat or danger. Before seeking help (or offering it), it is important to recognize some of the common warning signs that are often present in a relationship with unhealthy behavioral patterns.
The following is a list of some of the most common warning signs or red flags. If several of these is present in your relationship or in one you have observed, see the information following the list of signs for ways you can seek or provide help.
- The victim is fearful of the partner;
- The victim lies to family or friends about abusive behaviors as a way to cover for the abuser;
- The victim is skittish or careful around the partner to ensure he or she is not angered;
- The abuser criticizes or puts down the victim verbally when with family or friends;
- The abuser intentionally embarrasses the victim in front of family or friends;
- The victim is threatened, grabbed, shoved, or hit by the partner;
- The abuser is critical of the victim’s accomplishments or goals rather than praising of them;
- The abuser constantly checks on the victim or gives time limit for things such as shopping or visiting with friends/family;
- The abuser restricts the victim from spending time with family;
- The victim chooses not to leave the abuser, fearing what the person might do if the relationship ended;
- The victim is never allowed to earn, keep, or save money;
- The victim is abandoned by the partner in dangerous places or has had personal property destroyed by the abuser;
- The victim is frequently and unjustly accused of cheating, or;
- The victim is manipulated into action with lies and threats from the abuser.
Who can help?
Many communities have quite a few free resources available to those experiencing abusive behaviors and actions. Shelter programs offer a safe place for victims to stay for several days or weeks to ensure they are exposed to a number of additional resources and are protected physically from their abuser. These shelters often include on-site programs such as individual counseling and support groups, crisis intervention counseling for individuals and families, legal advocacy, and community referral staff.
Crisis lines are available through communities, states, or national resources. These crisis lines are usually open twenty-four hours a day and help connect individuals or families in crisis to the appropriate emergency staff. These crisis lines are not intended to provide treatment for the person but rather as a bridge between the individual in crisis and the appropriate information, referrals, and emotional support.
Legal advocates are excellent resources often available through community agencies and resource offices. An advocate can assist in filing battery complaints, protective orders, divorces, compensation claims for injury, attorney referrals, and provide support during court hearings. Advocates are not lawyers but can connect an abuse victim to attorneys and other legal resources.
Law enforcement can be one of the strongest support systems for someone experiencing abuse. They have the power to arrest an abuser, file appropriate incident reports, and provide a safe way for a victim to return home and collect belongings should risk of safety be a concern.
What can you do?
Sometimes it is not the professional help, those who are trained to assist victims of abuse, who are the most effective in a person’s life. Those who are willing to listen without judgement or criticism, those willing to put aside their own opinions for just a moment, are the ones who become the most supportive part of stepping away from an abusive relationship. It is important to not only listen, but to believe the person when they speak. It is hard enough to reach out and ask for help; being accused of lying or stretching the truth can put recovery in a tailspin. Additionally, make sure you know what is available in the community before reaching out. It is always a good idea to know what kind of support your community can offer to those in need; if professional help is what someone wants and needs, being prepared with the information ahead of time can be lifesaving. Give the information, but be sure not to make the decision. Be supportive without being pushy. And above all else, be willing to take a step back and allow the victim to be in charge. When the victim is ready for help, be there to support.