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Domestic abuse: What you need to know

10/10/2016 by Denise Morcomb, LICSW, MSW


Violence at home knows no boundaries of age, gender, sexual orientation, educational or economic status. In the U.S., violence occurs in one in three families; nearly 3.3 million children between the ages of three and 17 have experienced or watched abuse at home. Nearly 5 million intimate-partner rapes and physical assaults are perpetrated against women; nearly 3 million against men. In Minnesota, every year about 30 women and 10 children will be killed by their abuser.

So when a member of your Care Team asks, “Do you feel safe at home?” they aren’t being nosy or just asking out of curiosity. They want to know, because they can help. And it’s safe to tell them.

Some patients don’t even realize that how they’re treated at home is abuse. If they haven’t been stabbed or had a bone broken, they don’t consider it violence. Abuse is mistreatment of another person, and it takes three main forms: physical, sexual and emotional. Here are a few examples of each type of abuse:

Physical abuse. You’ve been:

  • Pushed, shoved, dragged, kicked, bitten, choked, punched (whether the blow leaves marks or not). Your hair has been pulled or your clothing ripped.
  • Locked out of your house or abandoned in a dangerous place
  • Deprived of food, shelter, money or clothing
  • Refused help, such as medical attention, when you’re sick, injured or pregnant
  • Kept from driving, forced off the road while driving or forced to ride in the car when your abuser is driving recklessly and endangering your life or that of your children
  • Threatened with a weapon, stabbed, burned, hit with an object, had things thrown at you (even if they miss)
  • Raped
  • Beaten, causing broken bones, internal injuries or injuries that bring about a miscarriage or result in a therapeutic abortion

Physical abuse doesn’t always cause an injury. But the atmosphere of violence and fear generated by the abuse also results in emotional pain.

Sexual abuse. Your abuser has:

  • Gotten jealous, angry or assumed you would or were having sex with someone else or berated you about sexual history
  • Criticized you sexually (for example, called you frigid, whore or slut) or made demeaning remarks about your body
  • Insisted that you dress in a more sexual way than you wanted or made demeaning remarks about your body
  • Insisted on touching you sexually when you didn’t want to be touched, withheld sexual affection or made you beg for it
  • Forced you to have sex – when you were sick, in front of your children or with animals
  • Forced you to pose for sexual photographs, do unwanted sex acts or watch others having sex

Emotional abuse. This abuse takes many forms; the abuser may:

  • Withhold approval, appreciation or affection as punishment. Nothing is ever good enough, no matter how hard you try.
  • Continually criticize you, call you names, crazy or stupid or shout at you; humiliate you in public or private; or refuse to go out with you or ignore you when you do go out
  • Insult your friends and family, driving them away, or threaten to hurt them
  • Keep you from working, control your money, make all the decisions, demand you seek permission to do anything, refuse to work or share money, take away your money or car keys
  • Use your cell phone to track where you go, force you to take pictures of where you are or look at your phone calls and texts to see who you are talking to
  • Destroy or give away things of value to you or abuse your pets to hurt you
  • Punish or deprive the children or treat them special, but exclude you, when the abuser is angry with you
  • Threaten to kidnap the children if you leave
  • Threaten to commit suicide if you leave
  • Use religious beliefs to keep you in the relationship
  • Question your sense of reality, discount your sense of right and wrong or ridicule your spiritual beliefs

Verbal and emotional abuse are oppressive to your whole system. They cause depression, anxiety, physical issues and even pain. Victims of this kind of abuse find they can’t think straight, which limits their ability to figure out a way to leave an abusive relationship. If your relationship is causing depression, anxiety, stress or trouble concentrating, taking a pill may help, but it won’t fix the problem.

If you recognize any of these examples taking place in your own life or that of a loved one, talk with a member of your Care Team. Or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).  These resources are here to help.

Denise Morcomb, LICSW, MSW, is an Integrated Behavioral Health therapist. She’s based at Mayo Family Clinic Northeast and has 15 years’ experience working with victims of domestic violence and abuse.