Defining Domestic Violence

Although awareness of domestic violence has been growing, it continues to be the source of myths and misunderstandings. A key element of our efforts to combat domestic violence is our community outreach program, which educates nearly 20,000 people each year.

We’ve included some of the most common questions people ask about domestic violence on this page, so you can share them with others who need to know more.

WHAT IS DOMESTIC VIOLENCE?

Domestic abuse, which is also called intimate partner violence or domestic violence, is the use of controlling or hurtful actions in a couple or dating relationship. A domestic abuser, or batterer, uses physical or sexual violence, emotional hurt, and/or threats to gain control through the victim’s fear.

IS DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ALWAYS PHYSICAL?

It may include any combination of physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, and financial abuse and/or control. In some cases, the abuse never includes physical violence, but the effect on victims can be every bit as severe.

WHERE DOES DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HAPPEN?

Everywhere. No community or socioeconomic group is immune. Across the board, it affects 1 in 4 families. That means you work, socialize, and attend church with domestic violence victims, even though you may not realize it.

ARE WOMEN THE ONLY VICTIMS?

No. While studies tell us that one in four women will be affected by abuse in their lifetimes, one in eleven men will also be affected. Male victims are far less likely to report or seek help for domestic violence than female victims. Sheltering Wings secures safe housing, while also providing services and resources to male victims.

WHO ARE THE ABUSERS?

Like victims, abusers come from every community and socioeconomic group, including race, religion, gender, income, and level of education.

ISN’T ABUSE JUST A LOSS OF TEMPER?

Domestic abuse typically is directed at an individual (or children), follows a pattern, and grows more frequent and more violent over time. The loss of temper may be used as a form of intimidation to gain control of their victim. If it did represent just an occasional “loss of temper” on the abuser’s part, the abuser would also lash out at other people in his or her daily life, not just at intimate partners.

WHAT IS THE CYCLE OF ABUSE?

Typically, domestic violence becomes more frequent and severe as time passes. It typically follows a three-stage cycle, beginning with tension-building behavior such as criticism, yelling, angry gestures, coercion, and threats. Next, it expands into actual physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual abuse, before the “honeymoon phase” in which the abuser apologizes, promises to change, and often buys gifts for the victim. Before long, the cycle begins again.

WHY DON’T VICTIMS JUST LEAVE?

Domestic violence victims stay with their abusers for any number of reasons. The abuser may promise that the abuse won’t happen again. Victims may not have the financial and other resources to support themselves. Abusers often isolate victims from friends and family members — and those friends and family members may not believe that abuse is occurring. Victims may worry about their ability to provide for their children if they leave, or they may feel guilty about “abandoning” an abuser who needs help. The single biggest reason is fear, and with good reason: a substantial percentage of female homicide victims were killed while trying to leave abusive relationships.

IS THERE A LINK BETWEEN POVERTY AND ABUSE?

No community or socioeconomic group is immune from domestic violence. However, studies show that the effects of violence can be particularly devastating for those who live in poverty, because they typically lack resources that allow them to make safe choices. That’s why the services provided by Sheltering Wings are designed to help victims become economically independent.