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Physical abuse

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Is it abuse?

Domestic violence is the term used to refer to acts of violence committed by intimate partners against each other. It includes:

  • Inflicting physical injury on a victim by other than accidental means
  • Attempting to inflict physical injury on a victim by other than accidental means
  • Placing a victim in fear of physical harm
  • Physical restraint
  • Malicious damage to the personal property of the victim

Pre-battering violence includes verbal abuse, hitting objects, throwing objects, breaking objects, and making threats. When abusers hit or break objects or make threats, almost 100% resort to battering.

  • Beginning levels of violence: pushing, grabbing, restraining.
  • Moderate levels of violence : slapping, pinching, kicking, pulling out clumps of hair.
  • Severe levels of violence : choking, beating with objects (sticks, ball bats, bed slats, etc...), use of weapons, and rape. One in three women in a battering relationship are raped. There are two kinds of rape in domestic violence--one, with weapons; and two, she submits out of fear that if she were to say "No" he would get angry and beat her.
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    The cycle of violence

    The cycle of violence is a recurring behavioral pattern where the offender swings between affectionate, remorseful, calm, and periods of tense demands culminating in violence.

    1. Tension starts
    2. Tension escalates
    3. Assault
    4. Honeymoon stage
    The more times the cycle is completed, the less time it takes to complete. Furthermore, as the cycle is repeated, the violence usually increases in frequency and severity.

    After a violent episode, the offender may be genuinely sorry for what he has done. He may regret and feel ashamed of his behavior.

    Often his worst fear is that his partner will leave him, so he may try as hard as he can to make up for his behavior. He may promise never to hurt her again. This means that following even severe or chronic abuse, the offender may be very penitent and determined to change.

    This is what the victim hopes for. However, observers of this pattern note that the honeymoon is all too temporary.

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    Warning signs of abuse

  • Controlling Behavior:
    They may try to lay down the law on what you can and cannot do. He/she monopolizes your time, who you talk to or may not allow you to make decisions about your clothes,finances, home, etc.

  • Violent Behavior:
    If an abuser gets into fights at parties, on the street, or in bars it is highly probable that he will carry that behavior home with him.

  • Verbal Abuse:
    Saying things or calling you names that are meant to be cruel and hurtful. Degrading and putting you down will lower your self-esteem and self-confidence.

  • Quick Involvement:
    An abuser will pressure you into a committed relationship early on. Many victims dated or knew their abusers less than six months before getting married or moving in together.

  • Mood Swings:
    One minute he/she is nice and the next he's/she's exploding. Explosiveness and moodiness are typical of people who beat their partners.

  • Isolation:
    You no longer keep in contact with your friends, parents, or neighbors. Criticizes and does not like any of them. You don't say hello to people for fear that your partner will get jealous and angry.

  • Blaming:
    An abuser will blame others for his/her problems, especially the partner. He/she may shift responsibility for his violence onto others, taking refuge in excuses like "If you shaped up, I wouldn't have to knock you around."

  • Breaking or Striking Objects:
    This behavior is used as a punishment or to terrorize into submission.

  • Unrealistic Expectations:
    Abusers can be overly critical. They may expect their partners to meet all their needs. He/she expects you to be the perfect spouse, lover, and friend.

  • Hypersensitivity:
    An abuser is easily insulted or hurt, and takes the slightest setbacks as personal attacks.

  • Frustration and Anger:
    An abuser may have trouble handling their frustration and anger.

  • Family History:
    Abusers often have been raised in abusive surroundings. They may have seen their mother beaten or have been abused themselves. They have grown up believing that violence is "normal behavior."

  • Past Battering:
    Abusers may have hit lovers in the past and may excuse themselves by saying "he/she made me do it".

  • Attitude Toward Women:
    An abuser may have strong traditional ideas about what a man should be and what a woman should be. He may think that a woman should stay at home, take care of her husband and follow his wishes and orders.

  • Economic Control:
    An abuser may refuse to allow you to work or have access to bank accounts and financial information.

  • Cruelty To Animals Or Children:
    This person punishes animals brutally or is insensitive to their pain or suffering; he/she may expect children to be capable of doing things beyond their ability.

  • Alcohol Or Drug Abuse:
    Such problems don't cause battering, but they invariably make it worse. Don't think you can change your partner. A chemical dependence is bigger than both of you.

  • Threats Of Violence:
    This could include any threat of physical force meant to control the partner, including the threat of suicide.


    Using Emotional Abuse
    *Putting her down
    *Making her feel bad about herself
    *Calling her names
    *Making her think she's crazy
    *Playing mind games
    *Humiliating her
    *Making her feel guilty

    Using Male Privilege
    *Treating her like a servant
    *Making all the big decisions
    *Acting like the "Master of the castle"
    *Being the one to define men's and women's roles
    Using Economic Abuse
    *Preventing her from getting or keeping a job
    *Making her ask for money
    *Giving her an allowance
    *Taking her money
    *Not letting her know about or have access to family income
    Using Coercion and Threats
    *Making or carrying out threats to do
    something to hurt her
    *Threatening to leave her, to commit suicide, to report her to welfare
    *Making her drop charges
    *Making her do illegal things
    Using Intimidation
    *Making her afraid by using looks, gestures, or actions
    *Smashing things
    *Abusing Pets
    *Displaying Weapons
    Using Children
    *Making her feel guilty about the children
    *Using the children to relay messages
    *Using visitation to harass her
    *Threatening to take the children away
    Using Isolation
    *Controlling what she does, who she sees and talks to, what she reads, & where she goes
    *Limiting her outside involvement
    *Using jealousy to justify actions
    Minimizing, Denying,
    *Making light of the abuse and not taking her concerns about it seriously
    *Saying the abuse didn't happen
    *Shifting responsibility for abusive behavior
    *Saying she caused it

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    What's the Danger Level?


    Serious Risk

    Severe Risk

    Acute and Severe Risk

    Level of Injury

    • light bruising or shallow cuts

  • noticeable bruising, pain in joints, lacerations
  • serious bruising, sprains, deep cuts, losing consciousness, internal injuries, hitting abdomen during pregnancy, injury requiring medical attention
  • Use of Weapons

    • has weapons or martial arts/boxing training, has never used them nor threatened to do so
    • Weapons should be removed

  • does not have weapons, has not used them but has threatened to do so
  • has weapons or martial arts/boxing training, has never used them but has threatened to do so
    • has used weapons or martial arts/boxing training against spouse
    • has weapons or martial arts/boxing training and has threatened to use them


    • one or two incidents per year

  • three to six incidents per year
  • daily, weekly or monthly incidents
  • Threats

    • none

  • vague threats, these threats may have to do with attempting to leave, separation, divorce, child custody, seeing another man, etc.
  • threats to kill or injure self, victim, or others
  • threats may revolve around her attempting to leave, separation, divorce, child custody, seeing another man, etc.
  • Criminal History

    • none

  • has restraining order
  • one or two assault and battery charges, no convictions
  • violated a restraining order or served time for violent crimes
  • has many assault and battery charges or arrests
  • Isolation

    • victim has less social and/or family contacts than before relationship
    • offender is jealous

  • victim has very restricted social and/or family contacts
  • offender very jealous and often makes accusations of infidelity
  • victim is very isolated, her social and/or family contacts sharply restricted; she may not be allowed to go anywhere without him or talk to anybody without his being there
  • offender extremely jealous, always suspicious, makes irrational, bizarre accusations of infidelity
  • Monitoring & Stalking

    • makes occasional calls to check on her
    • stops by to check on her now and then

  • makes frequent calls to verify her whereabouts or stops by wherever she is to check on her
  • calls obsessively many times a day to check on her
  • stops by wherever she is to check on her
  • always knows her whereabouts or tracks her down, even if she leaves without forwarding address
  • may follow her even while still together or after
  • Sexual Assault

    • uses coercion or threatens force in order to have sex

  • uses force in order to have sex, threatens to sexually abuse children
  • combines sex and use of force and/or deliberately inflicts pain in sexual activity, inflicts group or public sexual degradation
  • sexually abuses children -- may force spouse to watch
  • Substance Abuse

    • moderate social drinker or user, never violent while under the influence
    • history of subtance abuse, violent while under the influence, and abstinent for 1 year or more

  • history of substance abuse, violent while under the influence, and established abstinence less than a year ago
  • has been violent while under the influence, but abstaining now, attending substance treatment program
  • history of substance abuse, has been violent under the influence and is presently using
  • has started drinking or drugging after victim discusses leaving or separating

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    The information on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

    Women Are Safe, Inc., does not discriminate in regard to sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, age, or marital status. All of our services are free. The program receives funding from United Way, from the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, and from the Gannett Foundation through The Tennessean. This program is partially funded under an agreement with the State of Tennessee, Department of Finance and Administration, Office of Criminal Justice Programs. Points of view or opinions contained within this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the Department of Justice.