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Introduction to Abuse

Child, Elder, Sexual, Domestic, Verbal Abuse

Abuse occurs when people mistreat or misuse other people, showing no concern for their integrity or innate worth as individuals, and in a manner that degrades their well being. Abusers frequently are interested in controlling their victims. They use abusive behaviors to manipulate their victims into submission or compliance with their will.

Abusers control and compel their victims in a variety of ways. They may verbally abuse them by calling them names, tell them they are stupid, have no worth or will not amount to anything on their own. They may become physically violent, inflicting pain, bruises, broken bones and other physical wounds (visible and hidden both). They may rape or sexually assault their victims. Alternatively they may neglect dependent victims, disavowing any responsibilities they may have towards those victims, and causing damage through lack of action rather than through a harmful, manipulative action itself.

Abuse is a commonplace event in mod...More

Fast Facts: Learn! Fast!

What is abuse?

  • frightened womanAbuse occurs when people mistreat or misuse other people, showing no concern for their integrity or innate worth as individuals, and in a manner that degrades their well-being.
  • Abusers frequently are interested in controlling their victims and use abusive behaviors to manipulate their victims into submission or compliance with their will.
  • Abuse takes on many different forms, including physical, sexual, emotional, and verbal abuse and occurs in many different contexts, including the home (domestic violence, spouse rape, incest), the workplace (sexual harassment), in institutional (elder abuse, bullying) and religious and community (hate crime) settings.
  •  Abuse touches victims across the lifespan from children through elders.

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What types of abuse are there?

  • Verbal Abuse occurs when one person uses words and body language to inappropriately criticize another person. This often involves 'putdowns' and name-calling intended to make the victim feel they are not worthy of love or respect, and that they do not have ability or talent. This type is dangerous because it is often not easily recognized as abuse, and therefore it can go on for extended periods, causing severe damage to victim's self-esteem and self-worth.
  •  Psychological Abuse (also known as mental abuse or emotional abuse) occurs when one person controls information available to another person so as to manipulate that person's sense of reality; what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. This often involves strong emotionally manipulative content designed to force the victim to comply with the abuser's wishes.
  • Physical Abuse occurs when one person uses physical pain or threat of physical force to intimidate another person. Actual physical abuse may involve simple slaps or pushes, or it may involve a full on physical beating complete with punching, kicking, hair pulling, scratching, and damage in some cases that requires hospitalization.
  • Sexual Abuse of children or adults includes any sort of unwanted sexual contact perpetrated on a victim by an abuser. Molestation, incest, inappropriate touching (with or without intercourse), and partner or date rape are all examples of this. Sexual abuse is often coupled with physical abuse (or threat of physical abuse) and emotional abuse.
  • Neglect occurs when a person fails to provide for the basic needs of one or more dependent victims he or she is responsible for. Basic needs include adequate and appropriate food, shelter, clothing, hygiene, and love or care.
  • Hate Crimes are a type of abuse that involve verbal, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse toward an individual or a group of individuals based solely on some characteristic they may share in common, such as their religious or sexual affiliations or the color of their skin.

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What types of abuse occur in the home?

  • A great deal of verbal, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse and neglect takes place in the home within the context of the intimate relationships between family members.
  • Abuse between relationship partners is sometimes referred to as "partner abuse", "domestic violence", "relationship violence", or "family violence".
  • Partner abuse may take many forms including destruction of property, psychological and emotional abuse, and physical and sexual assault.
  • On the milder, but still quite serious side, domestic abusers threaten victims, use verbal put-downs and derogatory names, attempt to publicly humiliate them, and play manipulative mind games.
  • Abusers may attempt to limit their victim's access to family, friends or employment so as to keep them under better control and away from people that could see what is going on.
  • Child and elder abuse also occur in the home and include verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. Another form of abuse that children and elders may be subject to is neglect, which occurs when they are not provided with adequate amounts of food, shelter, and clothing, or are not given proper attention and supervision.

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How do I know if I'm being abused?

  • Abuse is not the easiest thing in the world to recognize, even if it is happening to you directly.
  • Not everyone who is being abused understands that what they are experiencing is abuse.
  • You may recognize that something isn't right about how you are being treated, but may be afraid to speak up and name it as abuse for fear of retribution from your abuser.
  • The following list describes various interactions that people might have that are examples of abuse. If one or more of these things is happening to you, there is very good chance that you are being abused.
    • Being physically, sexually, or emotionally hurt and/or violated by your partner on a regular basis.
    • Being called hurtful names and/or being put down by partner on a regular basis.
    • Being controlled by your partner. For instance, if your partner tells you that you are not allowed to have friends, leave the house without permission, or tells you that you are not allowed to pursue your own goals, such as attending school or finding work.
    • Becoming more withdrawn so that you do not spend much time with others who may clue in to the fact that abuse is happening to you.
    • Finding yourself making excuses for partner’s bad and harmful behavior (perhaps so that you won't have to accept the fact that abuse is happening).
    • Recognizing that your relationship has a pattern or cycle in which something abusive occurs, you tell partner that you will not tolerate the abuse anymore, but then forgiving your partner when he or she apologizes.
    • Blaming yourself for bad things your partner has done to you. For example, telling yourself that you are really difficult to live with so you deserve to be hit.
    • Feeling trapped in your own home and being fearful when you know partner is coming home.

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How do I know if someone else is being abused?

  • If you are a third party to a potentially abusive situation (suspected child abuse, domestic abuse or elder abuse), it may be difficult to know if abuse is happening in any direct manner.
  • You might need to rely on circumstantial evidence to identify the abuse.
  • The following list suggests things to look for that could be indicative of abuse.
    • There are physical signs of injury, such as bruises, sores, burns, cuts, or black eyes and such injuries may be hidden, for example, behind sunglasses or with clothing.
    • The victim makes unrealistic excuses for injuries or absences ("I fell down the stairs.").
    • The victim displays personality changes, such as becoming angry, depressed, moody, or defensive, or becomes withdrawn, or suddenly fearful.
    • The victim has difficulty sleeping at night, or may display excessive tiredness, which can be a symptom of depression.
    • The victim's self-esteem lowers.
    • The victim is distracted and has difficulty concentrating.
    • The victim neglects hygiene (becomes smelly, goes unwashed; may be an attempt to ward off a sexual predator if a child, or as a consequence of depression).
    • The victim complains of pain in the genital region (more common in children).
    • For older children and adults, the victim 'acts out', becoming sexually promiscuous, and/or using drugs.
    • Elders may display confusion.

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Why do people abuse others?

  • Some abusers learned to abuse from their parents. Their early history consisted of receiving abuse themselves and/or seeing others abused (one parent abusing the other or their sibling, etc.). As a consequence, abuse is the normal condition of life.
  • The opposite of being a victim is not simply opting out of abuse; it is instead, to be abusive. Given the choice between being the out-of-control victim, or the in-control abuser, some people grow up to prefer the role of the abuser.
  • Abusive behavior can also result from mental health issues. For example, someone with anger management issues, a diagnosis of intermittent explosive disorder, or a drinking or drug problem may easily get out of control during arguments and verbally or physically strike out at their partners and dependents.
  • Some abusers cannot or will not relate to other people as people, choosing instead to treat them as objects and as though they were there solely for their convenience and do not otherwise have an independent, important life.
  • Some people may abuse because of the benefits they receive from doing so, for instance, sexual or financial gratification, or the simple allure of power over other people's lives.

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Why do adults stay in abusive relationships?

  • Some abused people feel they cannot leave their relationships because they are economically dependent on them, such as the case of a stay-at-home mother who may feel that she cannot leave because if she did, she would have no way of providing for her children.
  • Other abused people stay because they believe that is the proper thing to do given their religious or cultural background. They may be motivated to put up with a lot of spousal abuse because the alternative is to go against the teachings of their faith.
  • Still other abused people may rationalize staying because they think it is the right thing to do for their children.
  • In a typical instance of domestic abuse, abuse tends to occur periodically or cyclically, rather than all the time. Shortly after the abusive event occurs, the abuser frequently expresses remorse or guilt and wants to apologize. The abuser will swear, "It will never happen again" and may shower the victim with gifts and demands that the victim forgive him or her.  Following the guilt and making up stage comes a "honeymoon" period during which things are good for a while between the partners. In this context, victims often rationalize that they aren't really being abused, that their partner really loves them despite being abusive and that makes it okay, that the abuse really isn't all that bad, and other similar statements.
  • Victims may also have any number of low-self-esteem type beliefs that also keep them paralyzed and willing to accept something that is merely "good enough."
  • Finally, victims that do try to break away from abusive partners may find that abuse escalates to dangerous proportions with the partner stalking them, beating them severely, or otherwise attempting to control their ability to exit the relationship, even with threats of killing themselves if the victim leaves.

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What can I do to change if I'm the abuser?

  • Knowing that abuse is taking place is an important first step in dealing with abuse, because it focuses attention on the problem.
  • Get clear on what abuse is and isn't.
  • Stop rationalizing that abusive treatment of others is acceptable. Abuse is NEVER healthy or acceptable regardless of the messages you may have been taught or witnessed in the past.
  • If a substance abuse disorder is present, get sober through the help of rehabilitation programs, twelve step programs, counseling or similar resources.
  • Get professional help immediately to deal with your anger issues, poor parenting skills, poor boundaries and personal relationship strategies.

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What can I do if I or my children are currently experiencing abuse?

  • The first thing to do is to determine whether your situation is life threatening or if you have the luxury of time to plan a careful exit. If your situation is life threatening, just pack a bag and leave immediately. Do whatever you have to do to remove yourself from the situation.
  • If you have the luxury of time, spend some time developing a careful and realistic plan that details how you will get away from your abusive situation and into a better one.
  • Learn what abuse is and isn't, and what your legal rights are with regard to abuse. Contacting a lawyer is a good idea if you can afford that. If you can't, contacting a domestic violence shelter worker or social worker familiar with domestic violence and abuse is also helpful.
  • Locate and contact domestic violence shelters in your area.
  • If children are involved, consider getting your state's Child Protective Services involved by making an abuse report.
  • Call the police whenever abuse is threatened or seems likely.  There are several reasons for doing this including that the police can help keep you safe, they will document that abuse is happening, and they can help you get a restraining order.
  • Get yourself or your children a medical exam to document any injuries resulting from abuse and to receive treatment for those injuries.
  • Seek out counseling services with a therapist who specializes in areas of abuse to help you deal with your conflicted feelings about leaving and to help you find community resources and to help you generate your plan to leave.
  • Make a step-by-step plan that details how you will care for yourself when you leave the abusive situation.
  • When your plan is defined and you've worked out the details of how you will manage, put that plan into action and separate yourself from your abusive partner.

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What should I do if I've just been assaulted or raped?

  • Call the police first thing and report your assault. Get them to document what has happened to you. You can also report the assault later on, if you aren't comfortable doing so first thing, but it is best to do it sooner rather than later, if you can manage.
  • Go to the hospital as soon as you possibly can and tell them you have been assaulted. If you have been raped, ask them to do a rape examination. If you think you may have been drugged, for example with Rohypnol, ask them to test your urine. Don't bathe, brush your teeth or do anything to change your condition no matter how bad you look.
  • As soon as possible, document what has happened to you in your own words.
  • Get to a safe place and stay there. If you can't get to a safe place, try to make where you are safer by asking someone safe to come and stay with you for a while.
  • Know that it wasn't your fault that you were assaulted.
  • Understand that you can expect to be shaken up for weeks or months after the assault. It takes time to heal from rape and assault.
  • Rape and assault can be psychologically traumatizing, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a possibility. If you find that you are not recovering from the rape or assault, seek professional mental health assistance.

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What can I do if I know someone is being abused or neglected?

  • You can report the abuse to the police or the relevant government agency.
  • Encourage the victim to seek help from the police, a lawyer, the courts, or an abuse shelter.
  • You can listen to the victim and be a shoulder for them to vent upon. Talk with them and help them understand the nature of what abuse is and that it is happening to them. They may be in denial and not realize that what they're experiencing is not safe or normal or necessary.
  • You can offer support and assistance in helping the victim to make a plan for exiting the abuse. Give them numbers for local resources like domestic violence shelters, and help them to learn how to file a restraining order with the local court.
  • Resist the urge to pass angry judgment, as this may turn the victim away from confiding in you. However, do feel free to label abuse as abuse and to encourage the victim to seek out help.

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How can abuse be prevented?

  • Take the time to learn what abuse is and isn't, so that you immediately recognize abuse if it occurs to you or someone close to you.
  • If you have a tendency to be passive in relationships with others, you can learn to be more assertive, particularly in communicating your boundaries and what is acceptable and not acceptable to you.
  • If you have a tendency to be very assertive with others, you may want to consult with others you trust to make sure you are not regularly and unconsciously crossing over the line from assertiveness into abuse.
  • If you are a parent, you should teach your child in age-appropriate ways to identify what abuse is and isn't, how to avoid circumstances that might lead to abuse, the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touching, and that they should always talk to you even if someone threatens them or says they shouldn't.
  • If you are dating, use the buddy system, be wary and do not take unnecessary risks, such as going home with strangers or meeting them in a non-public place, and tell someone at home where you are going and when you will be back.

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