What is Abuse?

Domestic abuse is a deliberate and ongoing pattern of behavior used by one person to control an intimate partner or family member’s actions and feelings. The Power & Control Wheel shown below illustrates the different ways abuse can affect a relationship.

The Wheel, designed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth, Minnesota, uses “male perpetrator language” because most abuse reports have been, historically, males against females. We believe no one deserves to be hurt or abused, and that’s why our advocacy services are “equal-opportunity.” If anything in the Power & Control Wheel describes your relationship, or if you’re worried or confused, contact our Helpline. It’s free and confidential.

The Myth: An Abuser …

  • Is “out of control.”
  • Has a drinking or drug problem
  • Has poor anger control
  • Is just under stress
  • Has low self-esteem
  • Was provoked by the victim

The Truth: An Abuser …

  • Chooses who, when, and where to abuse
  • Who is under the influence continues to make choices about who, when, and where abuse happens
  • Can control anger on the job, with friends, in court, or when dealing with police.
  • Chooses to deal with stress through violence
  • Does not differ from non-abusers in their level of self-esteem
  • It is never justified in abusing someone

Red Flags of Abuse

Abusers use fear, guilt, shame, and intimidation to keep someone else, usually an intimate partner, under their control. Abuse is stressful, exhausting, and may even be life-threatening. Take a look at what’s going on in your relationship. Do you recognize any of these red flags?

Does Your Partner…

  • Make you feel like you never do anything right or well enough?
  • Try to make you feel like you’re “crazy” or that you’re “imagining things?”
  • Withdraw into silence, and wait for you to figure out what you’ve done wrong and apologize for it?
  • Threaten to leave you, threaten to make you leave, or lock you out?
  • Socialize or go out, leaving you home because “the children are your responsibility?”
  • Get angry if you suggest the situation isn’t fair?
  • Spend money on whatever they want to, but then get mad at you when there is none left for bills or groceries?
  • Act jealous when you spend time with friends or family or with anyone other than them? Exhibit obsessive, unreasonable jealousy?
  • Call you names or belittle you in private or in front of the children or friends?
  • Yell and scream at you?
  • Constantly criticize your parenting or housekeeping?
  • Threaten to take the children if you leave?
  • Block the door so you won’t leave during an argument, follow you around, or keep you awake to continue the argument?
  • Force you to have sex when you don’t want to or in ways, you don’t want to?
  • Threaten to hurt you or someone you care about? Be cruel to or belittle the children? Hurt your pets?
  • Constantly try to keep track of you by following you, reading your emails, listening to your phone messages, calling, or texting you obsessively?
  • Exhibit unpredictable mood swings, make you feel like you never know “who” will walk through the door?
  • Shove, hit, punch, kick, strangle, spit on, or beat you?

If you answered “yes” to even one of these questions, abuse is likely part of your relationship. Even if the abuser never touches you, emotional and psychological abuse can be as terrifying and debilitating. Every relationship has its ups and downs, but if you have a healthy relationship, you should look forward to being with your partner, enjoying your time together, and supporting each other. Your relationship should not make you feel sick or afraid.

Are You Abusing Your Partner?

What’s Going on in Your Relationship?

  • Do you often lose your temper?
  • Have you ever hit, pushed, grabbed, or threatened your partner?
  • Have you frightened or intimidated your partner in any way?
  • Has your partner said that they are afraid of you or shown fear in other ways?
  • Are your children afraid of you?
  • Do you frequently insult your partner, call them names, or say things that make them feel uncomfortable?
  • Do you often pressure your partner to do things your way, even if they don’t want to?
  • Do they complain that you are trying to control their life?
  • Do you feel jealous or anxious when your partner spends time with other people?
  • Do you need or want to know where your partner is at all times?
  • When you mistreat your partner, do you believe it’s their fault?
  • Do you blame your behavior towards your partner on alcohol, drugs, stress, or family problems?
  • Have you cheated on your partner?
  • Have you ever been accused of mistreating your children?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might need to take a close look at what’s going on in your relationship and at the damages your behavior is causing. If you already understand how much you’re hurting your partner and family, if you feel guilty and apologetic after an abusive incident and promise yourself and them that you’ll change. Still, the abuse doesn’t stop. You’re not the only one. But you may need some outside intervention.

Barriers to Leaving

If you’re struggling with abuse, you know that leaving your partner isn’t easy for many reasons, even though you may know you’re not in a healthy relationship. If you’re concerned about a friend, relative, co-worker, or client, it’s important to understand why it may be hard, and even risky, to leave an abusive relationship.

“Walk out the back, Jack” is a cute song lyric, but real life isn’t that simple. Relationships involve a complex intertwining of emotions, memories, and behavior patterns that can take a long time to unravel, especially when the relationship is dangerous. Here are some of the common and genuine barriers to leaving an abusive relationship:

  • Fear – of increased abuse or of actually being killed, fear that the abuser will commit suicide, that no one will believe you, that the abuser will stalk you, that unsupervised visits with the abusive partner will put your kids at risk. The majority of domestic homicides occur when or right after the victim leaves the abuser.
  • Isolation – of the victim from friends and family by the abuser has probably been going on throughout the relationship. Abusers often make sure any support system has been dismantled, so if you leave, you’re left alone to find a job, transportation, childcare, housing, and social services.
  • Economic Reality – may be that you aren’t able to support yourself and your children. You may not have marketable skills or access to government assistance or cash, checks, or other important documents that the abuser has controlled.
  • Childhood Experiences – may leave you feeling that abuse is unavoidable in relationships or that it is okay to be abused by people you love and who say they love you.
  • Connection to the Abuser – and manipulating feelings of love or compassion may lead you to believe that you alone can help the abuser overcome their problems or that your abusive partner is all-powerful and will find you if you leave.
  • Beliefs About Self – low self-esteem often results in victims who accept blame for a relationship’s problems. You might think you deserve to be abused.


It’s tough to tell someone that your adult child or spouse is hurting or neglecting you. It may be nearly impossible for you to believe. But if that is what’s happening, you’re not alone. You see, nearly 2 million Americans ages 65 and older have been injured, exploited, or mistreated by someone they love or depend on for care and protection.

  • Do you feel threatened?
  • Do family members or caretakers pressure you into doing or giving them what they want by making you feel guilty or through physical force?
  • Are your basic needs taken care of? Are you helped with meals and hygiene regularly and on time?
  • Are you denied medical care? Do family members or caretakers refuse to take you to doctor’s appointments? Do you have the medicines you need? Are your caretakers using or selling your medications?
  • Does anyone consistently ridicule you, what you think, or what you say?
  • Do you often feel degraded, put down, or humiliated by a family member or caregiver?
  • Are you kept from seeing friends or other family members? Do you often wish someone besides your caregiver would visit you?
  • Do you have reason to believe that money or possessions are being stolen from you or that your bank accounts have been taken out of your control?

If someone is abusing you, or if someone you know is being abused, please contact our Helpline. We’ll work with you as you explore your options and you decide what’s best for you. You don’t deserve to live in fear. No one does.

People With Disabilities

Does Someone Who is Supposed to Care For & About You…

  • Often make fun of your disability?
  • Tell you that you’re unable to make decisions?
  • Keep you from talking to or seeing other people, including friends, case managers, or advocates?
  • Deny access to equipment or programs that might help you live more independently?
  • Hurt, or threaten to hurt you or your children?
  • Threaten to tell social services that you’re unable to care for yourself or your children because of your disability?
  • Use your money or possessions without your permission?
  • Restrain you unnecessarily?
  • Withhold your medication or over-medicate you?
  • Deny food, water, help with toileting, proper and clean clothing, or shelter?
  • Leave you alone with no way to call for help?
  • Blame your disability and the stress of caring for you for their abusive behavior?
  • Force you to do sexual things you’re uncomfortable with?

Abuse is NOT a price you have to pay for care. If someone is abusing you, or if someone you know is being abused, please contact our Helpline. We’ll work with you as you explore your options and you decide what’s best for you. You don’t deserve to live in fear. No one does.

LGBT Community

Domestic abuse can affect anyone of any race, gender, education level, or socio-economic status, so it’s no surprise that domestic abuse also reaches into the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. In fact, nearly 25% of LGBT people experience abusive relationships. It’s a reality that’s rarely discussed and even more rarely reported.

Perhaps because LGBT people fear that they might have to deal with homophobic or transphobic reactions from police or other officials or even people they know or work with if they ask for help. Sometimes LGBT people who haven’t come “out” to friends or family members feel it’s riskier to confide in someone than to just put up with the abuse. If you’re not sure your situation is abusive, here are some questions that might help you think things through. If any one of these behaviors is part of your life, you are probably being abused.

Does Your Partner Often…

  • Put you down or call you derogatory names?
  • Humiliate or embarrass you in front of other people?
  • Threaten to hurt you or people you care about?
  • Threaten to hurt themselves if you leave or don’t give in and do what they want?
  • Become extremely jealous, even about the time you spend with your family?
  • Keep you from seeing friends, family, or people in your LGBT community?
  • Attempt to control what you wear, eat, say, where you go, or what you do?
  • Accuse you of flirting or being unfaithful without cause?
  • Threaten to “out” you?
  • Threaten to infect you with an STD or other illness?
  • Physically attack, push, hit, restrain, grab, or strangle you?
  • Pressure you to do sexual things that you’re not comfortable with?
  • Steal your money or try to control your bank account?
  • Try to keep you from working, going to school, or pursuing other activities that encourage your independence?
  • Blame you for their behavior?

If someone is abusing you, or if someone you know is being abused, please contact our Helpline. We’ll work with you as you explore your options and you decide what’s best for you. You don’t deserve to live in fear. No one does.


How does domestic abuse affect children? Millions of children experience direct physical harm by an abusive parent, and approximately 3.3 million witness abuse in their homes each year.

  • Exposure to the physical or emotional abuse of a parent has many of the same effects as being a direct target.
  • When one parent abuses the other, there’s a 30-60% chance that the children are also being abused.
  • The effects of being exposed to abuse can be severe and long-lasting, impairing a child’s ability to communicate with others and form healthy relationships.
  • When children live with abuse, they learn that violence is an acceptable way to resolve conflict.

Is a child you know living with abuse?

Below are some possible signs that a child may be living with abuse, but it is important to remember that these signs may be related to other issues such as stress, trauma, or developmental disabilities.

  • Often has unexplained injuries.
  • Acts shy, withdrawn, or too eager to please
  • Avoids going home
  • Wears long-sleeved clothing in warm weather
  • Talks about abuse
  • Seems nervous and fearful
  • Exhibits overactive or destructive behaviors
  • Acts afraid to be touched by adults
  • Has difficulty getting along with other children
  • Shows constant anxiety
  • Seems depressed
  • Exhibits low sense of self-worth

How Can You Help? Appropriate Responses Include…

  • Help the child think of a safe place to go when fighting or abuse begins.
  • Warn them against attempts to stop the fighting. Make it clear that it’s good they want to stop it but that intervening isn’t safe.
  • Make sure they have access to a phone and know how to call 911. Ask if they feel safe.
  • Calling 911, if needed. If not, ask who they can call or what they can do instead.
  • Make sure that they know it’s not their fault.
  • Try not to pass judgment on the abuser. Kids often love the person who’s doing the hurting.
  • Ask if there’s someone they can talk to about the problem, such as a teacher, the other parent, a caregiver, counselor, etc.
  • Tell them that they are not alone.

If someone is abusing you, or if someone you know is being abused, please contact our Helpline. We’ll work with you as you explore your options and you decide what’s best for you. You don’t deserve to live in fear. No one does.

Teen Dating Violence

Dating abuse is a pattern of behaviors that someone uses to control a partner, where they go, what they do, who they see, or what they wear. Like any form of abuse, it can be physical, emotional, mental, verbal, or sexual. Dating abuse can happen to anyone. It can go on even after a couple has broken up. It happens in heterosexual and LGBT relationships. Someone of any gender can abuse a partner.

Does Your Partner…

  • Act in ways that scare you?
  • Get angry or jealous when you talk to or want to do things with other people?
  • Put you down, call you names, or criticize you?
  • Try to control where you go, what you wear, or what you do?
  • Constantly call or text you?
  • Blame you if they hurt you or your feelings?
  • Threaten to hurt you or themself you break up with them?
  • Constantly accuse you of flirting or cheating on them?
  • Try to force you to have sex – or do sexual things that you’re not comfortable doing?
  • Hit, slap, push, kick, or restrain you?

If abuse is part of your relationship, you’re far from alone. One in three teenagers say they know someone who’s been physically or emotionally hurt by a romantic partner. That means you probably know someone who is being abused in their relationship.

If someone is abusing you, or if someone you know is being abused, please contact our Helpline. We’ll work with you as you explore your options and you decide what’s best for you. You don’t deserve to live in fear. No one does.