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Community Health: Education, Prevention & Inspiration

Recognize potential signs of abuse

A recent ad informs viewers of a hand signal that can be used to alert others that they may need assistance because they are in a domestic violence situation. While the signal has yet to be adopted widely, this ad serves as a reminder that these circumstances continue to affect individuals and families globally and that we all must be vigilant to what is happening around us and with those we know.

Domestic violence occurs when a person within a sentimental relationship tries to control or exert power over their partner. Domestic violence does not discriminate. It can happen to or be done by anyone regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, race, religion, or social-economic or marital status. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. On average in the United States, each minute 20 people are physically abused by an intimate partner. In one year, this amounts to over 10 million men and women.  

Often, we do not know that it affects those we love because we neglect to recognize the signs or are not aware that domestic violence comes in different forms. There are resources within our communities to help those suffering from domestic violence situations. Because they are at greater risk when making the decision to leave the abuser, those around them must be supportive and willing to act to get them to a safer environment. In order to help them, we must first understand the different types of abuse that can exist.

Physical abuse is the most known type of domestic violence. A person can be pushed, hit, bitten, punched, stabbed, or even burned with lit cigarettes. Their hair can be pulled, or their locks cut without their consent. People have been pushed down the stairs or into walls or hard objects. Many times, others do not realize someone is being abused because no bruises or other signs of physical mistreatment are seen.

Sexual abuse is any sexual activity occurring against a person’s will. For example, pressuring a person to have sex when they do not want to, coercing them to engage in sexual acts that are uncomfortable to them, or forcing them to have sex with others. Refusing to use protection or sabotaging birth control is also a form of sexual abuse. Physical contact is not necessary for it to be sexual abuse. Forcing someone to watch nude or sexual images is also a form of sexual abuse.   

Emotional abuse often is invisible to others outside of the relationship yet can be as damaging as physical abuse. The use of insults, derogatory language, and criticism are common methods of emotional abuse. Intimidation and threats to harm the person or their loved ones are others. Some abusers even threaten to kill themselves so that their partner feels no other choice but to stay for fear of what could happen. Many times, the person’s property is destroyed; these can be items that hold sentimental value to them. Persons in emotionally abusive relationships can also be under their partner’s constant watch. They are not allowed to leave the house alone. Their phone calls and texts are monitored.

Economic abuse is another form of abuse. In this case, the abuser uses money to control their partner and exert power over them causing the partner to have to financially depend on the abuser. Houses, cars, bank accounts, and credit cards will often be in the abuser’s name so the partner will see little probability of landing on their feet if they choose to leave and feel forced to stay even if it is in an abusive relationship. Forms of economic abuse can be controlling all household financial aspects, not allowing a partner to have or keep their own income so they cannot be financially independent, forging a signature to cash their partner’s check, taking away credit or bank cards, having to justify all expenditures and providing receipts for every purchase including personal items, or withholding money to pay for groceries or household bills. There are times that abusers refuse to allow their partner to go to work or school jeopardizing their means of income or education.  

Domestic violence continues to plague our communities without us knowing. It is important to be aware of subtle hints and signs. We never know when someone is silently crying out for help. We must also remember not to place blame on the victim. It is not easy to leave an abusive relationship for many reasons. If you are or suspect a loved one is in an abusive relationship, please reach out to one of the 24-hour, free, confidential, and multilingual hotlines listed here:

Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline      1-877-863-6338.  

National Domestic Violence Hotline   1-800-799-SAFE (7233).