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Domestic Abuse

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Domestic Abuse


Everyone gets angry from time to time. Anger and arguments are normal parts of healthy relationships. But anger that leads to threats, hitting, or hurting someone is not normal or healthy. It's a form of abuse. Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse is not okay in any relationship. When it occurs between spouses or partners or in a dating relationship, it is called domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse is also called intimate partner violence or domestic violence. It isn't the same as having an argument now and then. It is a pattern of abuse used by one person to control another.

Along with violence between intimate partners:

  • Teens may experience dating abuse.
  • Older adults can be targets of both domestic abuse and elder abuse.

Domestic violence can happen to anyone, at any age. It doesn't matter what race or religion people are, what their level of education is, or how much money they make. It's a common form of violent behavior and is a major problem in the United States.

Signs of abuse

Does your partner:

  • Embarrass you with put-downs?
  • Look at you or act in ways that scare you?
  • Control what you do, who you see or talk to, or where you go?
  • Stop you from seeing your friends or family members?
  • Take your money or paychecks, make you ask for money, or refuse to give you money?
  • Make all of the decisions?
  • Tell you that you're a bad parent or threaten to take away or hurt your children?
  • Prevent you from working or going to school?
  • Act like the abuse is no big deal or is your fault, or even deny doing it?
  • Destroy your property or threaten to kill your pets?
  • Intimidate you with guns, knives, or other weapons?
  • Shove you, slap you, choke you, or hit you?
  • Threaten to kill themself?
  • Threaten to kill you?
  • Prevent you from using birth control or from protecting yourself from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)/HIV?

If any of these things are happening, you need to get help. It's important to know that you are not alone. The way your partner acts isn't your fault. There is no excuse for domestic violence. Help is available.

Domestic abuse and your health

Living in an abusive relationship can cause long-term health problems. Some of these health problems include:

People who are sexually abused by their partners have a greater chance of having sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancies, and other problems.

Violence can get worse during pregnancy. People who are abused are more likely to have problems such as low weight gain, anemia, infections, and bleeding during pregnancy. Abuse during this time may increase the baby's risk of low birth weight, premature birth, or death.

How to get help

Abusers often blame the victim for the abuse. They may say "you made me do it." This is not true. People are responsible for their own actions. They may say they're sorry and tell you it will never happen again, even though it already has.

If you are in an abusive relationship, ask for help. This may be hard, but know that you aren't alone. Your family, friends, fellow church members, employer, doctor, or local police department, hospital, or clinic can help you. National hotlines can also help you find resources in your area.

Check Your Symptoms

Do you have a concern about abuse taking place in your home?
Answer the questions for the person you are concerned about, whether that person is you or someone else.
Concern about domestic abuse
Concern about domestic abuse
How old are you?
Less than 12 years
Less than 12 years
12 years or older
12 years or older
Are you male or female?

The medical assessment of symptoms is based on the body parts you have.

  • If you are transgender or nonbinary, choose the sex that matches the body parts (such as ovaries, testes, prostate, breasts, penis, or vagina) you now have in the area where you are having symptoms.
  • If your symptoms aren’t related to those organs, you can choose the gender you identify with.
  • If you have some organs of both sexes, you may need to go through this triage tool twice (once as "male" and once as "female"). This will make sure that the tool asks the right questions for you.
Are you in physical danger right now?
Immediate physical danger
Immediate physical danger
Sexual abuse or assault
Sexual abuse or assault
Was the assault recent enough that there may still be physical evidence?
For example, your body or clothes could have evidence of the assault that needs to be examined.
Physical evidence of recent assault
Physical evidence of recent assault
Has someone physically hurt or abused you?
Physical abuse
Physical abuse
Did the physical abuse occur in the past 24 hours?
Physical abuse occurred in the past 24 hours
Physical abuse occurred in the past 24 hours
Do you have a serious injury?
Serious injury
Serious injury
Is there someone who can safely take you to get emergency care right now?
Someone is available to help
Someone is available to help
Abusive partner
Abusive partner
Are you worried that your partner may hurt you or your children?
Concerned about safety of self or children because of partner
Concerned about safety of self or children because of partner
Do you have concerns about any other type of abuse?
Abuse can be physical, sexual, or emotional. It also can include neglect.
Other concerns about abuse or neglect
Other concerns about abuse or neglect

Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:

  • Your age. Babies and older adults tend to get sicker quicker.
  • Your overall health. If you have a condition such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, or heart disease, you may need to pay closer attention to certain symptoms and seek care sooner.
  • Medicines you take. Certain medicines, such as blood thinners (anticoagulants), medicines that suppress the immune system like steroids or chemotherapy, herbal remedies, or supplements can cause symptoms or make them worse.
  • Recent health events, such as surgery or injury. These kinds of events can cause symptoms afterwards or make them more serious.
  • Your health habits and lifestyle, such as eating and exercise habits, smoking, alcohol or drug use, sexual history, and travel.

Try Home Treatment

You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.

  • Try home treatment to relieve the symptoms.
  • Call your doctor if symptoms get worse or you have any concerns (for example, if symptoms are not getting better as you would expect). You may need care sooner.

Domestic violence, also called intimate partner violence, is a pattern of abuse in which one person uses fear and intimidation to gain power and control over a partner or family member. It may involve physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, such as:

  • Physically hurting or threatening to hurt you, your children, or your pets.
  • Controlling behavior, such as limiting contact with your family or friends, or limiting your access to money.
  • Spying or checking up on you, such as repeatedly calling or texting you for no good reason.
  • Calling you names, insulting you, or putting you down in front of others.
  • Forcing you to have sex.

Sexual abuse is any type of sexual activity that is done against your will. It can be:

  • Nonviolent sexual abuse, such as unwanted touching or being forced to watch or look at sexual pictures.
  • Violent sexual assault, such as rape or forced oral sex.

If you have just been sexually abused or assaulted, try to preserve any evidence of the attack.

  • Do not change your clothes.
  • Do not bathe, shower, brush your teeth, or clean up in any way.
  • Do not eat or drink anything.
  • Do not smoke.
  • Write down everything you can remember about the assault and about the person who assaulted you.

Physical abuse may include:

  • Acts of physical violence, like hitting, pushing, shaking, slapping, kicking, pinching, choking, strangling, and burning.
  • Threats of physical violence against you, your family, or your pets.

Neglect is a form of abuse. It happens when caregivers do not protect the health and well-being of the person they are supposed to take care of.

Two common types of neglect are:

  • Child neglect. This happens when parents (or other caregivers) fail to provide a child with the food, shelter, schooling, clothing, medical care, or protection the child needs.
  • Elder neglect. This includes failing to provide an older person with food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and other basics. Neglect can include failing to pay nursing home or medical costs for the person if you have a legal responsibility to do so.

Seek Care Now

Based on your answers, you may need help right away.

Call your local hospital, clinic, or police department, or call an abuse hotline.

You may also call 911.

Call 911 Now

Based on your answers, you need emergency care.

Call 911 or other emergency services now.

Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.

Seek Care Today

Based on your answers, you may need help soon.

Call your local YMCA, YWCA, hospital, clinic, or police department, or call an abuse hotline.

You may also call 911.


If you are in an abusive relationship, it's very important to make a plan for dealing with a threatening situation. If your partner has threatened to harm you or your child, seek help.

  • Anytime you are in danger, call 911.
  • If you don't have a safe place to stay, tell a friend, a religious counselor, or your doctor. Don't feel that you have to hide what is happening with an abusive partner.
  • Have a safety plan for how to leave your house, where to go, where to stay, and what to take in case you need to get out quickly.
  • Don't tell your partner about your plan, so you stay safe after you're away.
  • For more help in making your plan, call:
    • The National Domestic Violence Hotline toll-free at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233). Or go to to visit the website.
    • Your local police department, hospital, or clinic for the local crisis line or for names of shelters and safe homes near you.

Other things you can do

  • If you are seeing a counselor, be sure to go to all appointments.
  • Teach your children how to call for help in an emergency.
  • Be alert to warning signs, such as threats or drinking. This can help you avoid danger.
  • If you can, make sure that there are no guns or other weapons in your home.
  • If you are working, contact your human resources department or employee assistance program to find out what help is available to you.

If you are in an abusive relationship, ask for help. This may be hard, but know that you aren't alone. Help is available.

  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline toll-free at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233). Or go to to visit the website.
  • The National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline toll-free at 1-866-331-9474 or (1-866-331-8453 TTY). Or go to to visit the website.
  • The Childhelp Line toll-free at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453). Or go to to visit the website.

If you no longer live with a violent partner, contact the police to get a protective order (restraining order) if your abuser continues to pursue you, threaten you, or act violently toward you.

If you've been a victim of abuse and still have problems related to the abuse, you may be affected by depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Ways to support others

Here are some things you can do to help a friend or family member who is in an abusive relationship:

  • Let your friend know that you are willing to listen whenever they want to talk. Don't confront your friend if they're not ready to talk. Encourage your friend to talk with their health professional, human resources manager, and supervisor to see what resources might be available.
  • Tell your friend that the abuse is not their fault and that no one deserves to be abused. Remind your friend that domestic violence is against the law and that help is available. Be understanding if your friend is unable to leave. Your friend knows the situation best and when it is safest to leave.
  • If your friend has children, gently point out that you are concerned that the violence is affecting the kids. Many people don't understand that their children are being harmed until someone else talks about this concern.
  • Encourage and help your friend make a plan for staying safe while in an abusive relationship. Help if they are preparing to leave a violent relationship. Learn about how the person can stay safe after leaving.
  • The most dangerous time may be when your friend is leaving the abusive relationship. So make sure that any advice you give about leaving is informed and practical.

The most important step is to help your friend contact local domestic violence groups. There are local programs across the country that provide options for safety, support, needed information and services, and legal support. To find the nearest program, call:

  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline toll-free at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233). Or go to to visit the website.
  • The National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline toll-free at 1-866-331-9474 or (1-866-331-8453 TTY).

When to call for help during self-care

Call a doctor if problems from violence or abuse occur more often or are more severe.

Learn more

Preparing For Your Appointment


Current as of: February 9, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
H. Michael O'Connor MD - Emergency Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine

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