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Alternatives to
Spousal or Partner Abuse


Child Sexual Abuse ~ Other Child Abuse ~ Elder/Dependent Adult Abuse ~ Other Populations

NOTE: Although abuse occurs in every country, information on this page pertains to the United States, except where indicated otherwise.  

Domestic violence or "intimate partner violence" is any act of violence -- physical violence, sexual coercion or rape, or other forms of abuse, including verbal, emotional, economic and psychological abuse -- perpetrated by a current or former spouse or romantic partner (boyfriend, girlfriend, lover, etc.).

Domestic violence involves elements of control and the abuse of power by the person committing the violence. By using intimidation, coercion and threats, and emotional or economic abuse, these abusers exert their control over their victims. In many cases, victims are too frightened to ask for help or to report the acts of violence committed against them or their children. A number of reasons could be given for an abuser's behavior, including economic hardship, growing up in a violent or abusive household, or abusing drugs or alcohol or both. There is no justification, however, for violent behavior.(1)

back to top Prevalence

Estimates range from 960,000 incidents of violence against a current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend per year(2) to three million women who are physically abused by their husband or boyfriend per year.(3)

Nearly one-third of American women (31 percent) report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives, according to a 1998 Commonwealth Fund survey.(3) Thirty percent of Americans say they know a woman who has been physically abused by her husband or boyfriend in the past year.(4)

Intimate partner violence is primarily a crime against women. In 1999, women accounted for 85 percent of the victims of intimate partner violence (671,110 total) and men accounted for 15 percent of the victims (120,100 total).(5) While women are less likely than men to be victims of violent crimes overall, women are five to eight times more likely than men to be victimized by an intimate partner.(6) From 1993 to 1998, victimization by an intimate accounted for 22 percent of the violence experienced by females. It accounted for three percent of the violent crime sustained by males.(7) Male violence against women does much more damage than female violence against men; women are much more likely to be injured than men.(8)

A growing body of research points to a definite link between adult domestic violence and child abuse. These connections are pervasive. Forty-five to seventy percent of battered women in shelters report that their batterers have also committed some form of child abuse. Even using the more conservative figure, child abuse is 15 times more likely to occur in households where adult domestic violence is also present. Women who have been beaten by their spouses are, in turn, reportedly twice as likely as other women to abuse a child. It is also estimated that 3.3. million to 10 million children witness domestic violence each year. Many child witnesses of domestic violence experience increased problems themselves.(9)

back to top Symptoms of Domestic Violence
  Physical injuries are the most tangible manifestations of intimate partner violence ~ bruises, broken bones, black eyes ~ yet they are not always reported by women to health care professionals and police, and often go unrecognized by those who have a mandate to intervene in abuse or suspected abuse cases. Other signs of intimate partner violence, or domestic violence, that observers might see in a relative or friend include:
  • Being prone to accidents.
  • Injuries that could not be caused by accident, or do not match the story of what happened to cause them.
  • Injuries on many different areas of the body, especially areas that are less likely to get hurt, such as the face, throat, neck, chest, abdomen, or genitals.
  • Many injuries that happened at different times.
  • Bruises, burns, or wounds that are shaped like objects such as teeth, hands, belts, a cigarette tip, or look like the injured person has a glove or sock on (from having a hand or foot placed in boiling water).
  • Seeking medical help a lot.
  • Waiting to or not seeking medical help for serious injuries.
  • Depression.
  • Use of alcohol or drugs [in victim and/or perpetrator]
  • Suicide attempts.(10)
back to top Ways to Heal



If you are the victim, your primary goal should be to protect yourself and any children present in the violent situation.

  • Obtain medical treatment.
  • Get information about a shelter; call now. If you have a safe place to go besides a shelter, try to participate in groups offered by a shelter or other organizations for victims of domestic violence.
  • Recognize your right to safety and legal intervention.
  • File a police report and press charges so that an intervention can be made with the offender.
  • Obtain a restraining order against the abuser so that law enforcement can offer protection and enforce the law.
  • Find someone (friend, therapist) who will support you and listen to what effects the experience has had on you -- talk about it!
  • Remember ~ you deserve better.
  • Learn about the cycle of violence [the theory that children who witness violence will become perpetrators or victims of violence] and about how continuing to live in a violent environment perpetuates roles of victim and abuser for any children present
  • If you will not or cannot leave the abuser and the violent environment, develop a safety plan, develop and use your support system, and thereby decrease your isolation and dependency on the violent relationship.(11)

Treatment approaches for offenders generally focus on, first, ending all physical violence and all other forms of abuse. Next, education about the cycle of violence and anger management are provided. Offenders can also benefit by addressing questions about personal self-esteem. Most people can be helped to build respectful relationships with themselves and others.

If you are acting violently with a spouse or partner, read the information on this page and consider if your behavior meets your highest standards for yourself. Note how people ~ yourself and others ~ feel about your behavior. Consider changing your behavior in ways that will help you and others feel better. If you feel helpless to stop your behavior, get help now ~ call a friend, a therapist or the police.

1. "Violence Against Women". 2001. US Dept of Health & Human Svces. Office on Women's Health The National Women's Health Information Center.
2. "Violence by Intimates: Analysis of Data on Crimes by Current or Former Spouses, Boyfriends, and Girlfriends". 1998. US Department of Justice.
3. "Health Concerns Across a Woman’s Lifespan: 1998 Survey of Women’s Health". 1999. The Commonwealth Fund.

  4.. "Tracking Survey conducted for The Advertising Council and the Family Violence Prevention Fund". 1996. Lieberman Research Inc.

5. "Intimate Partner Violence and Age of Victim, 1993-99". 2001. Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report.
6. "Violence by Intimates: Analysis of Data on Crimes by Current or Former Spouses, Boyfriends, and Girlfriends". 1998. US Department of Justice.
7. "Intimate Partner Violence". 2000. US Department of Justice.
8. "Physical Violence in American Families". 1990. Murray A. Straus and Richard J. Gelles.
9. "The Link between Child Abuse and Domestic Violence", in Sept. 1994 issue of The Child Protection Leader. Englewood, CO (American Humane Association)
10. "Violence Against Women". 2001. US Dept of Health & Human Svces. Office on Women's Health The National Women's Health Information Center.
11. "Therapist's Guide to Clinical Intervention: The 1-2-3's of Treatment Planning", S. Johnson. 1997. San Diego (Academic Press). p121-122.

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