The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7. You can chat online or call 1-800-799-7233.
Domestic violence is abuse by a caregiver, parent, spouse, intimate partner, or another member of your family. Abuse can take many forms. All forms of abuse can leave you feeling depressed, anxious, or isolated. Some types of abuse include the following:
- Physical abuse: The use of physical force to cause harm. This includes hitting, kicking, or biting.
- Sexual abuse: This is any forced sexual activity.
- Emotional abuse: This includes threats, constant criticism, and put-downs.
- Controlling behavior: This might take the form of controlling money, activities, friends, family, etc.
Violence against a partner or a child is a crime in all states. While abuse mostly happens against girls and women, it can happen to boys and men. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that members of the LGBTQ community could be more likely to fall victim to domestic violence than heterosexuals. Abuse happens to people of all races, ages, incomes, and religions. People who are hurt by their partners, parents, or guardians do not cause the abuse. Alcohol and drugs do not cause abuse, although they can make the violence worse.
Path to improved health
If you or your children are in an abusive relationship, talk to your doctor. Your doctor can treat any medical problem related to the abuse, provide support, and recommend additional resources. Also, call an emergency shelter and ask about counseling and support groups for you and your children. Nurses, social workers, and other health care professionals can help.
Things to consider
If you or your children are being abused, the first thing you should do is get to safety. Go to a safe place, such as the home of a friend, family member, or an emergency shelter. Take your children with you. Call the police if you think you can’t leave home safely. Call the police if you want to bring charges against your abuser.
If possible, take house keys, money, and important papers when you leave. Do not use drugs or alcohol. You need to be alert in a crisis. The staff members at emergency shelters can help you file for a court order of protection.
Physical injuries and emotional scars often are related to domestic abuse. Physical injuries include:
- Cuts and bruises around the neck, face, head, abdomen (stomach), arms, legs, feet, fingers, and buttocks
- Loose or broken teeth
- Ruptured eardrum
- Cigarette burns
- Bite marks
- Rope burns
- Welts (raised, red marks) on the body from being struck by an object, such as a belt
In many cases, a victim of domestic abuse may have scars from past injuries. Out of fear, some victims avoid seeking medical treatment for their injuries.
The emotional scars of domestic abuse can result in other physical problems, including:
- Neck pain
- Chest pain
- Fast heartbeat
- Choking sensations
- Numbness and tingling sensations
- Pain during sex (vaginal, pelvic, rectal)
- Urinary tract infections
- Upset stomach
The psychological effects of domestic abuse can lead to a number of emotional problems, including:
- Chronic fatigue
- Thoughts of suicide
- Risky behavior (substance abuse, poor relationships)
A victim’s own behavior might raise some red flags with their closest friends and family. If you are worried that a friend or loved one has been abused, look for these signs:
- Poor eye contact
- Overly quiet
- Passive (letting a parent, partner, or caregiver talk for them, make decisions for them)
- Wearing clothes that aren’t appropriate for the season (possibly to cover up cuts and bruises)
If you suspect domestic abuse, or if you are the victim of domestic abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline immediately. Don’t let known abuse go unreported. Contact your local law enforcement officials. Many communities have shelters for domestic abuse victims and their families.
Questions to ask your doctor
- What local resources can protect me and my children from my abuser?
- How can I tell if my child has been physically, sexually, or emotionally abused?
National Institutes of Health, MedlinePlus: Intimate Partner Violence
Office on Women’s Health: Leaving an Abusive Relationship
The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.