Signs of domestic violence or abuse

Intimate partner violence, or domestic violence, can be difficult to see if it starts little by little, if your partner says they love you, or if they support you financially. Domestic violence can include forced sex, physical abuse, and emotional abuse, such as cruel words or threats. It can happen between married people, to a couple who lives together or apart, or to a same-sex couple. Abuse is never OK.

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How do I know whether I’m being abused?

You may be experiencing domestic violence if your partner:

  • Controls what you’re doing
  • Checks your phone, email, or social networks without your permission
  • Forces you to have sex when you don’t want to
  • Controls your birth control or insists that you get pregnant
  • Decides what you wear or eat or how you spend money
  • Prevents or discourages you from going to work or school or seeing your family or friends
  • Humiliates you on purpose in front of others
  • Unfairly accuses you of being unfaithful
  • Destroys your things
  • Threatens to hurt you, your children, other loved ones, or your pets
  • Hurts you physically (e.g., hitting, beating, punching, pushing, kicking), including with a weapon
  • Blames you for his or her violent outbursts
  • Threatens to hurt herself or himself because of being upset with you
  • Threatens to report you to the authorities for imagined crimes
  • Says things like, “If I can’t have you, then no one can”

What are signs of domestic violence or abuse in same-sex relationships?

If you are in a same-sex relationship, many signs of domestic violence are the same as other people in an abusive relationship. Your partner may hit you, try to control you, or force you to have sex. But you may also experience additional signs of abuse, including:

  • Threatening to “out you” to your family, friends, employer, or community
  • Telling you that you have to be legally married to be considered a victim of domestic violence and to get help
  • Saying women aren’t or can’t be violent
  • Telling you the authorities won’t help a lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or other nonconforming person
  • Forcing you to “prove” your sexuality by performing sex acts that you do not consent to

Regardless of your gender identity or sexual orientation, no one has the right to physically hurt you or threaten your safety.

What can I do if I’m being abused?

Your safety is the most important concern. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

If you are not in immediate danger, consider these options:

  • Get medical care. If you have been injured or sexually assaulted, go to a local hospital emergency room or urgent care center. You need medical care and may need medicines after being injured or raped.
  • Call a helpline for free, anonymous help. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233) or 800-787-3224 (TDD). The hotline offers help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in many languages. Hotline staff can give you numbers for other resources, such as local domestic violence shelters. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, there are resources available for you. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs has a hotline to help LGBTQ victims of violence. Call 212-714-1141 for 24-hour support in English or Spanish.
  • Make a safety plan to leave. Domestic violence usually does not get better. Think about a safe place for you to go and other things you will need. Staff at the National Domestic Violence Hotline can help you plan.
  • Save the evidence. Keep evidence of abuse, such as pictures of your injuries or threatening emails or texts, in a safe place the abuser cannot get to.
  • Find out where to get help in your community. Look up local resources for a list of local places to get help.
  • Talk to someone. Reach out to someone you trust. This might be a family member, a friend, a co-worker, or a spiritual leader. Look for ways to get emotional help, like a support group or mental health professional.
  • Look into a restraining order. Consider getting a protection order.

If you are the victim of domestic violence, know that you are not alone. There are people who want to help you and who are trained to respond. See our page on leaving an abusive relationship for tips on what to do and where to go.

What can happen if I don’t get help?

Domestic violence often results in physical and emotional injuries. It can also lead to other health problems, reproductive health challenges, mental health conditions such as depression, and suicide. Women affected by intimate partner violence are also more likely to use drugs or alcohol to cope.

Domestic violence can even end in death. Women who live in a home with guns are five times more likely to be killed.1 More than half of women murdered with guns are killed by intimate partners.2

Read more about the effects on your health.

How common is domestic violence against women?

Domestic or intimate partner violence is a very common type of violence against women:

  • Domestic or intimate partner violence happens in all types of relationships, including dating couples, married couples, same-sex couples, former or ex-couples, and couples who live together but are not married.3
  • Intimate partner violence happens more often among younger couples.4
  • Almost half of American Indian and Alaskan Native women, more than four in 10 African-American women, and more than one in three white and Hispanic women have experienced sexual or physical violence or stalking by their intimate partner.3
  • Nearly 23 million women in the United States have been raped or experienced attempted rape in their lifetimes.3
  • More than 33 million women — including one in three African-American and white women and one in four Hispanic women — have experienced unwanted sexual contact, other than rape, by an intimate partner.3
  • Women who identify as lesbian experience as much or more physical and sexual violence as heterosexual women by an intimate partner.5 Women who identify as bisexual experience intimate partner violence more often than heterosexual women.5

How are gender and sexual minority women affected by domestic violence?

Gender and sexual minority women, such as lesbian or bisexual women, may be more likely than heterosexual women to experience domestic violence.6 Two in five lesbian women and three in five bisexual women experience intimate partner violence at some point in their lifetimes.6

Researchers think women who identify as something other than straight or cisgender (people whose biological sex matches their gender identity) may experience higher levels of domestic violence. But there is not yet enough research on all types of gender and sexual minority women to know for sure.

Learn more about other signs of domestic violence in same-sex relationships.

Did we answer your question about domestic or intimate partner violence?

For more information about domestic or intimate partner violence, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or contact the following organizations:

Sources

  1. Campbell, J.C., Webster, D., Koziol-McLain, J., Block, C., Campbell, D., Curry, M., et al. (2003). Risk Factors for Femicide in Physically Abusive Intimate Relationships: Results From a Multisite Case Control Study. American Journal of Public Health; 93(7): 1089-1097.
  2. Petrosky, E., Blair, J.M., Betz, C.J., Fowler, K.A., Jack, S.P., Lyons, B.H. (2017). Racial and Ethnic Differences in Homicides of Adult Women and the Role of Intimate Partner Violence – United States, 2003-2014. MMWR; 66(28): 741-746.
  3. Smith, S.G., Chen, J., Basile, K.C., Gilbert, L.K., Merrick, M.T., Patel, N., Walling, M., Jain, A. (2017). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010-2012 State Report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  4. Capaldi, D.M., Knoble, N.B., Shortt, J.W., Kim, H.K. (2012). A Systematic Review of Risk Factors for Intimate Partner Violence. Partner Abuse; 3: 231-280.
  5. Walters, M.L., Chen, J., Breiding, M.J. (2013). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  6. National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. (2016). Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and HIV-Affected Intimate Partner Violence in 2015. New York, NY: Emily Waters.