Abusive behavior manifests in a number of ways, ranging from sexual and physical abuse seen in teen dating and marriages to school bullying and hate crimes against the LGBTQ community. The following guide identifies different forms of violence, offers information on how to recognize abuse, and provides resources to help victims find support services.

One in four women will be victims of domestic violence each year.

More than six million children witness acts of domestic abuse each year.

In 2014 alone, the United States spent more than $1.7 trillion dollars in violence containment initiatives.

Intimate partner violence occurs at a disproportionate level for females aged 16-24 – nearly three times the national average.

Four out of every five high school students say they have been cyberbullied.

Expert Contributor

Brian Martin
Brian Martin

Brian Martin is the Founder & CEO of the Childhood Domestic Violence Association (CDVA). He is the author of the New York Times Bestseller, “INVINCIBLE: The 10 Lies You Learn Growing Up with Domestic Violence, and the Truths to Set You Free,” as well as a weekly contributor to the Huffington Post. Brian has been featured in the New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and Forbes. He has testified before Congress, appeared on national television programs including Dr. Phil and executive-produced the award-winning documentary, The “Children Next Door.”

Family and Domestic Violence

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is a safe, discreet resource offering trained professionals 24/7 to help victims find help and get out of harmful or dangerous situations. Free advocacy services can be received via telephone at 1-800-799-7233 or online chatting at their website, thehotline.org.

Domestic abuse can take numerous forms, all with the overarching intention of gaining power and control over another person through the use of fear, intimidation and/or violence. While not all domestic abuse starts as physical violence, it can escalate to this level if left unchecked.

In addition to national services such as Safe Horizon and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, hundreds of localized resources are available to those seeking help.

Domestic violence affects one in three women and one in four men, with domestic violence hotlines in America receiving more than 20,000 calls each and every day. Asking for help can be terrifying, especially if the victim is concerned about their abuser lashing out in violent ways.

Interview with Brian F. Martin

Brian F. Martin is one of the 1 billion people alive today who grew up living with domestic violence. The impact of this experience lasted into adulthood, but his quest for answers to long-unasked questions eventually led him to a revelation: the unlikely gifts and hidden truths that the experience gave him – and has given others who have lived through the same circumstances. Here, he shares what he’s learned through his experiences with domestic violence.

What are some of the most common signs of an abusive person?

There is no one single “trait” or “sign” to identify an abusive person. One possible question to ask is, “did this person experience adversity during childhood?” Childhood adversity negatively wires a developing brain, causing individuals to struggle with relationships, emotions, behaviors and health later in life. One adversity with practically no awareness is childhood domestic violence. CDV occurs when a child grows up living in a home with domestic violence. From the child’s standpoint, domestic violence is violence between their parents or violence towards a parent from a significant other or stepparent. UNICEF says “The single best predictor as to whether or not you will experience domestic violence later in life is whether or not you grew up living with it in your childhood home.” You have a greater chance of being a perpetrator or victim of domestic violence if you grew up in that environment, but it is not always the case.

What populations are the most at risk to be victims of domestic violence, and is there anything they can do to dissuade such behavior?

What we do know is that domestic violence and CDV crosses all races, religions and geography. It is, however, more likely to occur in homes where economic stature comes into play. A more holistic approach to the issue of domestic violence is needed to help the millions of children and adults that it negatively impacts.

How can you help someone once recognizing they are in an abusive relationship? What if it’s you?

Often a person thinks they don’t deserve love, that they are alone or worthless, and that they are responsible for what is happening. These negative beliefs are some of the same 10 lies a person who experiences CDV learns. A support system is critical to finding a way out of an abusive relationship. Those can be friends, family, or another caring individual. Some call this person “The One.” And that person can help someone in an abusive relationship by reinforcing the truths.

How can social workers, counselors, psychologists, etc. help?

The help has to start early. In the same way we’ve educated children about bullying in school, we must also educate them about the adversities faced in their childhood home, or the bullying faced when they get home from school. To help them unlearn the lies they have learned, we need to bring the tools and information to those who need them, including adults. Most critically, we need to address the single best predictor of domestic violence, which is childhood domestic violence. Once that’s happened, we can begin to break the cycle of violence.

What are examples of domestic violence that individuals often let slip by?

Domestic violence isn’t always physical violence. Emotional abuse, financial abuse, and sexual abuse are all forms of it. It’s about having control. If you grew up with domestic violence in your childhood home, you had no control. You couldn’t do anything to stop it because you were just a child. This is one of many reasons why CDV is the single best predictor of DV- if you had no control as a child, you’re more likely to seek it out as an adult.

Examples of Domestic Violence

Emotional Abuse

Verbal and emotional abuse is often the most psychologically harmful forms of domestic violence, paralyzing its victims and making them feel crippled to get out of a harmful situation. Many individuals sadly may not even recognize they are being emotionally abused until it goes on for far too long. They may rationalize their abuser’s behavior, reasoning that it could always be worse. Examples include intentional humiliation or embarrassment, withholding affection, being overly critical, excluding or ignoring the victim, using guilt as a weapon, and using threats to keep the victim from leaving.

Sexual Abuse

Women may struggle to recognize sexual abuse, often feeling that something is wrong with them for not welcoming these types of advancements. This is especially true for teenagers and adolescents who can feel pressured to oblige a partner. Domestic abusers use sex as a tool humiliate and control, which often turns into feelings of guilt or shame for their victims. Examples of sexual abuse include unwanted touching, forced sexual acts, being disrespectful toward a partner’s sexual boundaries, coercing a partner to have children, cheating, or using physical violence during a sexual act.

Physical Abuse

This form is one of the first types people think of when discussing domestic violence, often because it is the hardest to conceal. Physical abusers control their victims by inflicting pain when they are angry. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that every nine seconds, a woman in America is beaten or physically assaulted. Out of those domestic acts of violence, nearly one-fifth includes a weapon of some form. Examples include hitting, beating, slapping, kicking, backhanding, throwing objects, choking, punching surfaces, stalking, biting, spitting, and reckless driving.

Financial Abuse

One of the lesser-known forms of domestic violence, financial abusers use money to control their victims and take away their independence. Whether forbidding someone to work or solely controlling all financial decisions, this type of abuse results in the victim feeling helpless and losing any sense of financial empowerment. Although it can be prevalent in intimate partner relationships, it is also commonly seen in mistreatment of the elderly. Examples may include sole control of all bank accounts, controlling how money is spent, creating an allowance, disallowing the victim to work, misusing the victim’s name on financial documents, and forcing the victim to sign financial documents.

Signs of an Abusive Person

Although domestic violence may manifest in numerous ways, abusers often exhibit common behaviors that can be identified when you know the signs. The traits listed below should be viewed as immediate red flags within any relationship.

1 Jealousy

Abusers exhibiting jealous behavior often control their victims by corralling them away from family or friends or accusing them of being unfaithful.

2 Degrading

Whether appearing as comments about someone’s appearance, sexual experience, occupation, friends, or family, abusers who disparage their victims are prone to further verbal abuse.

3 Blaming

Nothing is ever the fault of an abuser who uses the blaming game to control their victims. No matter what goes wrong, it is always someone else’s fault.

4 Threatening

This form of intimidation uses fear to keep victims from getting away from their abuser. The abusive person may threaten to harm their partner or themselves, or take their children away if the victim leaves.

5 Stalking

NCADV found that 19.3 million and 5.1 million women and men respectively reported being stalked in abusive relationships. Whether this takes the form of secretly following or incessantly calling/texting someone whenever they are not with the abuser, this sign is often tied to jealousy.

6 Controlling

Control is one of the most common traits of an abuser and can be seen in areas of physical, sexual, emotional, and financial abuse. The most telling sign for this form is anytime someone tries to keep another person from being who they are.

7 Manipulative

Abusers are really good at manipulating their victims and making them unable to see the truth. Whether saying they are bad sexual partners or that they aren’t good with money, abusers distort the truth to keep their victims in check.

The Cycle of Violence

Domestic violence is unfortunately more common than many realize, with a series of warning signs and behaviors often precipitating and perpetuating abuse. While every instance of domestic violence is different, the wheel below defines one of the common cycles of violent behavior.

Getting Help

If you know someone…

Domestic violence can go unchecked for far too long, either because the victim feels paralyzed or because those closest don’t know how to help. There are a number of ways to be a positive force and empower victims to find higher ground, including:

Be supportive

Help the victim see that it is not their fault, remind them they are not alone, and offer support to find resources and professional advice. Above all, victims need to know that someone out there cares and sees they are not being treated properly.

Reserve judgment

It’s easy to express anger at the abuser, especially when not in the situation; however, it’s vitally important to respect the victim’s decisions at this stage. They often have many reasons for staying in the relationship, and the last thing they need to feel is more pressure or shame about their situation.

Show sensitivity

Once a battered person decides to end relations with their abuser, they will likely still be overwhelmed with sadness and mourn the end of that relationship. Friends and family members need to be sensitive to these emotions.

Help them find professional support

It is much easier for victims to stay away from their abusers if they feel supported and have opportunities to engage in new activities. Helping victims connect with local support groups or advocacy organizations can make the difference in them being able to stay away from the relationship for good.

Empower them

Though it can sometimes take an outside voice for victims to acknowledge their situation and seek help, the decision to get help ultimately rests in the hands of the victim. Friends and family can help empower them to reconnect with themselves, but they must ultimately let the victim make up their own mind.

If you are in the situation…

Leaving an abusive situation can be one of the most difficult, gut-wrenching and conflicting decisions a human ever has to make. Recognizing you are being treated unfairly is only the first step on a long road of coming to terms with who the abuser is, what they are capable of, and what must take place to leave the situation once and for all. If you are in an abusive situation, here are steps you can take to change your life.

Reach out to friends, family and professionals

Perhaps more than any other time in your life, you need the support of people you trust during this time. Talking about the abuse you’ve experienced can feel scary and shameful, but remember these people love and respect you and want you to be the best version of yourself.

Create a safety plan

If you’re planning to leave an abusive situation, it’s important to begin preparing beforehand. There are myriad resources offering temporary housing, financial assistance and counseling, so ask for help to set up support mechanisms allowing you to leave the situation quickly without the abuser being aware of your plans. These plans are also invaluable once you’ve left and are working to begin a new life, as they remind you why you left in the first place, and provide support if you ever question your decision. Safe Horizon provides helpful tips on how to create a safety plan.

Join a support group

One of the best ways to find healing is by talking about your experiences with others who understand what you’ve gone through. Local and national domestic violence organizations provide spaces for victims of domestic abuse to get help and begin working through their emotions.

Work with a professional

In addition to dialoguing with other survivors of abuse, it’s important to seek one-on-one counseling with a trained therapist. These professionals will help you see the situation for what it is and help you rebuild your life.

Use your resources

Whether taking advantage of support groups, professional therapists, 24/7 hotlines, housing, or financial assistance, don’t go it alone during this time. You’ve got many people around who want to help, so take advantage of them.

What’s Being Done About Domestic Violence?

Aside from programs that exist to help victims become survivors, there are also a number of preventative and intervention programs operating throughout the nation to help anyone who is or has been affected by domestic violence. Services range from those focused on helping children in abusive school environments to those that assist women in removing themselves from harmful relationships. Models of programs to look for in your area include:


The Duluth Model is a service offered to help battered women and their abusers find help and recovery. Another resource for friends and family seeking advice on how to help battered loved ones can be found at Domestic Abuse Intervention Services.


The Guide to Community Preventative Services offers lots of resources for preventing violence in school settings while REACH offers both preventative and educational programs to promote healthy relationships.

Professional Services

Social workers, counselors and psychologists are all trained in working with individuals who have both experienced domestic violence and have been the perpetrators. These professionals are ready to battered individuals break the cycle of violence and regain control of their lives, while also helping abusers understand how their actions affect individuals and how to reform.

Resources-Where to Go for Domestic Violence Help

Teen Dating Violence

Each year, nearly 1.5 million teenagers experience some form of physical abuse from their dating partner.

More than one-third of all high school students will be in an abusive or violent relationship.

The likelihood of teenagers turning to alcoholism, eating disorders, suicide, or other violent behaviors is much higher amongst those who have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.

Only one in three of all teenagers in an abusive relationship ever tell anyone or seek help.

Sources: LoveisRespect.org, DoSomething.org

How to Recognize

If it’s happening to you…

Dating violence can take many forms depending on the relationship and the individuals involved. Regardless of unique situations, there are universal signs of damaging and abusive behaviors to look for if you feel like your relationship is entering or already in an unhealthy place.

Does your partner check your phone, email or social network without your consent?

This is a sign of jealousy and lack of trust and can escalate into more serious behavior.

Do they try to keep you away from your family or friends?

This is a sign of isolating behavior, which can lead to manipulation and coercion.

Have they pressured you to perform sexual acts that you aren’t ready for?

This is a direct act of sexual abuse; you should never feel pressured into anything you don’t want to do.

Does your partner make false accusations or spread rumors about you?

This is a sign of their own insecurity and signals that their view of the relationship is delusional.

Have they physically assaulted you in any way?

Any sign of violent behavior, such as hitting, biting, slapping, choking, or kicking, is an immediate reason to seek help.

If it’s happening to someone else…

It can be difficult to know if a friend or schoolmate is in an abusive relationship, as they’ll likely do their best to hide the situation due to embarrassment or shame. While it’s ultimately up to them to seek help, knowing that those around them are ready to support and encourage them in a nonjudgmental way can often encourage them to break free. Some of the signs to look for if you suspect someone is in an abusive dating relationship include:

  • Withdrawal from their normal friend groups or activities
  • Spending a lot of time with only their intimate partner
  • Being unresponsive in social settings, or to text messages, social media messages, or phone calls
  • Unusual or consistent bruising or scratches
  • Depressive behavior or lack of interest in things they used to enjoy
  • Their partner obsessively calls or texts them
  • Goes along with anything and everything their partner wants to do; loses themselves

Teen Dating Violence Resources

School Violence & Bullying

20 percent
of high school students reported being bullied at school in 2011.

749,200 acts
of violent victimization occurred in schools among students aged 12-18 in 2012.

49 states
have anti-bullying legislation in place, there is still no federal anti-bullying law.

More than
70 percent
of all high school students admit to having seen bullying happening in their schools.

160,000 students
do not attend school each day because they are afraid of being victimized.

Sources: DoSomething.org, CDC.gov, StopBullying.gov, NoBullying.com, MakeBeatsNotBeatdowns.org

Warning Signs of Potential Violence

Sometimes student violence is unavoidable and unknowable until it happens; yet in many cases there are multiple warning signs before a student exhibits violent behavior. In researching previous cases of aggressive behaviors, professionals in the field have identified a number of warning signs to look for if you are concerned a student may become violent:

  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Expressing violence or anger through artwork or writing
  • Being a previous victim of violence, social ostracizing or bullying
  • Patterns of obsessive or impulsive behavior
  • A history of disciplinary actions, use of illicit substances, or aggressive behavior
  • Affiliation with gangs or other groups known to cause problems or exhibit violent behavior

Breaking the Cycle

The Rural School and Community Trust compiled extensive research on school violence and aggression and found the majority of violent behaviors are learned. Schools where acts of violence have already occurred are more likely to have similar incidents, as students pick up on behaviors or view violence as inevitable. Breaking the cycle of violence is a crucial component of maintaining healthy school environments, whether in settings where violence has already happened or where the threat is there. Some of the best ways to disrupt ideas of violent behavior include:

  • Create environments where students feel supported
  • Teach students how to resolve conflicts with non-aggressive techniques
  • Provide counseling for students to work through violent emotions
  • Help students understand violence through age-appropriate resources

The Role of School Counselors, Psychologists and Social Workers

Professional mental health advisors such as school counselors, psychologists and social workers play vital roles in American schools, either by working with students to prevent outbreaks, or counseling them when violence has occurred. Some of the ways they make a difference in their schools include:

  • Offering group and individual counseling services to help students work through academic, personal and social concerns
  • Create mentor programs to engage students with adults that can be critical sources of support and guidance
  • Create programs to assist students in learning how to healthfully deal with anger, address conflict with their peers, and mediate situations where they feel out of their depths
  • Ensure all students are aware of the school’s behavioral policies and make sure they understand the protocol for discipline.
  • Work with parents to understand any concerns surrounding a child’s behavior and develop a comprehensive approach to care.

Resources for Bullying and School Violence


According to Equality Michigan, in 2014, 2,001 acts of violence against LGBTQ individuals were reported. Although this number was consistent with the number of incidents for 2013, the violence was more severe. Despite strides toward equality, the LGBTQ community still sees an alarmingly disproportionate number of violent acts committed against it. Some of the common types of violence include:

Relationship Violence

LGBTQ relationships, like straight relationships, are prone to the same issues of abuse. Research reported by the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh found that between one-quarter to one-third of all LGBTQ relationships have some component of abuse, be it emotional, sexual, physical, or financial.

Sexual Violence

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that the LGBTQ community experiences sexual assault and violence at a similar rate to the heterosexual community, although instances within these circles often receive much less attention and care. The Human Rights Campaign highlighted these disparities, noting that nearly 10 percent of all LGBTQ individuals will experience sexual abuse, while approximately 50 percent of all transgender people and bisexual women will encounter the same.

Hate Violence & Bias

According to a March 1, 2015 release by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 2015 has seen a surge in hate crimes directed toward LGBTQ individuals. This disappointing statistic only services as further proof that biases against LGBTQ individuals abide and must be combated with greater education, advocacy efforts, and resources for those who have been victims of violence or biases.

Seek out Safety

Although LGBTQ individuals may be at higher risks for abuse and violence, methods for seeking out safety are the same as those for heterosexual people. These include:

  • Let your friends or family know what you’re doing.

    Going out for a date? Send one or two people a quick text and let them know who you’re meeting and where you’re planning to be.

  • Be aware.

    If you’re in an unfamiliar space, make note of any public spaces or businesses open 24 hours a day should you need assistance.

  • Trust yourself.

    Do you feel unsafe in any way? Trust your feelings. Leave. It’s always best to go with your instincts in these situations.

  • Speak up.

    If you find yourself in a questionable situation, get loud. Alert those around you to any feelings of fear.

Resources for LGBTQ Violence

Safety Exit Safety Exit