Find A PhysicianHome  |  Library  |  myDownstate  |  Newsroom  |  A-Z Guide  |  E-mail  |  Contact Us  |  Directions
curve gif


An act of domestic abuse occurs every 12 seconds in the U.S.

According to former Attorney General Janet Reno, “Too many American women live in fear of the very people upon whom they depend for love and affection. Instead of providing refuge, the walls of many homes serve as prison bars.”

What Is Domestic Abuse?

Domestic abuse, or “battering”, is a pattern of abuse by one partner against the other, for the purpose of maintaining power and control. Domestic abuse often includes (but NOT ALWAYS) physical abuse. Forms of domestic abuse can include:

  • physical abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • verbal abuse
  • threats and intimidation
  • isolation or restriction from friends, family and other support systems
  • destruction of property
  • financial exploitation
  • jealousy and possessiveness
  • stalking or monitoring of behavior

Physical battering: The abuser’s attacks or aggressive behavior can range from bruising to murder. It often begins with what is excused as trivial contacts which escalate into more frequent and serious attacks (this can include the abuse of household pets).

Sexual abuse: Physical attack by the abuser is often accompanied by, or culminates in, sexual abuse where the woman is forced to have sexual intercourse with her abuser, or to engage in unwanted sexual activity.

Psychological battering: The abuser’s psychological or mental abuse can include constant verbal abuse, harassment, excessive possessiveness, fault-finding, isolating the woman from friends and family, deprivation of physical and economic resources, and destruction of personal property.

Battering Escalates: It often begins with behaviors like threats, name calling, abuse in your presence (such as punching a fist through a wall) and/or damage to objects or pets. It may escalate to restraining, pushing, kicking, slapping, pinching, tripping, biting, throwing, or grabbing. Finally, it may become life-threatening with serious behaviors such as choking, breaking bones, or the use of deadly weapons. (Remember, ANY household item can be used as a dangerous weapon!)

Some Facts About Domestic Abuse

Adult domestic violence is one of the most serious public health and criminal justice issues facing women today. Most victims of domestic violence are women. Between 91-95% of all documented domestic violence cases are women being abused by male partners. About 1-2% is physical abuse of men by their female partners, and 3-8% of the total number of reported domestic violence cases involve same-sex relationship abuse.

Every woman is at risk for becoming a victim of domestic violence. Domestic violence has no regard for socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, religion, employment status, physical ableness, age, education, marital status, or sexual orientation. In fact, being FEMALE is the only significant risk factor for being a victim of domestic violence.

Batterers use emotional, psychological, economic and physical abuse as ways of controlling their victims. Abuse is NOT caused by stress, anger, or alcohol or other drug involvement. Many people find it difficult to understand why people batter their partners. This may be why, when we hear excuses like, “he had a bad day”, “she lost her temper”, or “he was drunk and out of control”, we often accept them as viable reasons why the attack occurred. But battering has more to do with the batterer’s attitudes, beliefs, and relationships to others than it has to do with these common excuses. Many men believe that they have the right to control their spouses, and to enforce their will on those around them, particularly females. Many men believe that it is the man’s duty to control his wife, regardless of the methods used. Some men even believe that women “need” to be “disciplined”. These beliefs and attitudes, coupled with society’s tolerance of domestic violence, makes it one of the most difficult problems for our society to overcome.

Children in families where there is domestic violence suffer negative consequences even if they are not the targets of the abuse. Children who witness their mothers being abused by their fathers (or vice versa) often exhibit health problems, sleeping difficulties, acting-out behaviors, and feelings of guilt, anger, fear and powerlessness. In addition, research suggests that boys who witness their mothers being abused often grow up to be abusers themselves, thereby continuing the cycle of domestic violence.

Even though the vast majority of victims of domestic violence are women, males are becoming increasingly the victims of domestic violence. The California Department of Justice states that the arrest rates for female perpetrators of domestic violence doubled between the years 1991 and 1996.1

The U.S. Department of Justice indicates that women are twice as likely to be murdered by their domestic partners as men.

Research indicates that women who are assaulted by their male partners are 9 times more likely to tell the police or other persons than men who are assaulted by their wives.

1 D.L. Fontes, Psy.D., Employee Assistance Report, “The Hidden Side of Spousal Abuse”, April 1999

Some Myths About Domestic Abuse

MYTH: When someone is battered, he/she must have done something to deserve it.

FACT: Battering is never the victim’s fault. NEVER. Batterers abuse their partners as a way to control them. Domestic violence is about control, not about punishment or discipline.

MYTH: Battering usually ends after a couple gets married or has children.

FACT: Battering usually gets WORSE over time, not better. Getting married and/or having children does not protect someone from becoming a victim. In fact, sometimes it makes the situation worse.

MYTH: Alcohol and other drug use may cause battering.

FACT: Most people who use alcohol or other drugs do not abuse their partners. And many people who never use alcohol or other drugs do abuse their partners. While it is true that perpetrators of domestic violence are sometimes under the influence of alcohol or other drugs when the episode occurs, battering and alcohol or other drug abuse are 2 separate problems – neither is caused by the other. Anyone who abuses another person while under the influence of alcohol or another drug needs help for BOTH problems.

MYTH: If a woman wants to end the violence, she should just leave. If she doesn’t leave, it is because she either likes the abuse, or she doesn’t want to leave.

FACT: Women may stay in abusive relationships due to fear, lack of resources or options, psychological damage, loss of self-esteem, depression, or other reasons. It is important to remember that LEAVING the relationship may also be dangerous – more women are killed by their partners AFTER they leave the relationship than at any other time. Women who stay in abusive relationships are not weak or stupid – they are SCARED.

Barriers To Leaving A Violent Relationship

Some reasons why women stay generally fall into three categories:

Lack of resources
  • most women have at least one dependent child
  • many women are not employed outside of the home
  • many women have no property that is solely theirs
  • some women lack access to cash or bank accounts
  • women who leave fear being charged with desertion and losing their children or joint assets
  • a woman may face a decline in living standards for herself and her children
Institutional responses
  • clergy and secular counselors are often trained to see only the goal of “saving” the marriage at all costs, rather than the goal of stopping the abuse
  • police officers often do not provide support to women; they sometimes treat domestic violence as a domestic “dispute” rather than a crime
  • police may try to discourage the abusee from pressing charges
  • prosecutors often are reluctant to prosecute cases, and judges rarely levy the maximum sentence upon convicted abusers
  • despite a restraining order, there is little to prevent a released abuser from returning and repeating the assault
  • despite increased public awareness of the problem of domestic violence, and the increase in available shelters, there are still not enough shelters to accommodate women and children and keep them safe from abusive persons
Traditional beliefs and values
  • many women do not believe divorce is a viable alternative
  • many women believe that a single parent family is unacceptable and that even a violent father is better than no father at all
  • many women are socialized to believe that they are responsible for making heir marriage work; failure to maintain the marriage equals failure as a woman
  • many women become isolated from friends and family, either because of the possessiveness of the abuser, o r because they want to hide their bruises and injuries from the outside world; this isolation contributes to the feeling that there is nowhere to turn
  • many women rationalize their abuser’s behavior by blaming alcohol or other drugs, anger, stress, unemployment, or other factors
  • many women are taught that their identity and worth come from getting and keeping a man
  • the abuser RARELY abuses all the time; during the non-violent periods he or she may fulfill all the needs of the partner and be a wonderful spouse; the victim believes that the abuser is basically a “good” person, and that she should hold onto a good man

Some Predictors Of Domestic Abuse

The following signs often occur before actual physical abuse, and may serve as clues to a potential abuser:
  • Did he or she grow up in an abusive family? People who grow up in families where they have been abused as children, or where one parent beats the other, have grown up learning that violence is normal behavior.
  • Does he or she tend to use force to “solve” problems? A young man who has a criminal record for violence, who gets into fights, or who likes to act tough is likely to behave the same way towards his wife and children.
  • Does he or she have a “quick temper”? Does he tend to overreact to life’s little problems and frustrations? Does he punch walls or throw things when he’s upset? Any of these behaviors may be a sign of a person who will work out bad feelings with violence.
  • Does he or she abuse alcohol or other drugs? There is a strong link between violence and problems with drugs – especially alcohol. Be alert to this possibility, particularly if he/she refuses to get help. But remember, violence is never CAUSED by alcohol or other drug use. They are 2 separate problems. If a person has a problem with alcohol or other drugs, he or she needs help with that problem. If they are ALSO abusive when under the influence, they need help with that problem AS WELL. Treating one will not necessarily stop the other.
  • Is he or she jealous of your other relationships?
  • Does he have strong traditional ideas about what a “man” should be and what a “woman” should be? Does he think a woman should stay at home, take care of her husband and children, and follow his wishes and orders?
  • Does he or she keep tabs on you, needing to know where you are at all times?
  • Does he have access to guns, knives or other lethal instruments? Does he talk of using them against other people, or threaten to use them to “get even”?
  • Does he expect you to follow his advice at all times? Does he become angry if you do not fulfill all his wishes?
  • Does he or she go through extreme highs and lows, almost as though they are 2 different people? Is he or she extremely kind one time, then extremely cruel another time?
  • When he/she gets angry, are you afraid? Do you find that not making him or her angry has become a major part of your life? Do you do what he/she wants you to do, just to keep the peace?
  • Does he/she ever physically force you to do something you do not want to do, or something he/she wants you to do?

Are you in an abusive relationship?

Look over the following questions. Think about how you are being treated and how you treat your partner. Remember, when one person scares, hurts, or continually puts down the other, it’s abuse.

Does your partner…

  • Embarrass or make fun of you in front of your friends or family?
  • Put down your accomplishments or goals?
  • Make you feel like you are unable to make decisions?
  • Use intimidation of threats to gain compliance?
  • Tell you that you are nothing without them?
  • Treat you roughly – grab, push, pinch, shove, or hit you?
  • Call you several times a night or show up to make sure you are where you said you are?
  • Use alcohol or other drugs as an excuse for saying or doing hurtful things to you?
  • Blame you for how they feel or act?
  • Pressure you sexually for things you aren’t ready for or don’t want to do?
  • Make you feel like there is “no way out” of the relationship?
  • Prevent you from doing things you want – like spending time with your friends and family?
  • Try to keep you from leaving after a fight or leave you somewhere after a fight?

Do you…

  • Sometimes feel scared of how your partner will act?
  • Constantly make excuses to other people for your partner’s behavior?
  • Believe that you can help your partner change if you changed something about yourself?
  • Try not to do anything that would cause conflict or make your partner angry?
  • Feel like, no matter what you do, you partner is not happy with you?
  • Always do what your partner wants to do, instead of what you want to do?
  • Stay with your partner because you are afraid of what he/she will do if you broke up?

If any of these are happening in your relationship, talk to someone. Without some help, the abuse will continue.

Getting Help – Workplace Approaches to Dealing With Domestic Abuse

What to do…

If you are experiencing domestic violence:

  • You may need to notify your supervisor about the circumstances of your situation so that you can be safe in the workplace
  • Discuss options available to you, e.g. scheduling, safety precautions, employee/family assistance benefits
  • Get an order of protection if you are being physically abused
  • Submit a recent photo of the perpetrator to University Police/Public Safety so they may recognize the perpetrator if he/she enters the campus
  • Contact the EAP for confidential help and advice

If you are the co-worker of someone experiencing domestic violence:

  • If you suspect a co-worker is suffering abuse, DO NOT directly confront him/her since it is important for an individual to self-disclose, for his/her own safety, well-being, and privacy.
  • Express concern and a willingness to listen and be supportive, if needed.
  • Offer support and listening; when the individual is ready, they will confide.
  • Suggest that the individual contact the EAP for confidential help and advice, if there is a problem.
  • If you witness an incident at work, contact University Police/Public Safety immediately. Make sure the incident is documented.

If you are the supervisor or manager of an employee who is experiencing domestic violence:

  • Be aware of unusual absences or behavior and take note of bruises or emotional distress.
  • Offer your support and listening; let the employee know that you are available should they decide to discuss the problem.
  • Suggest that the individual contact the EAP for confidential help and advice, if there is a problem.
  • If the employee has disclosed the situation to you, you may contact the EAP and/or human resources to discuss resources available, e.g. counseling, safety planning, flexible scheduling, time off, security measures, etc.
  • Assist the employee in documenting all incidents with the batterer which occur in the workplace.
  • Encourage the individual to seek help.
  • If the employee’s job performance is suffering as a result of a personal problem, use regular, administrative remedies to deal with those issues. Avoid “lumping” personal problems in with job performance issues.

Getting Help – Safety Planning

If you are still in the relationship:

  • Think of a safe place to go before an argument begins – avoid rooms with no exits (bathroom), or rooms with weapons (kitchen)
  • Think about and make a list of safe people to contact
  • Keep change with you at all times, or if possible, a cellular phone
  • Memorize all important phone numbers
  • Establish a code word or sign to alert neighbors, friends, family that you are in trouble (e.g. turning a light on or off) so they can call for help
  • Think about what you will say to your abuser if he/she becomes violent
  • Remember- you have the right to live without violence
  • Keep a bag packed with enough clothes for 2-3 days for yourself and your children, copies of important papers (see below), enough medication for 2-3 days (if you or your children need daily medications), account numbers, etc. (see list below)

If you have left the relationship:

  • Change your phone number
  • Screen calls
  • Save and document all contacts, messages, injuries, or other incidents involving the batterer
  • Change locks if the batterer has a key
  • Avoid staying alone
  • Plan how to get away if confronted by your abuser
  • If you have to meet your partner, do so in a public place
  • Vary your routine
  • Notify school and work contacts
  • Call a shelter for battered women (if necessary)
  • Do NOT go to a place where your abuser may likely find you (e.g. your mother’s home). This will put you AND the other person at risk.

If you leave the relationship or are thinking of leaving, you should take important papers and documents with you to enable you to apply for benefits or take legal action. Important papers you should take include:

  1. Social Security cards
  2. Birth certificates for yourself and your children
  3. Your marriage license
  4. Leases or deeds to property
  5. Your checkbook
  6. Your charge cards
  7. Bank statements
  8. Charge account statements
  9. Insurance policies
  10. Proof of income, W2’s etc.
  11. Immigration/citizenship papers for yourself and your children
  12. Documentation of past abuses – photos, police reports, hospital/medical records, etc.


  • NYS Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, “Domestic Violence: Finding Safety and Support”, 1997
  • D.L. Fontes, Psy.D., “The Hidden Side of Spousal Abuse”, Employee Assistance Report, April 1999
  • Janet Reno, “Facing the Problem of Domestic Violence”, The Counselor, Nov-Dec 1998


  • National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (
  • AOL Keyword “domestic violence” gives you thousands of references and resources for help with this problem