Domestic Violence: Abuse Can Come In Many Forms

Photographed by Kara Birnbaum.
Ruth Glenn says strangers often try to change the subject when she tells them what she does for a living. “It’s such an unpleasant topic and they get uncomfortable,” explains Glenn, the CEO and president of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. A survivor herself, Glenn understands the reaction, but says it’s something that people should take the time to understand. Each year, more than 12 million women and men — 24 people per minute, on average — are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the U.S., according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. It’s more prevalent than you’d think, and could someday impact you or someone you know. It's worth taking the time to understand it, and the many forms it can take. 
"When you say 'domestic violence,' there’s the expectation that there’s been some physical harm to someone,” Glenn explains. “In fact, that's not always the case. Domestic violence can and does take many forms.” The kinds of altercations you see in shows like Big Little Lies that involve hitting, kicking, and pushing are just one facet of what it can look like. Glenn says it’s important for people to understand this, so they can identify when they’re being mistreated in a relationship or when their loved ones are in trouble. Just in time for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, here are different forms abuse can take to be mindful of.
If you are experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224 for confidential support. 


Glenn says that emotional abuse is one of the most damaging forms — and one of the hardest to recognize. “It involves putting the victim down and crazy-making,” Glenn says. “Telling them they’re not worth anything, or ‘go ahead and leave, no one else will take you.’ It might mean threatening to take their children away.” Glenn says that it’s “torture” to be manipulated in this way. "It takes away a survivor’s autonomy by tearing them down," she says. It can come in the form of insults, criticism, gaslighting, ignoring, or even forcing a victim to take drugs or alcohol, according to the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual & Domestic Violence. 
If you think this could be happening to someone close to you, Glenn says you might subtly help them recognize the abuse by asking them questions such as: “You used to be so energetic, what’s going on?” Or: “Is something going on? When you’re ready to talk I’m here.” You can do this gentle prompt with other forms of abuse, too.


Glenn explains that this could come in the form of partner or marital rape, or forcing sex on another person who did not give consent. It also could take the form of a perpetrator tricking or forcing someone into getting pregnant. 
According to ACESDV, it could also involve using guilt, manipulation, or forcing someone to have specific sexual experiences that they don’t want. 


This can take a few different forms, Glenn explains. The abuser might direct deposit the survivor’s paycheck into an account they never see, or not allow them to work at all. “A victim could also be given an allowance, or a certain amount to spend on themselves and the children per week,” Glenn explains. “The perpetrator might have run up the victim’s credit so she has a harder time leaving. We've even seen cases where they forge signatures on important financial documents."
Maria Veltre, Chief Marketing and Digital Officer, Santander Bank, explains that this kind of abuse makes it “difficult, if not impossible, to ‘just leave.’”
Financial abuse is tricky to identify and remedy, Glenn explains. However, there are resources. NNEDV offers financial literacy programs women can take via webinar to try to get out of their situation. And, Santander Bank has partnered with them to fund a micro-loan program, which allows survivors to establish and, in many cases, repair their credit score.


This is easier to identify, but still hard to come to terms with. It could be physically aggressive behavior, the withholding of physical needs, or indirect harmful behavior, according to the ACESDV. That can mean anything from slapping to withholding food to injuring someone’s child or pet to trapping someone in a room. 


Glenn says that domestic abuse is often about a perpetrator wanting to have control over their partner. This can take the form of some of the things already on this list, but it can also mean stalking them, or keeping tabs on their whereabouts. They might measure their gas tank, and make the victim answer questions about where they've been. They could put spyware on their phone, so they can see who they’re talking to. It also could mean isolating a survivor from their friends and family, Glenn says. 
“When we talk about abuse, we can’t do that without talking about power and control,” Glenn says. 

More from Wellness

R29 Original Series