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Domestic Violence: Identifying Abuse and Abusers

There is no typical abuser. In public he or she may appear to be caring to their partner and family and may only be abusive when others are not there to witness the abuse. Abusive behavior is a choice and abuse is not an accident.

Abusers come from many different backgrounds and have different life experiences, but the tactics they use to control their partners are very similar.  Abuse is a pattern of hurtful behavior that one partner uses to control the other in an intimate relationship. Being stressed out or using alcohol or drugs does not cause someone to be abusive. (For more information look at our Domestic Violence and Chemical Dependency page). In the past, it was believed that abuse was the result of one person becoming angry and "losing control." Now we know that abuse is actually a way that a person attempts to gain control over their intimate partner. Abuse can take many forms.

Examples of Abuse (Please note that this list does not encompass all types or tactics of abuse, but provides a variety of examples. Also, it is not necessary to identify with more than one example to be in an unsafe situation):

  • Controlling Behavior: A batterer may attribute controlling behavior to concern for the partner (for example, the partner's safety or decision-making skills). He may assume all control of finances or prevent the partner from coming and going as she wishes.
  • Quick Involvement: Sometimes battered women know their partner for less than six months prior to getting engaged, married or living together. He may pressure his partner to commit to the relationship. Later, a victim may feel guilty for wanting to slow the pace or end the relationship.
  • Unrealistic Expectations: A batterer may expect his partner to meet all of his needs, to take care of everything for him emotionally or domestically.
  • Isolation: A batterer may isolate his victim by severing her ties to outside support and resources. The batterer may accuse others, such as the victim's friends and family, of being "trouble-makers." He may block his partner's access to use of vehicle, work, or telephone service in the home.
  • Jealousy: A batterer may equate jealousy with love. He may question the victim about who she talks to, accuse her of flirting and having affairs, or become jealous of her time spent with others. This creates isolation too.
  • Blames Others for Problems: A batterer may blame others for his shortcomings. He may blame the victim or potential victim for almost anything that goes wrong.
  • Blames Others for Feelings: A batterer may use feelings to manipulate his victim. Common phrases to look for: "You're hurting me by not doing as I want." "You control how I feel."
  • Use of Children: A batterer may expect children to perform beyond their capability and may punish them excessively if they don't (for example, whipping a two year old for wetting a diaper).
  • Cruelty to Animals: A batterer may kick, throw, or hurt the family pet.
  • Use of Force in Sex: This includes restraining partners against their will during sex, acting out fantasies in which the partner is helpless, forcing sex when the partner is asleep, or demanding sex when the partner is ill or tired. He may show little concern for his partner's wishes and may use sulking or anger to manipulate compliance.
  • Verbal Abuse: A batterer may say things that are intended to be cruel and hurtful, curse or degrade his partner, or put down her accomplishments.
  • Rigid Sex Roles: The victim, almost always a woman, will be expected to serve. For instance, a batterer may see women as inferior to men, responsible for menial tasks, stupid, and unable to be a whole person without a relationship.
  • Dual Personality: "Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde" - Abusive behavior and moodiness, which can shift quickly to congeniality, are typical of people who batter their partners.
  • Past Battering: He has been abusive to previous partners. The abusive person is responsible for the problem; circumstances do not make a person an abuser.
  • Threats of Violence: This consists of any threat of physical force meant to control the partner. While most people do not threaten their mates, a batterer may try to excuse this behavior by claiming that "everyone talks like that."
  • Breaking or Striking Objects: The batterer may break household items, punch holes in walls, or kick doors to scare the victim.

Use of Force During an Argument: The batterer may hold down his partner, physically restrain her from leaving, push or shove her, or tell her if she leaves he will hurt her.

**Adapted from Metropolitan King County Council's Domestic & Dating Violence Handbook, September 1999.

Other signs of abuse:

Psychological/Emotional Abuse:

  • Jokes, insults, name calling and labeling
  • Ignores feelings
  • Withholding approval as punishment
  • Put-downs of your roles or abilities
  • Private humiliation
  • Degrading or controlling your choices (clothing, food etc.)
  • Demanding of all attention
  • Resentful of children
  • Threats against the marriage
  • Threats of 'outing' a partner
  • Sends mixed signals
  • Lack of cause and effect between actions and consequences
  • Claims to forget abusive incidents, minimizes or denies they occurred
  • Questions your sense of reality and causes you to question sense of reality
  • Veiled threats
  • Threats against or to take children
  • Threats to harm you
  • Suicide

Social/Environmental Abuse:

  • Uses gender "myths" and "roles" (society reinforces these)
  • Degrades culture, religion, nationality, profession, gender, and/or sexual orientation
  • Uses culture, religion, nationality, profession, gender, and/or sexual identity to maintain control
  • Destroys or damages items belonging to you
  • Shows of strength
  • Controls major decisions
  • Makes you economically dependent
  • Tracks you or monitors your activities and/or whereabouts
  • Denies your ability to work or gets you fired
  • Limits your outside activities
  • Threatens to hurt your extended family/friends
  • Eliminates support system
  • Threatens deportation
  • Practices child abuse or incest
  • Destroys, maims or hurts a family pet
  • Tells you that you are hysterical, paranoid, psychotic, mentally ill, suicidal and/or homicidal

Physical Abuse:

  • Throwing household items as weapons or otherwise
  • Grabbing, pushing, shoving, shaking, jerking, slapping, biting, pinching, hitting, bruising, punching and/or kicking
  • Pulling hair
  • Throwing or restraining you
  • Restraining while hitting or punching
  • Physical abuse during pregnancy
  • Deprivation (food, sleep, medical needs, etc.)
  • Strangulation or hands around your neck
  • Lacerations or cutting
  • Imprisonment
  • Broken bones, internal injury
  • Threats or use of conventional weapons, such as guns or knives
  • Disabling, disfiguring permanent injury
  • Murder

Sexual Abuse:

  • Sexual jokes or demeaning remarks toward your sex
  • Name calling, sexual labels
  • Criticizing, demeaning and/or questioning your sexuality
  • Ignoring sexual needs
  • Demanding monogamy from you, while insisting on freedom for self
  • Humiliation
  • Unwanted/forced touching
  • Justification of unwanted sexual acts
  • Labeling sexual abuse as consensual behavior
  • Forced to look at and/or engage in pornography
  • Demanding sex with threats
  • Rape, forced sex, sex against your will

Email the Domestic Violence Victim Advocate