Escape Early: How to Act on the First Signs of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is extremely harmful and is a prevalent problem that affects millions of people all around the world. There are many different ways it can manifest, such as physical, verbal, and emotional abuse. No relationship is perfect, but there can be certain signs that indicate a pattern of abuse that shouldn’t be ignored. These indicators might go unnoticed or even be dismissed, but they are vital red flags that may suggest that a person is in an abusive relationship. Knowing these signs could mean the difference between protecting yourself or your loved one from harm.

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10 early signs of domestic violence

Domestic violence is always serious and can have devastating consequences for victims. Research has shown that many signs can signal domestic violence in a relationship, and they are important to know if you want to seek help for yourself or someone you know who may be experiencing this type of behavior in a relationship.

Here are 10 warning signs to be on the look out for:

1. Controlling behavior

An abuser will try to control their partner’s every move, from where they go to what they think and feel. They will demand their partner, ask them where they are at all times, tell them to cut off communication with friends and family, or belittle any opinions that they might have.

2. Emotional manipulation

Abusers typically use manipulative tactics as a means of gaining control over their partners. This includes making them feel guilty, ashamed, threatened, and worthless.

3. Jealousy and possessiveness

An abuser's actions often become extreme when it comes to interacting with other people in their partner’s life — whether it be friends, family, or coworkers. They might accuse their partner of cheating, limit how often they see other friends, or even stalk them.

4. Intimidation and threats

It’s very common for abusers to intimidate their partner by using threatening or violent behavior as a way of keeping their partner 'in line.' They might also make aggressive gestures, yell or scream, or threaten to harm themselves or others.

5. Derogatory language and insults

In order to erode their partner’s self-esteem, abusers will often use demeaning language, insults, and name-calling. Through constant belittlement of their partner, abusers chip away at their self-worth and make them feel like they have no other option but to stay in the relationship.

6. Isolation

Abusers will endeavor to keep their victims separated from any support networks they may have. That will mean they have no friends, family, or any ability to make new connections. With no one in their lives, victims feel trapped and grow more dependent on the abusers.

7. Blaming the victim

By shifting blame off of themselves and onto the victim, an abuser makes them feel like the abuse they’re experiencing is their own fault. They might even accuse the victim of provoking them or that they’re the real problem in the relationship.

8. Damage to property

The destruction of property, such as furniture or household appliances, can be used as a way to express their anger or control. This can be seen as a sign of an escalation or change in behavior that might lead to physical violence.

9. Threats of violence

Abusers will make constant threats of violence without following through. However, just making it known that they could do something violent is very traumatic and purposefully creates a climate of fear and intimidation.

10. Physical attacks

Physical aggression, ranging from subtle forms of coercion, like shoving and pushing, to overt acts of violence, like punching, kicking, and weapon use, is a persistent and alarming indicator of an escalating domestic abuse situation. The occurrence of this behavior serves as a stark warning; immediate action is required to protect the victim and prevent further harm.

Essential tips for safety and protection

Domestic violence is a tragic and often deadly issue. It can ruin the lives of victims and their loved ones. If your relationship continues to get worse, it’s essential to learn the warning signs and take precautions.

When domestic violence escalates, here are some steps to stay safe:

  1. Be aware of tracking devices. A lot of abusers use tracking devices to monitor their partners' whereabouts. Check your phone, car, and other belongings for any suspicious items.
  2. Create an escape plan. Have a backup plan in case things go wrong fast. Where will you go? How will you get there? And how will you contact someone you trust?
  3. Have a code word or phrase in place. Instead of saying something obvious, like "Help me," have a set of words that mean just that without actually saying it.
  4. Keep important documents safe. Your birth certificate, passport, social security cards, and bank statements should always be kept away from your abuser.
  5. Build a support network. You need people around you who genuinely care about your safety.
  6. Know your resources. All emergency contacts available for victims of domestic violence could be absolutely lifesaving.
  7. Prepare an emergency go-bag. In case things turn bad fast, create a bag with all the essentials that you’d need right away, like clothes and toiletries.

Helping someone break free from domestic violence

Perhaps the most important point to keep in mind when warning a loved one about domestic abuse is that you should treat this situation with great empathy and sensitivity. Do not use accusatory, judgmental language because it may cause them to get defensive and prevent them from opening up. Rather, impress upon them that you have their interest and welfare at heart and let them know that you will be there for them.

It is important to pick a suitable time and place for this discussion. Choose a discreet location that is free from any distractions. It might be best to avoid approaching them if they are very upset or particularly stressed, as this may not be the most opportune time to let them know how concerned you are. When you are letting them know about your worries regarding their domestic violence, you should be specific and outline specific, concrete examples of the behavior that has made you suspicious. This will enable your friend to understand why you are worried and also increase how receptive they are to the support that you are offering.

Note — it is still your loved one’s choice if they choose to leave the relationship or seek assistance. Accept their decisions, regardless of whether you are in agreement with them. Keep providing them with your support and encouragement, and be patient as they work through this terrible event. Providing resources and support can go a long way in helping someone cope with domestic violence. Inform them about different hotlines, counseling services, and shelters that are available for assistance.

Domestic violence is a complex issue and a challenging one, but it’s far from insurmountable. Through empathy, support, and an unbreakable commitment to self-care, you can make a profound impact on the lives of those suffering from abuse. Multiple resources exist to help victims of domestic violence — as well as those who stand with them — find a happier future for themselves. By staying determined and having faith in the power of change, we can work as one to abolish the very notion that 'domestic violence' exists.


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