Frequently asked questions

I know someone who is being abused. How can I help?

Here are a few suggestions for helping a friend in need:

  • Bring up the subject without being judgmental. Let her know you are concerned and that you are there to help. Share with her the information you learned about abusive relationships. Acknowledge that she is in a very difficult and scary situation. Encourage her to express her feelings.
  • Respect her right to make her own decisions. If you lecture her and tell her what to do, you are treating her no differently than she is treated by the abuser and so she is likely to ignore your advice. Also, she will not feel comfortable coming back to you later when she is ready to leave the relationship.
  • Help her find available resources.
  • Help her create a safety plan.
  • Learn more about how to help someone you care about if they are in an abusive relationship.

Can I get a restraining order against my parents?

Yes. Most states allow you to get a restraining order against anyone in your immediate family. However, it is more complicated if you are under 18 and you live with your parents. The department of child protective services in your area may need to get involved, and may want to remove you from the home.

Will the abuse ever stop?

Abuse can be stopped. However, as the cycle of violence shows, the abuser is likely to abuse again unless s/he gets help or someone intervenes (for example, abuser takes responsibility for the abuse and goes to anger management classes; the victim leaves the abuser; or law enforcement gets involved or the victim gets a restraining order).

Can a physically violent incident be a one-time thing instead of a sign of an abusive relationship?

It is important to realize that when violence has occurred in a relationship, there is a good chance it will happen again. Although the victim may think the first hit, kick, push, etc. is an isolated incident, it is more likely that it is the first violent act in a series of violent episodes. (More information about the cycle of violence.)

What is the difference between an abusive relationship and saying something hurtful to someone once in a while?

Calling someone names in order to humiliate them, put them down, or lower their self-esteem is abusive behavior. Often people in relationships will say hurtful things to each other. There are many things to think about to figure out whether you are in an abusive relationship. These include how often and how serious the verbal abuse is, the specifics of what is being said, the context in which it is said, and the effect it has on you or the person you are with. But, even if the abusive behavior does not rise to the level of an abusive relationship, it is still not OK to purposefully hurt someone you are in a relationship with.

What if the victim likes the abuse?

Remember that when we talk about domestic violence, we are talking about unwanted behavior. No one likes being abused, whether it is physical, sexual, verbal or emotional. If it seems like a victim is provoking the abuse or even that she likes it, she may have very low self-esteem, but she doesn’t like being abused.

Why do some people seem to go from one abusive relationship to another?

There are a variety of reasons why some people go from one abusive relationship to another. While there is no set answer for every situation, some possibilities are:

  • Learned behavior. Domestic violence is learned. This means that some people learn to solve problems through violence or come to believe they must accept the violence in their lives, and don’t know that there is any other option for them.
  • Lack of understanding. Some people go from one abusive relationship to another because they do not recognize the warning signs of abuse and/or they do not understand the cycle of violence. They may interpret extremely jealous and controlling behavior as signs of love, instead of insecurity and control. They may also think each violent episode is an isolated event instead of recognizing the violence as part of the cycle of violence.
  • Low self-esteem. Many people who go from one abusive relationship to another suffer from low self-esteem. They are in such need of love, care or attention that they will accept abusive behavior to experience the love they get during the honeymoon phase of the cycle of violence. They may even feel that abusive attention is better than no attention at all. They often feel so insecure and unworthy that they do not believe they deserve better.

Do alcohol and/or drugs cause domestic violence?

No. Alcohol and drugs can make violent incidents worse, but they do not cause the violence. There are many people who are violent who do not use alcohol or drugs, and there are many alcohol and/or drug users who are not violent. Alcohol is a type of drug that lowers inhibitions. That means it makes people more likely to do things that they already have a tendency to do but normally wouldn’t, maybe because they are scared or wouldn’t want to get in trouble. The alcohol just makes them forget or not care about the consequences. Drugs may have an effect similar to alcohol. Even if an abuser says that they couldn’t control their behavior because they were drunk or high, remember that the abuser is still choosing to get drunk or high, and is responsible for the results. If the abuser knows that using alcohol or drugs will make them more likely to be violent and chooses to use them anyway, they are, in effect, choosing to be violent.

Can I get a restraining order against a whole group of people (like a gang)?

To get a restraining order, you have to be able to identify the person(s) doing the abuse and show that the individual person has either harmed or threatened to harm you. You must be able to name each person individually; naming the gang is not enough.

Is it still rape if the victim and the abuser are married?

Yes. Rape is when one person forces another person to have sexual intercourse. The relationship between the abuser and the victim does not matter. Even if they are married, boyfriend and girlfriend, or dating, it is rape. Being married (or in any relationship with someone) does not give a person the right to force someone else to have sex.

I know someone who is abusive. How can I help?

Talk to your friend about the dynamics of domestic violence. Tell them that you are worried about the way they treat the person they are with. Offer to help them find anger management classes, counseling or other resources that can help them if they want to change.

If I want to get help, do my parents have to know?

No. Many services for victims of domestic violence are confidential. In some states you can go to court and get a restraining order and you can get counseling without your parent’s permission. You can contact Break the Cycle for confidential advice and information.

Can my relationship be abusive even if the person I am dating has never hit me?

Yes. Abusive relationships can involve physical, sexual, verbal and/or emotional abuse. You don’t have to be physically hurt by the abuser to be in an abusive relationship. In fact, even many physically abusive behaviors (like pushing, grabbing, pulling hair, and shaking) will not leave a bruise or a mark. In addition, verbal and emotional abuse (including extreme jealousy, threats, controlling behavior, put-downs and insults) can be just as frightening and can leave long-lasting and painful effects. Learn more about the types of abuse.

What do I do if I have a child with the abuser?

If you have a child, it is especially important to keep yourself and your child safe. Your child may be in danger from the abuser. In addition, it is not good for your child to grow up witnessing domestic violence in the home. An important part of protecting yourself and your child is figuring out where your child will live and who will make the decisions about your child in a way that will keep you both safe. In addition, you should make sure that you and your child will be safe during any visitation exchanges. In some states, you may be able to get custody and visitation orders for your child as part of a restraining order.

My teenage child is in an abusive relationship. Can I get a restraining order for him or her?

While you might, as a parent, be able to get a restraining order for your child (depending on the laws in your state), it may not be a good idea to do so without your child’s agreement and involvement. A restraining order can be a very powerful tool to help keep a victim of domestic violence safe, but only if the victim is committed to enforcing the order. If your child is not ready to end the relationship, s/he likely will keep seeing the abuser behind your back, regardless of the restraining order. Doing this can isolate your child from you, can give the abuser even more control over your child and can make your child in more danger than if the restraining order did not exist. It is a better idea to talk to your child and help him/her to see that the relationship is abusive. Learn more about how to help a friend or family member in need.

I’m in an abusive relationship with someone at school/work. What do I do?

Once you have decided what you are going to do about the relationship (break up with the abuser, get a restraining order, call the police, etc.), let people at your work/school know what is going on. Especially if there is a restraining order, they have a responsibility to help make sure you are safe. If you have a restraining order, or police report, show school officials or your supervisor at work. Things they may be able to do to help keep you safe include: changing your work/school schedule so you don’t work with or near the abuser or so that you don’t have classes with the abuser; transferring the abuser to another school or work location; and arranging for an escort to your ride/car.

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