Abuse is a pattern of behavior used to gain and maintain power and control, and it can come in many forms. Explore the tabs below to learn a few of the common ways abuse can occur so you can better identify them. Experiencing even one or two of these in a relationship is a red flag that abuse may be present. Remember, each type of abuse is serious and no one deserves to experience any form of it.
Physical abuse is any intentional and unwanted contact with you or something close to your body. Sometimes abusive behavior does not cause pain or even leave a bruise, but it’s still unhealthy. Examples of physical abuse include:
- Scratching, punching, biting, strangling or kicking.
- Throwing something at you such as a phone, book, shoe or plate.
- Pulling your hair.
- Pushing or pulling you.
- Grabbing your clothing.
- Using a gun, knife, box cutter, bat, mace or other weapon.
- Smacking your bottom without your permission or consent.
- Forcing you to have sex or perform a sexual act.
- Grabbing your face to make you look at them.
- Grabbing you to prevent you from leaving or to force you to go somewhere.
Escaping Physical Abuse
Start by learning that you are not alone. More than one in 10 high school students have already experienced some form of physical aggression from a dating partner, and many of these teens did not know what to do when it happened. If you are in a similar situation:
- Realize this behavior is wrong.
- Talk to an adult, friend or family member that you trust.
- Create a safety plan.
- Consider getting a restraining order.
- Do not accept or make excuses for your partner’s abusive behavior.
- Remember that physical abuse is never your fault.
Protecting Yourself from Physical Abuse
Unhealthy or abusive relationships usually get worse. It is important to know the warning signs to prevent more serious harm. If you are in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, consider making a safety plan. Chat with a peer advocate for more information.
Emotional abuse includes non-physical behaviors such as threats, insults, constant monitoring or “checking in,” excessive texting, humiliation, intimidation, isolation or stalking.
There are many behaviors that qualify as emotional or verbal abuse, including:
- Calling you names and putting you down.
- Yelling and screaming at you.
- Intentionally embarrassing you in public.
- Preventing you from seeing or talking with friends and family.
- Telling you what to do and wear.
- Damaging your property when they’re angry (throwing objects, punching walls, kicking doors, etc.)
- Using online communities or cell phones to control, intimidate or humiliate you.
- Blaming your actions for their abusive or unhealthy behavior.
- Accusing you of cheating and often being jealous of your outside relationships.
- Stalking you.
- Threatening to commit suicide to keep you from breaking up with them.
- Threatening to harm you, your pet or people you care about.
- Using gaslighting techniques to confuse or manipulate you.
- Making you feel guilty or immature when you don’t consent to sexual activity.
- Threatening to expose your secrets such as your sexual orientation or immigration status.
- Starting rumors about you.
- Threatening to have your children taken away.
Is Emotional Abuse Really Abuse?
A relationship can be unhealthy or abusive even without physical violence. Verbal abuse may not cause physical damage, but it does cause emotional pain and scarring. It can also lead to physical violence if the relationship continues on an unhealthy path. Learn more about how to recognize emotional abuse by checking out our Power and Control Wheel.
Sometimes verbal abuse is so bad that you actually start believing what your partner says. You begin to think you’re stupid, ugly or worthless. You agree that nobody else would ever want to be in a relationship with you. Constantly being criticized and told you aren’t good enough causes you to lose confidence and lowers your self-esteem. As a result, you may start to blame yourself for your partner’s abusive behavior.
Remember: emotional abuse is never your fault. In fact, your partner may just be trying to control or manipulate you into staying in the relationship. Talk to someone you trust, like a parent, friend or teacher, about the situation and make a safety plan. You can also chat with a peer advocate for more help when dealing with verbal abuse.
Sexual abuse refers to any action that pressures or coerces someone to do something sexually they don’t want to do. It can also refer to behavior that impacts a person’s ability to control their sexual activity or the circumstances in which sexual activity occurs, including oral sex, rape or restricting access to birth control and condoms.
It is important to know that just because the victim “didn’t say no,” doesn’t mean that they meant “yes.” When someone does not resist an unwanted sexual advance, it doesn’t mean that they consented. Sometimes physically resisting can put a victim at a bigger risk for further physical or sexual abuse.
Some think that if the victim didn’t resist, that it doesn’t count as abuse. That’s not true. This myth is hurtful because it makes it more difficult for the victim to speak out and more likely that they will blame themselves. Whether they were intoxicated or felt pressured, intimidated or obligated to act a certain way, sexual assault/abuse is never the victim’s fault.
Some examples of sexual assault and abuse include:
- Unwanted kissing or touching.
- Unwanted rough or violent sexual activity.
- Rape or attempted rape.
- Refusing to use condoms or restricting someone’s access to birth control.
- Keeping someone from protecting themselves from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
- Sexual contact with someone who is very drunk, drugged, unconscious or otherwise unable to give a clear and informed “yes” or “no.”
- Threatening someone into unwanted sexual activity.
- Pressuring or forcing someone to have sex or perform sexual acts.
- Using sexual insults toward someone.
Keep in Mind
- Everyone has the right to decide what they do or don’t want to do sexually. Not all sexual assaults are violent “attacks.”
- Most victims of sexual assault know the assailant.
- People of all genders can be victims of sexual abuse.
- People of all genders can be perpetrators of sexual abuse.
- Sexual abuse can occur in same-sex and opposite-sex relationships.
- Sexual abuse can occur between two people who have been sexual with each other before, including people who are married or dating.
- Sexual activity in a relationship should be fun! Get our tips for navigating sex and healthy relationships.
What to Do
If you have been sexually assaulted, first try to get to a safe place away from the attacker. You may be scared, angry and confused, but remember the abuse was in no way your fault. You have options. You can:
- Contact Someone You Trust. Many people feel fear, guilt, anger, shame and/or shock after they have been sexually assaulted. Having someone there to support you as you deal with these emotions can make a big difference. It may be helpful to speak with a counselor, someone at a sexual assault hotline or a support group. Get more tips for building a support system.
- Report What Happened to the Police. If you do decide to report what happened, you will have a stronger case if you do not alter or destroy any evidence. This means don’t shower, wash your hair or body, comb your hair or change your clothes, even if that is hard to do. If you are nervous about going to the police station, it may help to bring a friend with you. There may also be sexual assault advocates in your area who can assist you and answer your questions.
- Go to an Emergency Room or Health Clinic. It is very important for you to seek health care as soon as you can after being assaulted. You will be treated for any injuries and offered medications to help prevent pregnancy and/or STIs.
Remember there is always help. For more information or to find out about available resources in your area, chat with a peer advocate.
Financial abuse can be very subtle. It can include telling you what you can and cannot buy or requiring you to share control of your bank accounts. At no point does someone you are dating have the right to use money or how you spend it to control you.
Here are some examples of financially abusive behaviors:
- Giving you an allowance and closely watching what you buy.
- Placing your paycheck in their account and denying you access to it.
- Keeping you from seeing shared bank accounts or records.
- Forbidding you to work or limiting the hours you do.
- Preventing you from going to work by taking your car or keys.
- Getting you fired by harassing you, your employer or coworkers on the job.
- Hiding or stealing your student financial aid check or outside financial support.
- Using your social security number to obtain credit without your permission.
- Using your child’s social security number to claim an income tax refund without your permission.
- Maxing out your credit cards without your permission.
- Refusing to give you money, food, rent, medicine or clothing.
- Using funds from your children’s tuition or a joint savings account without your knowledge.
- Spending money on themselves but not allowing you to do the same.
- Giving you presents and/or paying for things like dinner and expecting you to somehow return the favor.
- Using their money to hold power over you because they know you are not in the same financial situation as they are.
I’m Experiencing Financial Abuse
If your partner does any of these things, you may be in an unhealthy or abusive relationship. Financial abuse is usually coupled with emotional or physical abuse.
If you are not in control over your finances, or if your partner has removed money from your bank account, it can seem very scary to leave an abusive relationship. There are many organizations who can help you “get back on your feet” and get control over your finances; some even provide short-term loans to cover important expenses as you escape an abusive relationship. Chat with a peer advocate to learn more about local resources.
You may also want to talk to someone you trust, like a friend, family member or legal professional, about getting a protection order. Whether you decide to leave or stay, consider making a safety plan that includes setting aside funds in a secret location.
Digital dating abuse is the use of technologies such as texting and social networking to bully, harass, stalk or intimidate a partner. Often this behavior is a form of verbal or emotional abuse perpetrated online.
In a healthy relationship, all communication is respectful whether in person, online or by phone. It is never okay for someone to do or say anything that makes you feel bad, lowers your self-esteem or manipulates you. You may be experiencing digital abuse if your partner:
- Tells you who you can or can’t be friends with on Facebook and other sites.
- Sends you negative, insulting or even threatening emails, Facebook messages, tweets, DMs or other messages online.
- Uses sites like Facebook, Twitter, foursquare and others to keep constant tabs on you.
- Puts you down in their status updates.
- Sends you unwanted, explicit pictures and/or demands you send some in return.
- Pressures you to send explicit video or sexts.
- Steals or insists on being given your passwords.
- Constantly texts you and makes you feel like you can’t be separated from your phone for fear that you will be punished.
- Looks through your phone frequently, checks up on your pictures, texts and outgoing calls.
- Tags you unkindly in pictures on Instagram, Tumblr, etc.
You never deserve to be mistreated, online or off. If you’re experiencing digital dating abuse, we encourage you to chat with a peer advocate. Remember:
- Your partner should respect your relationship boundaries.
- It is okay to turn off your phone. You have the right to be alone and spend time with friends and family without your partner getting angry.
- You do not have to text any pictures or statements that you are uncomfortable sending, especially nude or partially nude photos, known as “sexting.”
- You lose control of any electronic message once your partner receives it. They may forward it, so don’t send anything you fear could be seen by others.
- You do not have to share your passwords with anyone.
- Know your privacy settings. Social networks such as Facebook allow the user to control how their information is shared and who has access to it. These are often customizable and are found in the privacy section of the site. Remember, registering for some applications (apps) requires you to change your privacy settings.
- Be mindful when using check-ins like Facebook Places and foursquare. Letting an abusive partner know where you are could be dangerous. Also, always ask your friends if it’s okay for you to check them in. You never know if they are trying to keep their location secret.
You are being stalked when a person repeatedly watches, follows or harasses you, making you feel afraid or unsafe. A stalker can be someone you know, a past partner or a stranger. While the actual legal definition varies from one state to another, here are some examples of what stalkers may do:
- Show up at your home or place of work unannounced or uninvited.
- Send you unwanted text messages, letters, emails and voicemails.
- Leave unwanted items, gifts or flowers.
- Constantly call you and hang up.
- Use social networking sites and technology to track you.
- Spread rumors about you via the internet or word of mouth.
- Make unwanted phone calls to you.
- Call your employer or professor.
- Wait at places you hang out.
- Use other people as resources to investigate your life. For example, looking at your facebook page through someone else’s page or befriending your friends in order to get more information about you.
- Damage your home, car or other property.
What if I’m Being Stalked?
If you’re being stalked, you may be feeling stressed, vulnerable or anxious. You may also have trouble sleeping or concentrating at work or school. Remember, you are not alone. Every year in the United States, 3.4 million people are stalked and youth between the ages of 18-24 experience the highest rates. Most people assume that stalkers are strangers, but actually, three in four victims are harassed by someone they know.
If you are in immediate danger, call 911 and report everything that’s happened to the police. Get additional support by obtaining a protection order that makes it illegal for the stalker to come near. Know that the person harassing you may also get arrested and convicted in the criminal justice system.
Remember to save important evidence such as:
- Text messages
- Letters, photos and cards
- Unwanted items or gifts
- Social media friend requests
You should also write down the times, places and dates all incidents occurred. Include the names and contact information of people who witnessed what happened.
Stalking is traumatic. You may experience nightmares, lose sleep, get depressed or feel like you’re no longer in control of your life. These reactions are normal. It can help to tell your friends and family about the stalking and develop a safety plan. You can also chat with a peer advocate for support.