Women's Health

Domestic violence is more than physical abuse – learn about emotional, verbal, financial abuse and more

two adults fighting

Domestic violence doesn’t always leave a mark, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t harmful. Unfortunately, abuse isn’t always obvious to the victim or their friends, but an unhealthy relationship that has emotional, verbal, psychological, physical, sexual or financial abuse will cause mental and emotional damage. 

“Domestic violence doesn’t discriminate based on your age, gender, finances, race or religion – it can affect anyone,” says Anna Wallner, MS, MSW, CCTP, coordinator of Riverside’s Hand in Hand Hospital Violence Intervention Program. “One in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will experience violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. Intimate partner violence is about power and control. The abuser believes their feelings and needs should be the priority in the relationship. Unfortunately, this situation is more common than we’d like.”

The mission of the Hand in Hand program is to partner with the victims of violence by fostering healthy communities, promoting safety and empowering individuals to make positive changes to their lives. The Hand in Hand Hospital Violence Intervention Program is supported by a grant awarded by the Department of Criminal Justice Services’ Victim Services Grant Program to the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association and Riverside Regional Medical Center.

“Nationwide, more than 10 million adults experience domestic violence every year,” Wallner continues. “And in Virginia, about 17,600 domestic violence crimes are reported each year, yet it’s believed that many more go unreported.” 

She explains the different types of domestic violence and what to do if you or someone you know needs help.

What is emotional, verbal and psychological abuse?

Forms of emotional, verbal and psychological abuse include: 

  • Name-calling, insults and constant criticism 
  • Humiliation or isolation from family and friends 
  • Acting jealous or possessive
  • Monitoring daily activities and interactions
  • Creating rules about what the other can wear  
  • Cheating and then blaming the victim
  • Punishing the victim by withholding affection 
  • Threatening to hurt the victim, their children or pets

Physical and sexual abuse isn’t always visible

Abuse is about power and control over a partner. While punching, slapping, kicking or harming someone with a weapon leaves physical proof of the abuse, there are many less obvious forms.

“If your partner is preventing you from eating or sleeping, forcing you to use drugs or alcohol, or drives recklessly with you in the car, this is considered physical abuse,” says Wallner. 

Similarly, many forms of sexual abuse or coercion don’t leave a mark, such as:

  • Forcing, manipulating or guilting a partner into having sex or dressing sexually
  • Demanding sex when their partner is sick, tired or has been hurt by their abuser
  • Insisting on participation in sexual activities with others 
  • Purposely trying to pass on a sexually transmitted disease

Intimate partner violence can often also include isolation and financial control. Abusers may provide an allowance and demand receipts, prevent access to paychecks or shared bank accounts or even refuse to provide money for necessities like food, clothing, transportation and medical care. Abusers can also isolate victims from friends and loved ones making it feel difficult to reach out for help. But there is always support available when someone makes the decision to leave. 

It’s not your fault, and help is available

“If you’re in an abusive relationship, you did nothing wrong,” says Wallner. “Your abuser made the choice to abuse. We know it can be difficult to admit, and that the thought of leaving can be frightening, especially if your abuser threatened to harm you. When you’re ready to take that first step, seek help from friends and trusted sources.”

At Riverside, our health professionals, including your primary care practitioner, can provide you with referrals to local therapists and shelters. You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233) to learn about the resources available near you. You should also reach out to trusted friends or community leaders for additional emotional support. 

In the case of painful or life-threatening injuries, call 911 or ask someone to drive you to an emergency department. The ED staff can treat your injuries and help contact shelters or other safe places where you can stay. They can also work with local law enforcement.

If you suspect a friend or family member is being abused, arrange a time to talk. Be supportive without blaming or shaming and offer specific help. If they’re not ready to leave, or if they leave and then return to their abuser, continue to show your support – you cannot force anyone to leave. 

Everyone deserves a life free from abuse, and we’re here to help, whenever you’re ready. 

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