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Violence in relationships is an issue that affects millions of people in the world. It occurs in all communities and to people of all races, religions, genders, and ages. It is important to be educated on what constitutes relationship violence, the problems associated with it, and how it can be stopped. This course will help both abusers and the abused to gain a better understanding of relationship, or domestic violence, and learn how to take action against it.

What is Relationship/Domestic Violence?

In this blog, we will use the terms “relationship violence,” and “domestic violence” interchangeably. They both mean the same thing in this course. Domestic violence can be defined as a pattern of abusive, controlling, or coercive behavior used by one partner to exert power or control over another in an intimate relationship.

The term “intimate relationship” refers not only to dating partnerships and marriage, but also to relationships with either biological or non-biological parents, children, siblings, and extended family members.  When you hear the term “domestic violence,” physical violence is usually the first thing that comes to mind.

However, domestic violence can also be sexual, emotional, psychological or economic. Domestic violence includes behaviors that hurt, injure, intimidate, control, threaten, manipulate, isolate, or humiliate another person. Here are some common signs and behaviors of the different types of abuse:

Physical Abuse:

  • Pushing
  • Hitting
  • Slapping
  • Kicking
  • Biting
  • Strangling/choking
  • Burning
  • Inappropriate physical restraint
  • Using weapons to threaten or injure
  • Damaging property (throwing objects, punching walls, etc.)
  • Forcing drug/alcohol use
  • Depriving a partner of basic needs (food, shelter, clothing, appropriate medical treatment)

Sexual Abuse:

  • Engaging in non consensual sexual acts using physical force
  • Manipulating or using coercion to force sexual activity
  • Demanding sex when a partner is sick, injured, tired, or simply does not want to
  • Calling a partner hurtful sexual names
  • Humiliating a partner with sexual jokes
  • Forcing a partner to perform degrading sexual acts
  • Marital rape
  • Forced prostitution
  • Denying or sabotaging birth control methods
  • Preventing or forcing an abortion

 Emotional Abuse:

  • Continuous insults and criticism
  • Public humiliation
  • Punishing by withholding affection
  • Attacking a partner’s self-esteem and self-worth
  • Not allowing a partner to make his or her own decisions
  • Monitoring what a partner is doing and who he or she is spending time with
  • Wrongfully blaming a partner
  • Continually accusing a partner of cheating

 Psychological Abuse:

  • Threatening physical harm to oneself, partner, children, family, or friends
  • Isolating a partner from their friends and family
  • Forbidding a partner to attend school or work
  • Causing fear through intimidation
  • Manipulation and lying
  • Stalking or cyber-stalking
  • Using blackmail
  • Blaming the victim for the abuse

 Economic Abuse:

  • Forbidding a partner to work
  • Withholding a partner’s access to his or her personal or shared monies
  • Controlling all finances, both individual and shared
  • Taking a partner’s money, either by using physical force or other manipulative means
  • Demanding access to a partner’s money or benefits

Everyone’s experience with relationship violence is different. Although abusive behavior can often leave noticeable physical effects, other times, it may not leave a trace. It can happen frequently, or only once. However, inflicting or experiencing any of these abusive behaviors can constitute an abusive relationship.

Abusive relationships all have one common feature: the abuser takes actions to gain and maintain power and control over another. One reason an abuser aims to gain power and control is to fulfill his or her own emotional and/or physical needs. It is a normal inclination to want one’s needs met, but abusers go about meeting their needs in a selfish, and inherently harmful manner.

Often abusers are afraid that their needs will not be met without using force or coercion, which motivates them to continue their abusive behavior. Gaining control and power over another is usually achieved through tactics such as intimidation, isolation, humiliation, and threats. These actions are reinforced when the victim complies, even momentarily, and the abuser begins engaging in a pattern of abusive behaviors to remain in power. With this power, the abuser can control an individual and either force or coerce him or her into abiding by the abuser’s wishes.

How Do You Know if You Are In an Abusive Relationship?

Most people do not enter into a relationship thinking that it will become abusive. In fact, in the beginning, the relationship may seem great, and that’s because most relationships aren’t abusive from the start. Most relationships take time to reach an abusive level of dysfunction.

Abusive behavior may originally occur in isolated incidents. The abuser may blame incidences on external factors, such as a bad day at work or increased levels of stress, or even on the victim. He/she may apologize or promise to never do it again.  Another common reaction is for the abuser to downplay the event, tell the victim that he or she is overreacting, or deny the event altogether. These behaviors can increase in frequency and intensity over time.

If you are wondering whether or not your partner is abusive, consider asking yourself these questions:

  • Do you ever feel afraid of your partner?
  • Do you feel like you are walking on eggshells to avoid making your partner angry?
  • Does your partner respect when you say “no” to sexual activity the first time, or do they continue to ask?
  • Does your partner ever coerce you into engaging in sexual activities that you don’t want to participate in?
  • Does your partner monitor where you are, and/or what you’re doing at all times?
  • Does your partner get jealous when you spend time with friends and family?
  • Has your partner ever hurt you or threatened to hurt you?
  • Does your partner blame his or her anger on external factors such as drugs, alcohol, stress or past experiences?

If you think you may be the abuser in your relationship, consider asking yourself these questions:

  • Do you often feel as though you cannot control your anger?
  • Do you feel the need to constantly know where your partner is, and whom they are with?
  • Do you ever unfairly lash out at a loved one?
  • Have you ever coerced or forced your partner to engage in sexual activity when he or she didn’t want to?
  • Do you feel like you always have to have your way?
  • Do you become very jealous when a partner is spending time with someone else?
  • Have you ever hurt or threatened to hurt your partner?

If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, your relationship may be abusive. In later lessons, we will discuss what to do if you feel that you are in an abusive relationship and how to find help. Will we also discuss what to do if you feel that you may be the abuser in your relationship, and how to change these behaviors.



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What Is Anger?

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Anger on its own is just an emotion — not negative, not positive, but just an emotion.  Like all emotions it has its own energy and its own experience that unfolds in your body. Anger affects the mind as well as the body.  It may show up in your body as clenched fists or jaw, a flushed face, a racing heart; you may feel your blood is boiling, and/or that your breathing becomes faster.  Everyone has experienced anger and it can range from a mild annoyance to furious rage.

It is important to note that anger in and of itself is not unhealthy.  In fact, from a positive perspective, anger can work as a healthy warning system letting us know that something in our life is unbalanced, that we have been mistreated in some way, or that a need has not been met.  Anger can also work as a motivator, motivating you to social action, to make a tough change in your life, or confront a situation that is unhealthy for you.

On the negative side of things, anger can be expressed using hostility, aggression, and violence which can cause harm to you and/or others.

Anger is usually a reaction to a conflict, whether personal, work-related, or some other unforeseen obstacle, such as a lack of communication. Take a moment and read about the basics of anger:

Expressions of Anger

There are scores of ways of expressing anger.  Generally, we associate the expression of anger as an escalation of feelings that turn into a loss of control that may include yelling, cursing, violence and aggression.  This is not always the case.  Anger also can be expressed internally through negative self-talk, feelings of resentment, body aches, or other forms of physical pain.  It also can be just as unhealthy to stifle anger, to run away from conflict, or to suppress our emotions, as it is to explode and react outwardly.

In this blog we will examine healthy and unhealthy expressions of anger. Most of these expressions are habits we have learned from childhood, from our family, and/or the reactions we have received to our expectations, needs, and beliefs.  Despite common misconceptions, anger is not genetic or inherited.   How you handle your anger is your responsibility — this means you are capable of changing your relationship with your experience of anger.

Some unhealthy expressions of anger include:

  • Sarcasm
  • Bullying
  • Excessive cynicism
  • Low threshold for frustration
  • Throwing or breaking objects
  • Violence

When your experience of anger is out of your control, chances are it will be expressed inappropriately.

 Why Anger Management?

Unhealthy expressions of anger can negatively affect your personal life, your workplace, and your health.

Lack of anger management can result in isolation, feeling a loss of community, guilt, shame, pain and/or fear.  Relationships and other interpersonal interactions can plummet due to emotional and physical harm as a result of explosive reactions.  Escalating anger, building resentment when you suppress your anger and/or avoidance of conflict, can be painful and scary.

As we know, anger has many negative consequences.  We may not communicate as effectively, we may get into power struggles, and/or show disrespect to others.  This all can lead to more conflict, arguments, increased stress, a loss of productively at work and even the loss of your job.

Anger is a bodily process as well as a psychological one.  Being angry excessively, either in frequency or intensity, can cause health issues such as weakened immune system, hypertension and/or heart disease.

People look to anger management courses for different reasons. Everyone can benefit from learning new methods of managing anger and cultivating healthy social skills. Some people are required to take anger management courses by their employers. This ensures a productive and respectful work environment. Others are required by court order. Anger is a difficult emotion to control and not all of us have learned healthy ways of dealing with it.

Throughout this course, you will learn methods for dealing with anger in a productive manner, all the while strengthening personal relationships, self-esteem, and physical health.

Let’s Try an Exercise

Take a moment and call to mind the Anger-as-a-person-you-know idea that you created at the beginning of this lesson. Just by calling him to mind, we are guessing that your body went through a series of micro-changes: your heart rate sped up, your pulse quickened, some muscles probably slightly tensed and the little hairs on your arms may have stood up just a little. We’ll get more into those physical changes later in the course.

We’d like to ask you to politely ask your Anger to sit on the couch and take it easy for a moment. You might even offer him a nice, imaginary glass of iced tea.

Once he’s situated on the couch (our guess is that since you asked politely he went without too much fuss), try doing this:

-Call to mind a place that when you think of it, you feel totally at ease. Some people choose the beach, some a forest filled with birdsong, and others choose their comfy bed on a Saturday morning with nothing to do but rest. Whatever works best for you.

-Now fill in all the sensory details of that experience: When you look around, what do you see? When you listen, what do you hear? Are their smells in the air? What is the texture beneath your feet? What is the light like in the sky, or the room you’re in?

-After you’ve filled in all those details, take a few moments with your eyes closed, and really let yourself soak in the ease and relaxation of this place and this moment.

-Did you skip any of the steps above? If you did, take a risk: go back and really try to get into this. We promise you won’t be disappointed. We’ll give you a hint: by now you should have noticed either a slight or dramatic shift in your breathing and in your mind. Things have probably begun to slow down either a little or a lot.

-Now notice how your body feels. Find a place in your body that feels either calm or neutral. Sometimes people feel into their heart, or their temples, or their seat, or their ankles, or even their big toe. It doesn’t matter where, just make sure it’s not a place that’s carrying any tension.

-Let yourself soak up the feelings of relaxation present in that part of your body. You might even try to breathe very deeply and send your breathe to that place. With your eyes closed or your gaze pointed downwards, do this for a few more moments.

Now open your eyes. How do you feel? Imagine your Anger sitting on the couch watching you do this exercise. What does he think of all this?

Now imagine being able to tap into this sense of calm the next time you become angry. Imagine being totally triggered, and then stopping yourself and bringing yourself to this relaxed, centered place. This class will teach you how to do just that.


Before personal growth is possible, it is crucial that goals are set.  Take some time and set three goals for yourself, keeping in mind what you would like to achieve with this course.  Think of some of your behaviors or habits you would like to change.  Think of how you want your next conflict to look—do you want it resolved peacefully, where neither party gets hurt and maybe where both parties may benefit?  Maybe you want to know how to cultivate more respect and/or compassion for others.

While thinking of your goals, please keep in mind that while this course will help develop anger management skills, true anger management is a process that needs constant attentiveness, awareness, and the willingness to be  honest with yourself.  This course will give you the foundation you need to start improving your relationships, your work, and your life, but it will take daily work on your part to maintain it.

Along with these goals, a journal would be an extremely useful tool while you take this course. In the next few days, write down some conflicts you witness, whether they involve you or not. Observe how others react to these conflicts. If the conflict involves you, are you running away from the conflict? If it involves others, are they reacting passive aggressively, agreeing to something they clearly disagree with? How would you improve these situations? Try to see the conflict from both parties’ perspectives.

It’s okay if you draw a couple of blanks at this point. This exercise is meant to build awareness of others’ feelings as well as your own emotions. Emotional awareness is a big part of anger management, which we will explore in depth in the upcoming sections.



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Who Are The Victims

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Relationship violence is an issue that affects people from all ages, genders, races, social classes, and sexual orientations. It affects both married and unmarried couples, heterosexual and homosexual relationships, children, and parents.

While certain groups may be more likely to experience relationship violence, every individual still has a chance of being affected at some point in life, regardless of background.  In this lesson, we will learn about who the victims of relationship violence are, and what puts certain groups of people at a higher risk of experiencing relationship violence.

Gender and Age

Women account for 85% of all victims in reported cases of domestic violence. In fact, it is estimated that 1 in 4 women will experience some form of domestic violence in her lifetime. Women are more likely to experience sexual abuse, and are also more likely to experience more than one type of abuse in their lifetime. Women are also more likely to be murdered by a current or former partner. It is important to note, here, that this does not mean that men are never victims of domestic violence. According to the Center for Disease Control, 1 in 7 men over the age of 18 has been a victim of severe physical violence by a partner, and 1 in 10 men has been a victim of sexual abuse or stalking by a partner.

One gender difference in victims is the likelihood to report the incident to the police: women are far more likely to report abuse. Due to cultural factors, it can be assumed that men may be more reticent to report relational violence than women. Men are often taught not to express emotion or vulnerability, which may inhibit them from admitting or reporting abuse.

Other factors that may contribute to a lower rate of reporting is the stereotype that men cannot be victims, or the fear that their abuse will be taken lightly. Despite these cultural influences, and the fact that a majority of victims of relational violence are women, there are services and support for victims of both genders. Just as both men and women can be victims, individuals of any age can be a victim of domestic violence.  That said, women between the ages of 16 and 24 are those most likely to report being victims of relational violence.

Race and Socioeconomic Status

Individuals of all races experience relational violence. However, African Americans experience higher rates of domestic violence than other races. One study found that black women are 35% more likely to experience domestic violence than white women, and black men are 62% more likely to experience domestic violence than white men.

In fact, the number one killer of black women ages 15 to 34 in the United States is murder by either a current or former partner. Hispanic and Native American women are also at a higher risk of being victims of domestic violence. And, although people in all tax brackets are affected by domestic violence, those of lower socioeconomic statuses are more likely to be victims of abuse.


When thinking about the victims of relational abuse, we typically think of younger individuals and families. However, the elderly are a population that are at ever-increasing risk for experiencing domestic violence. The National Center on Elder Abuse defines elder abuse as actions that cause harm or create a serious risk of harm (whether or not harm is intended) to a vulnerable elder by a caregiver or other person who is trusted by the elder.

This includes the failure of a caregiver to satisfy an elder’s basic needs, or to protect an elder from harm. Types of abuse include: physical, emotional, economic, sexual, and neglect. While it is difficult to know exactly how many cases of elder abuse happen each year, a recent study by the National Center on Elder Abuse revealed that 7.6% to 10% of participants reported experiencing abuse in the previous year. It is also estimated that for every reported case of elder abuse, 24 cases go unreported.


Domestic violence in the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Questioning (LGBTQ) community occurs at the same rate as in the heterosexual community. However, relational violence within this group tends to be underreported at higher rates than within other groups for a number of reasons, including discrimination, shame, and fear of further isolation. While we have already been introduced to the types of domestic violence, there are a few kinds of violence that are specific to the LGBTQ community.

Threatening to “out,” or expose a partner’s sexual identity, is one of the most common forms of abuse within the LGBTQ community. This is a threat that can have serious consequences for a person’s relationships, career, and even physical safety. An abuser may use this threat to coerce or control his or her partner, or to keep his or her partner from leaving the relationship. As many individuals who identify as LGBTQ are already discriminated against in today’s society, particularly in more rural areas, the fear of being outed is high.

Access to support groups and services specific to LGBTQ individuals may also be decreased in more rural areas, which could cause someone who has been outed to feel further isolated.

Another issue that arises within the LGBTQ community is that of custody. In many states, same-sex couples do not have legal rights to claim children if they are not the biological parent(s). This means that an individual in an abusive relationship might not be able to leave the relationship for fear that he or she will no longer have legal rights to see their children again.

In addition to domestic violence occurring within intimate partner relationships in the LGBTQ community, this group may also be more likely to experience abuse from their parents and other family members. Family members who disapprove of their sexual orientation may react with emotional and physical abuse. Some LGBTQ individuals are subject to sexual abuse in another’s attempt to altogether change their sexual orientation. LGBTQ youth are particularly vulnerable to abuse as they are frequently disowned or rejected from their families, which leads to higher rates of homelessness in LGBTQ youth.

We have learned that individuals of all genders, ages, races, social statuses, and sexual orientations are victims of domestic violence. In future lessons, we will learn more about why victims remain in abusive relationships and how they can find help.



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Child Abuse

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Child abuse can be defined as any act by a parent, guardian, or other caretaker towards a child that results in serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, neglect, or death. When a parent, guardian, or other caretaker is responsible for the abuse, it constitutes domestic violence. Abuse towards a child that is committed by anyone other than a parent, guardian, or other caretaker is still considered child abuse, but is not considered domestic violence.

Currently, child abuse constitutes domestic violence in 11 states.  Regardless of categorization, child abuse is a prevalent and serious issue that is important to understand, and stop. Child abuse affects millions of families in the United States, with more than 3 million referrals of child mistreatment reported every year. In this country, every day, five children die as the result of child abuse.

Types of Abuse

Physical: Physical abuse is any action by a parent, guardian, or family member that results in harm, injury, or the death of a child. This includes, but is not limited to, hitting, slapping, scratching, burning, throwing, and/or choking. Harm to a child is considered abuse whether or not it was intended. The only exception to this rule, is spanking as a means of discipline. Spanking is not considered child abuse, so long as it does not result in serious injury.

Sexual: Sexual abuse occurs when an adult engages in sexual activity with a child, exposes the child to sexual material or acts, and/or uses a child for sexual purposes. Sexual activity with a child includes fondling, oral sex, and/or penetration, whether vaginal or anal.

Sexual exposure includes inappropriate sexual discussion, showing a child pornography, and/or forcing a child to view sexual organs or witness sexual acts. Using a child for sexual purposes can refer to forcing the child into prostitution, or using him or her to manufacture pornography.

Emotional: Emotional abuse is the infliction of emotional distress or anguish on a child by the parent, guardian, or other caretaker. This may include yelling, shaming, criticizing, ignoring, humiliating, blaming, threatening, isolating, or otherwise corrupting the child. Emotional abuse may also include exposing a child to extreme or frequent violence.

Neglect: The term “neglect” refers to the failure to provide the appropriate care, supervision, and/or support that a child needs for his or her health, safety, and overall development. Physical neglect includes the failure to provide food, shelter, appropriate clothing, hygienic needs, and/or adequate medical care.

Inadequate supervision includes leaving the child alone for extended periods of time, leaving the child with an inappropriate or unqualified caregiver, deserting a child, or exposing a child to unsafe or unsanitary environments. Educational neglect includes denying a child access to school on a regular basis, or failing to attend to special educational needs.

 Signs of Abuse

There are many signs, both physical and behavioral, that can indicate that a child has been abused. Whether a child presents just one or several of these indicators, it’s important to recognize them in order to report the abuse. It’s also important to realize that children often present differently than adults.  There are general signs of abuse that can result from any or all types of abuse, and there are signs of abuse that are specific to certain forms of abuse.


  • Changes in behavior such as being more anxious, depressed, withdrawn or aggressive
  • Apprehension about or fear of going home
  • Sudden weight gain or loss, not explained by other factors such as puberty
  • Difficulty sleeping: appearing fatigued or tired
  • Decreased school attendance
  • Difficulty concentrating and lowered school performance
  • Engaging in risky behaviors such as drinking, using drugs, and/or sexual activity


  • Bruises, burns, starches, and scars
  • Broken or sprained bones
  • Unexplained injuries
  • Delay between injury and seeking medical care
  • Frequent injuries
  • Appearing afraid of parent(s)
  • Wearing long-sleeves out of season
  • Violent themes in art or fantasy
  • Aggressive behavior, or otherwise acting out toward peers, teachers, and/or animals
  • Parent(s) keeps children out of school, and/or absent from extracurricular activities
  • Parent takes child to different doctors for each injury


  • Bruising on/around genitals
  • Difficulty walking or sitting
  • Unexplained sexually transmitted diseases
  • Extreme apprehension about changing clothes in front of others, such as in a locker room for gym class, etc.
  • Sexual behavior or sexual knowledge beyond what is appropriate for his or her age/level of maturity
  • Obsessive preoccupation with body image
  • Parent is possessive or jealous
  • Parent relies on child for emotional support


  • Anti-social behaviors including violence, stealing, and lying
  • Learning disabilities
  • Speech disorders
  • Depression and/or suicidal tendencies
  • Extreme weight fluctuation or obesity
  • Habits such as rocking, sucking, and/or biting
  • Parent often yells, criticizes, and/or ignores child
  • Parent has trouble controlling anger and other difficult emotions


  • Indicators of malnutrition (below average height and weight, discolored hair and skin, etc.)
  • Untreated injuries and illness
  • Often hungry and/or dehydrated
  • Clothing that is too small, dirty, or inappropriate for the season
  • Poor hygiene such as not bathing or brushing teeth
  • Parent is indifferent or inattentive towards child
  • Parent relies on child for care

 How to Report Child Abuse

If you suspect a child is being abused, there are several ways you can report it. First, if you feel that the child is in an emergency you should immediately contact the police. You can also call your local child protective or welfare agency.  You can find the contact information for your local agency by visiting You may also contact the Child-help National Child Abuse Hotline by calling (800) 422-4453. This hotline can provide advice and assistance as well as local referrals.



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Elder abuse

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The elderly are a growing population that is subject to domestic violence. The term “elder abuse” can be defined as actions that cause harm or create a serious risk of harm (whether or not harm is intended) to a vulnerable elder by a caregiver or other person who stands in a trust relationship to the elder. This includes failure by a caregiver to satisfy the elder’s basic needs or to protect the elder from harm.

Types of abuse include: physical, emotional/psychological, economic, sexual, and neglect. While many believe that abuse is more likely to occur at the hands of strangers, in nursing homes or other assisted living facilities, the opposite is true. Most reports of abuse occur in the elder’s own home, and a study by the National Center on Elder Abuse found that approximately 90% of abusers were family members.

Most often, the abuser is the adult child of the elder, followed by spouses and extended family members. Elders who are abused are more likely to lose their independence, finances, security, dignity, and have shorter life expectancy than those who are not.

We have already learned about different types of abuse, but in this lesson we will learn how each specifically affect elders, the prevalence of elder abuse, common warning signs of abuse, and what makes elders more vulnerable.

Types of Abuse

Physical: Physical abuse is any action that results in pain, injury, or impairment. This includes both assaults, such as hitting and slapping, as well as any inappropriate use of restraint or confinement.

Sexual: Sexual abuse is any non-consensual act or contact with an elder. This includes behaviors such as showing an elder pornographic material without his or her consent, or forcing the elder to undress.

Emotional: Emotional abuse is the infliction of emotional distress or anguish through such means as threats, intimidation, humiliation, insults, isolation, or ignoring the elder.

Economic: Economic abuse is the taking, misuse, or concealment of an elder’s monies or assets. This includes stealing money, misusing an elder’s credit cards or other accounts, forging an elder’s signature in order to gain access to his or her monies or assets, and/or identity theft. This type of abuse is often perpetrated by scam artists, but can also be done at the hands of family members.

Neglect: Neglect is the refusal or failure to fulfill one’s obligations of care for an elder. This may include failing to ensure that his or her living conditions are safe and sanitary, or failing to ensure that he or she receives prompt and appropriate medical attention whenever necessary. The term “abandonment” refers to the physical desertion of an elder by a person, whether family member or other caretaker, who has custody of or the responsibility to care for an elder.


In researching the prevalence of elder abuse, researchers encounter difficulties in collecting results. There are a few different reasons for this. First of all, there is no uniform reporting system of elder abuse in the United States, and, therefore, it can be difficult to maintain contact with this age group. Secondly, estimates of prevalence vary from one study to another due as a result of differing research methods and sample sizes. Despite these roadblocks, we can still draw surmise some estimates. According to recent estimates, between 1 and 2 million elders have been injured, exploited, or otherwise mistreated by a caregiver. Unfortunately, only 1 in 14 incidences are reported to the police. Furthermore, it is estimated that for every reported case of elder abuse, another five cases go unreported.

Warning Signs

Often, it is more difficult to recognize warning signs of abuse among the elderly population, as opposed to other age groups. Sometimes, warning signs may be falsely attributed to health issues that are common among the elderly, such as general frailty and dementia. For this reason, it is all the more important to know what the common warning signs are, and to take them seriously. General signs of abuse that could result from any type of abuse include noticeable tension between an elder and his or her caretaker, or family members, and/or sudden changes in either the personality or behavior of an elder. Below are some of the common warning signs for specific types of abuse:


  • Unexplained bruises, welts, or scars
  • Broken or sprained bones
  • Burns from cigarettes, appliances, or hot water
  • Abrasions or other physical signs of being restrained
  • Implausible or inconsistent explanations for injuries from the elder, or his or her caretaker
  • Delay between injury and seeking medical care


  • Exhibition of behaviors attributed to dementia, such as rocking back and forth and/or mumbling to oneself
  • Significant weight loss or gain
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Increased confusion
  • Suddenly becoming withdrawn or non-responsive
  • More easily agitated and upset


  • Bruises around inner thighs, genitals, and/or breasts
  • Unexplained sexually transmitted diseases
  • Difficulty walking or sitting
  • Genital pain, irritation, and/or bleeding


  • Large withdrawals from elder’s accounts
  • Unexplained activity on bank statements
  • Missing monies, assets, or other items from an elder’s home
  • Unpaid bills
  • Suspicious changes in will, power of attorney, titles, and/or other policies


  • Weight loss, malnutrition, and/or dehydration
  • Untreated illnesses or injuries
  • Unsanitary or unsafe living conditions
  • Poor personal hygiene, such failure to bathe regularly or brush one’s teeth
  • Bedsores and/or other skin rashes
  • The absence of necessary medical assistance such as glasses, hearing aids, walkers, etc.

What Makes Elders More Vulnerable?

Physical Impairments: As we age, we lose muscle mass, our bones become more frail, and our hearing and/or eyesight capabilities tend to decrease. These natural consequences of aging cause the elderly to be less equipped to fight back, or protect themselves, from abuse.

Elders with dementia and other cognitive impairments are at a heightened risk of experiencing domestic abuse. Sometimes, as a result of their impairment, they act out in aggressive or even violent ways, and, as a result of this behavior, caretakers are sometimes likely to respond with violent and abusive behavior. For a caretaker, whether a family member or professional, the added stress of caring for an impaired person can lead to abuse.

Recurring Domestic Violence: Abuse of an elder by his or her spouse may be a pattern that began many years before, perhaps even early in their marriage. If this is the case, the abuse is unlikely to stop when, or just because, one or both partners reaches a certain age.

Problems With the Abuser:  Sometimes, when adult children are dependent on their parent(s) for financial assistance or housing, their dependence can become abusive as their parent(s) age – especially if the adult child struggles with alcohol or drug addiction or a mental illness. Abuse is even more likely if the child and elder live together.



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Why Victims Stay

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Many people often have difficulty understanding why victims of relational violence do not leave abusive relationships at the first sign of trouble, or return to an abusive partner after having left. We are often quick to think that, if we were in the same situation, we would simply leave – never to return. From our perspective, it seems simple: don’t engage with anyone who causes you harm, whether emotional or physical.

Yet many of us do not fully understand the complexity of the situation, or all of the factors that play into an individual’s decision to remain in an abusive relationship. In this lesson, we will discuss a few of the most common reasons why many victims have such tremendous difficulty breaking the cycle of abuse. Sometimes, just one reason is enough, while, for others, there are many factors at play.

Shame and Embarrassment

Being abused is an experience that can leave victims not only feeling hurt, either emotionally or physically, but also ashamed and embarrassed. It can be extraordinarily difficult to admit to yourself, or to others, that you have allowed a cycle of violence to perpetuate by choosing to remain in an abusive relationship. Perhaps you feel that, by leaving the relationship, you’ve given up.

Perhaps you believe you’re incapable of fixing it, you’re weak, or that you’ve failed. It’s also possible that a victim would feel ashamed about ever having entered into a relationship that was either abusive from the start, or became violent. Others, still, may convince themselves that the abuse was some fault of their own. “I was foolish. I should have known better,” may be a common sentiment.

Feeling Responsible

It’s very common for abusers to put their partner down by making them feel bad about themselves, or blaming them for the abuse, as though some flaw or mistake of their own is what caused it. This sort of manipulation can cause victims to internalize their abuse, and truly begin to believe that they are worthless. They may start to believe that, somehow, they provoked it, or worse, deserved it, leading to a lowered self-esteem and in some cases, self-loathing. What is crucial to understand is that the abuser, and the abuser alone, is solely at fault.


Some victims of relational violence remain in abusive relationships because they subscribe to the false hope that their partner will change his or her abusive ways. This is perhaps because for many their relationships were not abusive from the start. “He used to be so caring, kind, and gentle… Maybe he can get back to treating me that way,” one might think. Or, “maybe it won’t always be this way.”

Victims often cling to the memories of what was. Compounded by false hope, love of one’s partner can often convince a person that his or her abuser is worth remaining in the relationship for, despite whatever may have happened between them. They want to believe their partner when he or she swears to change, and promises never to hurt them again. Many of us are innately forgiving. We want to see the best in people, and believe when they give us our word.

Unfortunately, perhaps because a majority are struggling with their own inner demons, abusers are rarely able to change their destructive ways for any one person. As such, abusive relationships are typically just that, for their duration – abusive.


Many victims of relational violence exist in denial that their relationship is truly abusive.

They may believe that a violent episode or outburst, was just an isolated incident, nothing more, and therefore, not truly abuse. Others might make excuses for their partner by blaming his or her actions on addiction to drugs and/or alcohol, or perhaps “just one bad, drunken night.” They may even believe that they provoked their partner, thus causing him or her to become violent, and thereby warranting his or her behavior.

Many abusers encourage such denial, either by blaming their victim, downplaying what actually happened, and/or convincing their partner that it never happened. Most of us, whether victims of domestic violence or not, don’t want to believe that the partner we’ve chosen could be capable of hurting us in any way. To truly believe that we are in an unhealthy relationship may take quite some time, and, unfortunately, many episodes of violence.


Throughout the world, there are millions of people who, for whatever reason, be it a particular religious doctrine or staunch conviction, believe that the covenant of marriage is sacred, and never to be broken. Perhaps, throughout adolescence, they were taught that you only marry once, and divorce is absolutely not an option no matter what your partner may have done. As a result, leaving an abusive relationship may not even feel like an option. To do so would be in direct opposition to their religion, for example, and would cause extreme guilt, shame, and perhaps even exile or rejection from their place of worship, family, and/or friends. 


A majority of victims may be extremely fearful about what would happen if they were to try to leave their relationship. Many abusers threaten to seriously injure or kill their partner, or her family, friends, and/or pets. Many more abusers may threaten to seriously injure or kill themselves, should their partner leave. Unfortunately, these are not often empty threats.

After a victim leaves, abuse can very often increase and/or intensify. In fact, the majority of homicides involving those within in intimate partner relationship occur after the victim has left the relationship. This fact alone can be frightening enough to keep a victim from even attempting to leave his or her relationship. 


Many victims may rely on their partner for financial support, perhaps because they have been economically abused. Some may have been prevented from making their own money, or having access to their own bank accounts while in the relationship. This could cause a victim to assume that if he or she were to try and leave the relationship that it would be impossible to provide even the most basic needs (such as food and shelter) for themselves and anyone they may support, such as children or elderly parents. Some victims, too, may feel like they lack the proper education or appropriate skills to find a job and earn income outside of the relationship.


Leaving an abusive relationship can be further complicated when the victim has children, either with his or her abusive partner or not. Many subscribe to the belief that children need both parents, particularly throughout adolescent development, regardless of whatever negative behaviors they may exhibit.

Many parents don’t want to break up their family. Some may fear that their abuser might kidnap and run away with their children. Often, an abuser will use children like pawns in a chess game to manipulate his or her victim into remaining in the relationship by threatening to hurt, or even kill, their children.

Feeling Isolated and Alone

In abusive relationships, victims are often isolated from their family and/or friends, and thus may feel like they have no support from them. Lacking a support group, feeling as though there is no support group, may make it much more difficult for a victim to leave an abusive relationship. He or she may feel like there’s no one to turn to, and/or no place to go. As a result of isolation, a victim’s relationship with his abuser may be the only one he has at all. It’s also likely that many victims are unaware of domestic violence programs support groups and shelters within their community. 

These are only a few of a multitude of reasons why a victim may remain in an abusive relationship. Abusive relationships are almost always more complicated than they appear.

That said, no one deserves to experience abuse of any form, and there is no justifiable excuse for a person to abuse another.

Leslie Morgan Steiner gave a wonderful, if not difficult, Ted Talk a few years ago about why relational violence victims often stay with their abusers. Please give it a watch:



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How Big is the Problem

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Relational violence is cyclical in nature, tending to follow a consistent pattern which results in repeated incidences of abuse. In this lesson, we will learn about the cycle of abuse and how it contributes to the prevalence of domestic violence. We will also discuss discrepancies between prevalence and reporting, arrests, and eventual prosecution, and the legal proceedings in domestic violence cases.

Cycle of Abuse

Not all abusive relationships fall into a cycle, but those that do seem to follow a similar pattern. The “cycle of abuse” refers to three phases that abusive relationships tend to go through: tension-building phase, acute battering phase, and honeymoon phase. Each relationship is, of course, different.

They may go through the cycle just once, or hundreds of times. One phase may last longer than the others. The time it takes to complete the cycle may range from just a few hours, to over a year. For those relationships that go through the cycle several times, the phases may become shorter, and the honeymoon phase may disappear altogether.

Here are the three phases in more detail:

Tension-Building Phase: During this time period, tension builds between partners over common issues such as money, work, or household duties. With increasing tension, the abuser may become increasingly more controlling. Controlling behaviors may include setting strict rules, verbally abusing his or her partner with threats, and/or denying the victim contact with family and/or friends. In response, the victim will often try to counter-control or minimize the situation by trying to please his or her abuser, or avoiding the issue(s) altogether.

As tension continues to mount, the victim may feel that they are walking on eggshells, either just around his or her partner or all the time. Tension tends to continue to build until it reaches a boiling point, at which point the cycle moves into its next phase: acute battering.

Acute Battering Phase: When tension between partners has peaked, an incident of abuse occurs. This abuse can take any one of the forms of abuse we have discussed throughout this course – physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, or economic. These incidents are often unpredictable and beyond the victim’s control. It can be triggered by a victim breaking a “rule” that the abuser has set, by an external event, or even by the abuser’s internal state of emotions.  

This phase is often the shortest of the three, but is undoubtedly the most dangerous. Each time the cycle goes around, the abusive event often increases in severity. Afterward, abusers are often in disbelief or denial. At this point, the cycle moves into its next phase: the honeymoon.

Honeymoon Phase: During the honeymoon phase, abusers often feel ashamed and deeply remorseful about their actions. To deal with these difficult feelings, abusers will often become very attentive to their partner’s needs, apologizing profusely, expressing generosity, showing affection and love, and making promises never to do it again.  Others will minimize the abuse as a way to make themselves feel better, and to convince their partner that he or she shouldn’t be upset.

Some abusers are more extreme in their efforts, and deny that the abuse ever happened, and/or blame their partner for what happened. These are all attempts of the abuser to convince the victim to remain in the relationship, and to cope with their own actions. After an abusive incident, victims often have mixed, and very confusing, emotions. It’s possible they’re upset about what happened, but at the same time, they may be pleased by his or her partner’s apparent remorse and subsequent expression of love.

During this phase, an abuser’s actions are particularly manipulative, and can cause a victim to consider reconciliation. At the end of this phase, however, tension once again begins to build between partners, and the cycle repeats itself.

How the Cycle Contributes to the Problem

Often, the honeymoon phase of the cycle can convince victims to remain in their abusive relationships, which can increase the number of abusive events experienced in a single relationship. In fact, many victims do not report abuse until after several events have already transpired. This is one of many contributing factors to the discrepancy between prevalence and reporting, arrests, and eventual prosecution. 

Reporting, Arrests, and Legal Proceedings

According to the latest National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), domestic violence accounted for 21% of all violent victimization’s from 2003 to 2012.  Within that category, violence within intimate partner relationships was most common, accounting for 15%, while violence against family members and other relatives accounted for 9%. Approximately 45% of domestic violence incidents resulted in physical injury, and physical injuries occurred more often within intimate partner relationships.

Those involved in intimate partner violence were also more likely to experience more serious injuries, including those resulting in sexual assault, gun violence, wounds caused by knives and other weapons, and broken bones.

Nationwide, domestic violence-related calls are reportedly the most common kind of calls received by police. That said, as we’ve touched on throughout this course, not everyone who is victimized by domestic violence reports it to police. It is estimated that only 55% of domestic violence incidents are reported, and many do not report abuse until after several occurrences.

Some theorize that one reason for this is that many victims hope their experience was isolated, or that the abuse will stop. Others, still, fear that reporting their abusive partner will only cause the abuse to increase in frequency, or intensify in severity, or both. In the 2005 NCVS, included in the reasons that abuse was under-reported were the beliefs that abuse was a personal matter, that victims feared retaliation from their abuser, that victims wanted to protect their abuser, and that police would not do anything to stop the abuse if it they were called.

Of all domestic violence incidents reported, few result in arrest. Arrests vary state-by-state, depending both on jurisdiction and how each state defines domestic violence. According to the National Incident-Based Reporting System, in 2005, only half of all reported incidents of violence within intimate partner relationships resulted in arrest. Slightly less (44.5%) of other domestic violence incidents resulted in arrest.

In some states, rates of arrest are even lower. Such low rates are the result of a number of factors, including the classification of some kinds of domestic violence as misdemeanors, and not felonies. When the crime is less severe, an arrest is often less justifiable.

Just as not all incidents of domestic violence result in arrest, not all domestic violence arrests lead to prosecution. As you might expect, prosecution varies by state. In a series of studies, prosecutions per domestic violence arrest ranged from as low as 4.6% to 94% across the country. This is, in part, because of varying domestic violence laws across the country.

Reason for the lack of prosecution is that many, if not a majority, of victims are unwilling to testify against their abuser in court. Sometimes, as a result, charges are dropped altogether.

In this lesson, we have learned that abuse is often cyclical, and as a result, many victims suffer multiple events of abuse in their relationships. We have also learned that victims, unfortunately, do not always report abuse, and even when they do, not all calls lead to arrests, and even fewer lead to prosecution.

Despite low rates of prosecution, we know that domestic violence is a widespread issue that affects millions of individuals in the United States. In the next lesson, we will discuss the impact of domestic violence on the emotional and physical health of victims, as well as interference with their career. We will also discuss the impacts of domestic violence on children.


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