Just the tips: How to spot and help abusive relationships

Janelle Carlson, Contributing Columnist

Disclaimer: This article may be triggering to some. Please be aware of this before reading further

Domestic violence and abuse do not have to follow a strict, specific model. Domestic violence or abuse can happen in any type of relationship. It can happen in hetero or homosexual relationships, both males and females can be the abuser, and it can also affect relationships between people of varying ages, races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic statuses. However, despite its widespread presence, domestic violence unfortunately can be hard to spot in many situations. This is where ReproCo comes in this week, to help you and/or your loved ones determine whether a relationship is abusive. This is extremely important, because acknowledging that you are in an abusive relationship is the first step to getting help and getting out.

First off, abuse can manifest itself in two major forms: emotional and physical. Hollywood would like you to believe that abusive relationships are purely drunken, burly men in wife beaters that smack their poor helpless wives around. This however, is not the defining model of domestic violence, because there are far too many overlapping types of abusive relationships. Emotional abuse, for instance, can potentially be far more damaging than physical abuse. One can send you to the hospital and may lead to more fatal consequences, but emotional abuse can lead to many of the same consequences with a more long-term effect. Emotional abuse works to leave the victim feeling worthless, hopeless, and alone. Survivors of emotional abuse tend to suffer from depression and severe anxiety among other psychological issues.

Examples of emotional abuse include: yelling, shaming, isolating you from friends or family, controlling behavior (needing to know where you are, who you’re with, going through your possessions), extreme possessiveness and jealousy. They also may seem charming in public, but turn aggressive in private, or blame you for their problems.

I cannot stress enough that this list is not exhaustive. These are just the most common occurrences of emotional abuse, and are sure-fire ways to tell if you or a friend is in an abusive relationship.

Examples of physical abuse encompass any use of physical force that damages or endangers a partner in a relationship. It is crucial to understand that sexual abuse is also physical abuse. Just because you are in a committed relationship with someone does not mean that you are consenting to sex every time. If your partner does not respect your right to say “no”, then you are certainly facing a form of physical abuse.

Determining if someone you know is in an abusive relationship or not is important because this could save their life. Warning signs include, but are not limited to: isolation , so you may notice your loved one does not hang out or contact you as often as usual, and they spend the majority of their time with their partner. Signs also include anxiousness when their partner is brought up, absences from work or school without explanation, and drastic personality changes.

Once you have gone through this overwhelming process of acknowledging that you or a loved one is in an abusive relationship, what do you do now? Here are a few preliminary steps to follow:

If you are the victim:

  • Contact your local women’s shelter (Meadville’s Women’s Services 24-hour hotline: 814-333-9766)
  • Call a domestic abuse hotline (National Domestic Violence Crisis Line: 1-800-799-SAFE, Domestic Violence Helpline: 1-800-548-2722)
  • Let a trusted friend or family member know your situation
  • Understand that the abuse is not your fault
  • Prepare a plan for when you leave your partner

If a loved one is a victim:

  • Express concern
  • Let them know they are safe with you
  • Do not blame/judge them or ask why they haven’t left yet
  • Listen and respect what they have to say
  • Be a support system and help them reach out to appropriate services