Domestic Violence Awareness at The University of Michigan
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Understanding Abuse

What is domestic violence?

The University of Michigan defines domestic violence as follows:

Domestic violence occurs when a person uses physical violence, coercion, threats, intimidation, isolation, stalking, emotional abuse, sexual abuse or economic abuse to control another partner in a relationship. Domestic violence can be a single act or a pattern of behavior in relationships, which encompass dating, marriage, family and roommate relationships.

It is a violation of the right we all have to healthy, supportive and safe relationships.

Other definitions:

Survivor: the individual who is being targeted for abuse.
Abuser: the individual who is inflicting the abuse.

On this website, the words "woman" and "she" are sometimes used to refer to survivors and "he" to refer to abusers. According to the Center for Disease Control, 85% of survivors are women assaulted by male partners. It is important to remember, however, that in the other 15% of cases, men assaulted by women or men and women in same-sex relationships may be the survivors. These men and women may face additional isolation and fear due to social attitudes toward gender roles and/or sexual orientation. Learn more about domestic violence in same sex relationships.

Why is the issue of domestic violence important?

Domestic violence is a serious social problem and a national health concern with significant negative impacts on individuals and our communities. It is a primary cause of injury to women in the United States. According to the National Institute of Justice, over one third (37%) of women admitted to an emergency room for violence-related injuries were abused by an intimate partner. Additionally, one in three women in the United States are physically abused by a partner at some point in their lives. The Center for Disease Control reports that approximately 1.3 million women are physically abused each year in the United States.

Learn about the myths and facts of domestic violence.

Domestic violence is illegal

Just as the use of physical violence on the street is illegal, the use of physical violence in a relationship is an illegal act for which the abuser can be arrested and prosecuted.

Domestic violence is cyclical

Each domestic violence situation is different. Yet, all abusers use similar ways to get what they want and keep power and control. Batterers can be charming, sweet and apologetic one minute and abusive the next. The abused partner can be confused and kept off balance by these changes in the batterer’s behavior. Sometimes survivors describe the abuser as having a “Jekyll/Hyde personality.”

How does it happen?

If violence or threat of violence has happened more than once or twice, it is extremely likely to happen again. The violence usually gets worse over time, increasing in both frequency and severity. It is common for the abuse to develop into a pattern or cycle of abuse.

Who is abused?

All kinds of people: Domestic violence occurs among all ethnic groups and all cultures, among all ages, all income levels, all faiths and all education levels. For some people, their social, economic or cultural background may make it harder for them to get help. Lack of money, racial bias, language barriers, immigration status, anti-gay or lesbian beliefs, and religious beliefs can create barriers for survivors.

Women and Men: Women are more likely to be abused, but men may also be survivors. Abuse can occur in both heterosexual and same sex relationships.

Adolescents: Teens can be involved in abusive relationships and may also become victims of date rape. Between one third and one fourth of adolescent women have experienced a form of dating violence. The abuse is usually committed by a peer and can be as dangerous as abuse between adults.

Children: In homes where one partner abuses the other partner, there is an increased risk that the batterer may also abuse the child. Just witnessing domestic violence in the home can have harmful effects on children. Threats of kidnapping or harming children may impact the survivor’s concentration at work.

Are you concerned that you may be in an abusive relationship?

Who are the abusers?

Just as victims of violence come from all parts of the population, those who abuse intimate partners can be any age, sex, race or educational level. Abusers can be rich or poor, employed or unemployed, and work in any occupation.

Are you concerned that you may be a batterer?

Why do batterers abuse?

Batterers use abuse to get or maintain control over their partners or ex-partners. Batterers use domestic violence because it works to get them what they want.

What does domestic violence look like?

Batterers use many ways to get or keep control of their partners. Some of those behaviors or acts are shown in the “Wheel of Power and Control.”

Test your knowledge of domestic violence.