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Recognizing Abuse

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

list with boxes checkedAbuse is not the easiest thing in the world to recognize, even if it is happening to you directly. Not everyone who is being abused understands that what they are experiencing is abuse. Some may recognize that something isn't right about how they are treated, but they may be afraid to speak up and name it as abuse for fear of retribution from their abuser. The following list describes various interactions that people might have that are examples of abuse. If one or more of these things is happening to you, there is very good chance that you are being abused.

  • Being physically, sexually, or emotionally hurt and/or violated by your partner on a regular basis.
  • Being called hurtful names and/or being put down by partner on a regular basis.
  • Being controlled by partner. For instance, if your partner tells you that you are not allowed to have friends, leave the house without his or her permission, or tells you that you are not allowed to pursue your own goals, such as attending school or finding work.
  • Becoming more withdrawn so that you do not spend much time with others who may clue in to the fact that abuse is happening to you.
  • Finding yourself making excuses for your partner’s bad and harmful behavior (perhaps so that you won't have to accept the fact that abuse is happening).
  • Recognizing that your relationship has a pattern or cycle in which something abusive occurs, you tell partner that you will not tolerate the abuse anymore, but then forgiving your partner when he or she apologizes.
  • Blaming yourself for bad things your partner has done to you. For example, telling yourself that you are really difficult to live with so you deserve to be hit.
  • Feeling trapped in your own home and being fearful when you know partner is coming home.

If you are a third party to a potentially abusive situation (suspected child abuse, domestic abuse or elder abuse), it may be difficult to know if abuse is happening in any direct manner. You might need to rely on circumstantial evidence to identify the abuse. The following list suggests things to look for that could be indicative of abuse.

  • There are physical signs of injury, such as bruises, sores, burns, cuts, or black eyes. Such injuries may be hidden (e.g., behind sunglasses or with clothing)
  • The victim makes implausible excuses for injuries or absences ("I fell down the stairs").
  • The victim displays personality changes (angry, depressed, moody, defensive, etc.)
  • The victim becomes withdrawn, or suddenly fearful.
  • The victim becomes depressed, or more irritable or agitated than normal.
  • The victim has difficulty sleeping at night, or may display excessive tiredness (can be a symptom of depression)
  • The victim's appetite changes for better or worse. Weight loss or gain may occur (can be a symptom of depression).
  • The victim's self-esteem lowers.
  • The victim is distracted and has difficulty concentrating.
  • The victim neglects hygiene (becomes smelly, goes unwashed; may be an attempt to ward off a sexual predator if a child, or as a consequence of depression).
  • Changes are noted in the victim's personal appearance or in the appearance of his or her home or living environment.
  • The victim complains of pain in the genital region (more common in children).
  • For older children and adults, the victim 'acts out', becoming sexually promiscuous, and/or using drugs.
  • Elders may display confusion