Until the mid-1970's, no one talked much about abuse between adult partners. We were taught to think that criminal violence occurred on the streets or in bars. Home was thought to be a safe place.

Now we know that violence in the home is very frequent. More than 4 million American women a year are physically attacked by their male partners; violence can also happen in same sex relationships, and some men are beaten in heterosexual relationships, although what is most common is that women are battered by men. Some of these assaults are severe. From 1990 through 1994 the deaths of nearly 11,000 people age 18 and over resulted from one partner killing another, with women almost twice as likely to be victims of such fatal partner violence as men. Violence between partners happens in all groups in society. No group is immune. If your intimate partner has beaten you, you are not alone.

How do I know if I'm at risk?

Violence in a relationship is never okay and never justified. A "little slap" is violence. So is pushing, shoving, throwing things, threatening violence, or forcing a partner to engage in sexual activities against her or his will. All of these things, along with punching, kicking, biting choking, burning, and injury with weapons have happened to victims of partner violence. If violence or a threat of violence of any kind has happened more than once or twice, it is extremely likely to happen again. It may get more frequent or more severe. If this describes you and your relationship, you are at risk.

Am I overreacting?

Very often abusers will tell victims that they are overreacting and causing the batterer to become violent. You are not overreacting or causing the violence. It is normal to feel frightened and angry when your spouse or partner is violent with you. Your reactions to earlier abuse are no excuse for someone to be violent toward you.

Why don't I just leave?

This is a common question that people ask about victims and victims ask of themselves. It is almost always more complicated than just leaving. Sometimes the batterer will not allow you to leave and may threaten to kill you or other family members if you do. These are not always idle threats. Research tells us that women are more likely to be killed by their battering mates at the time these women try to leave. You may be afraid to be alone and on your own. You may worry about how to support yourself and your children without the batterer. You may blame yourself, wrongly, for causing the violence and feel ashamed and afraid of exposing yourself. It may be against your religious or other beliefs to end a marriage or committed relationship. It's important for you to get help in learning how to resolve these issues for yourself.

What can I do?

If you are the victim of violence:

Begin to think about how you can plan for your own safety and happiness. Waiting for abusers to change and trying harder to please them will not work. Find out what resources are available in your area for victims of partner abuse. At a safe time, when the abuser is not around, call a local battered women's shelter or domestic violence hotline. Tell them what has happened; ask them what your choices are to protect yourself and to end the violence. Think about the answers to your questions and call again if you need to know more.

If you are considering leaving your abuser, make safety plans before you talk about separation. Discuss the abuser?s pattern of violence with someone at a shelter or crisis line and think about what risks there might be if you talk about leaving. Try to keep enough money in a protected place to use when you need it to get to safety. Some victims find it best to go to a shelter where they can be safe before they tell the abuser that they are leaving.

If you can do this safely, encourage the abuser to go to a group for batterers. There are now many such groups for men who batter their partners. Some large cities also have groups for gay men and lesbians who batter their partners and for people from particular ethnic or religious groups. In such a group, batterers can get help from experts specially trained to treat violent people and may learn to change their beliefs and behaviors. You may still need to live apart from the batterer while that person is in the group. Changing patterns of violence can take a long time. (Call the Domestic Abuse Hotline for information on groups in your area).

If you think you are in immediate danger, you probably are. You are an expert at sensing when things are getting really bad. Flee at once to a safe location or call the police if you can. When police arrive, ask what legal protections are available to you, and use whatever you need to be sure you are safe. Don't let the police leave you alone with the abuser once they've arrived. If you are hurt, ask for medical help. Be sure that the doctor or nurse makes a record of your injuries and notes that those injuries were the result of an assault, not falling down stairs or bumping into a door.

If you are an abuser:

Get help to end your violent behavior. Hurting the people you love will cost you their trust and respect and your own self-respect as well. You may lose your loved ones permanently. No one likes to be violent or to get hurt.

Realize that you can change. Others have gone through this and found ways to stop their patterns of violence. Their lives and relationships with those they love have gotten better. Call a state or local domestic violence hotline (you don't have to give your name to get information) and ask for referrals to a batterer's group or to expert therapists in your area. Be honest with the people running the group or with an individual therapist about your history of violence. Tell the leader or therapist that your violent behaviors are the ones you want to change. Don't wait until a judge requires you to go to treatment.

If you are a friend or a family member:

You can do something. Encourage the victim to get to safety and help keep that person safe. Confront the abuser if you can do it safely (you may want to have someone else with you when you do this). Don't accept excuses for violence from people you love.

Call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline or a local hotline and gather information about local resources and support services. Advise the victim about her options and assistance available to her and her children.

Call the police if the victim cannot. Sometimes this can help stop or reduce the violence.

For anyone:

Become knowledgeable about violence between partners. Support local initiatives to reduce violence and help victims to become safe. A list of books that you might find helpful follows.


Browne, A. (1987). When battered women kill. New York: Free Press.

Jones, A. & Schechter, S. (1992). When love goes wrong: What to do when you can't do anything right. New York: Harper Collins.

Lobel, K. (Ed.) (1986). Naming the violence: Speaking out about lesbian battering. Seattle, WA: Seal Press.

Nicarthy, G. (1982). Getting free: A handbook for women in abusive relationships. Seattle, WA: Seal Press.

Nicarthy, G. (1987). The ones who got away: Women who left abusive partners. Seattle, WA: Seal Press.

Sonkin, D.J. & Durphy, M. (1989). Learning to live without violence: A handbook for men. San Francisco: Volcano Press.

Walker, L. (1979). The battered woman. New York: Harper & Row.

White, E. C. (1985). Chain, chain, change: For black women dealing with physical and emotional abuse. Seattle, WA: Seal Press.

A number of APA Public Interest publications concerning violence issues may be found by visiting the Public Interest Initiatives Publications on Violence and the APA books on violence web site

If you need help now:

You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-787-3224 TDD) 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. If you have access to the Internet you may reach their web site or send an e-mail. The hotline provides support counseling and links to 2500 local support services, such as emergency shelters, legal advocacy and assistance programs, and social service programs for abused women and their children. The hotline also offers counseling programs and links to local support services for abusers.

Written by Angela Browne, PhD and Laura S. Brown, PhD.

Published by the:

American Psychological Association
Public Interest Directorate
Washington, DC
Published 1991
Updated 1997

This material may be reproduced without permission of the American Psychological Association. Citation of the source would be appreciated.