According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, approximately 20 people per minute are physically abused by a partner in the United States — an astounding 10 million women and men annually.
Kim Kavern, senior director with the victim services non-profit Safe Horizon, describes domestic violence as a “national crisis.”
“It is certainly one of the leading causes of death among women,” she says.
Many instances of domestic violence go undetected; some abusive relationships last for years without anyone on the outside knowing. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, here are seven signs often displayed by people abused by their partners.
1. Their Partner Insults Them In Front of Other People
According to Katie Ray-Jones, Chief Executive Officer of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, this red flag can be tricky because it might not come off as a “hard insult.” The abuser may laugh it off like “don’t eat that French fry, you are getting fat,” she says.
“There seems to be an added layer of criticism about how they’re moving about the world and what they’re doing,” she says. “Simple mistakes become really big issues.”
2. They Seem Constantly Worried About Angering Their Partner
Ray-Jones says a domestic abuser might appear charismatic in front of colleagues and friends. But behind closed doors with his or her partner, a darker side emerges. “For the victim, they’re thinking, ‘I must be doing something wrong because it’s me that’s the problem because he’s only angry with me.’”
Victims in these situations may change their behavior so they don’t trigger their abuser.
“’’I’ve got to get home. I can’t stay and talk. I can’t go have drinks with you,’” Ray-Jones says. “Because they know if they don’t get home on time, there are repercussions for that.”
3. They Make Excuses for Their Partner’s Behavior
Ray-Jones says victims often make excuses or blame themselves for their partner’s behavior.
“On the victim’s side, there’s so much shame and blame that they’re putting on themselves that this presents itself in a way where they begin to make excuses,” she says. “‘He’s just really stressed out right now. He’s got a lot going on at work. He didn’t really mean that when he said that to me, it was just x, y, z going on.’”
She adds, “Domestic violence is a choice and it is a decision that an abusive person is making to exert power and control.”
4. Their Partner Is Extremely Jealous or Possessive
Ray-Jones says a partner asking for your social media password can be a sign of possessiveness. Constant texting or calling when you are out with friends or family can also be a warning sign.
“Are they texting you constantly? Are they calling you, wanting you to check in all the time to see what you’re doing, who you’re with, what’s going on when you’re not with them?” says Ray-Jones.
5. They Have Unexplained Marks or Injuries
Ray-Jones says victims often lie about injuries or marks because they feel ashamed and embarrassed.
“If you have a loved one and you’re seeing some bruises that can’t really be explained and they’re like, ‘I fell down the stairs. I bumped into the wall. My dog scratched me.’ When you begin to see a pattern, it’s a good time to check in and say, ‘Hey, it sounds like there’s been a lot going on recently. Is everything okay?’” she says.
6. They’ve Stopped Spending Time With Friends and Family
Experts say abusers can try to isolate their victims — and their strategy can be very subtle, says Ray-Jones.
“It’s not blatant like, ‘You can’t go see Katie,’” she says. “It’s usually disguised in a way to be like, ‘I want to spend more time with you,’ or, ‘Katie’s no good for you.’”
Ray-Jones says it is important for victims to build and maintain a support system around them because the abuser “wants you to feel like you have no one but him or her.”
7. They Are Depressed or Anxious or Display Changes in Personality
Ray-Jones says many victims don’t admit they are being abused, which means friends, families and colleagues need to take note of any behavior changes. “You see them withdraw,” she says. “They’re not their normal happy self. They seem really anxious. They’re not as social as they used to be.”
Another sign, she says, is if they uncharacteristically change their appearance. “Their partner may be telling them how to dress,” she says. “You might see them lose weight.”
If you suspect domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or go to thehotline.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.