Relationships, Safety, and Violence
Every woman has the right to live her life safely and free of violence. Yet one in four women in the United States experiences intimate partner violence, including domestic abuse, verbal and emotional abuse, and stalking. Women experience violence in many ways, from physical abuse to sexual assault and from financial abuse to sexual harassment or human trafficking. Whatever form it takes, violence against women can have serious long-term physical and emotional effects. If you’ve experienced violence or abuse, it is never your fault, and you can get help. Click here to see an overview of abuse laws, protective/peace orders, and related family law by state.
Q: Am I being abused?
A: Signs of abuse may include:
- Keeping track of everything you do, where you go, and who you’re with
- Being jealous, controlling, or angry
- Demeaning you (putting you down or humiliating you in front of others)
- Physically hurting, or threatening to hurt, you or your loved ones
- Forcing you to have sex or other intimate activity (A complete list of the warning signs of an abusive relationship can be found at the bottom of this page).
Q: What can I do if I’m being abused?
A: Your safety is the most important concern. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
If you are not in immediate danger, consider these options:
- Get medical care. If you are injured, go to a local hospital emergency room or urgent care center.
- Contact a helpline for free, anonymous support. They will talk to you about your concerns and can supply numbers for other resources, such as local domestic violence shelters. Click here to contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline.
- Make a safety plan to leave. You don’t have to leave an abusive relationship right away. A safety plan with a safe place to go and a list of important documents and medicines to take will help if you need to leave in a hurry.
- Save the evidence. Keep evidence of abuse, such as pictures of your injuries or threatening emails or texts, in a place the abuser cannot get to.
- Talk to someone. This might be a supportive family member, friend, co-worker, or spiritual leader. Look for ways to get emotional help, like a support group or mental health professional.
- Consider getting a restraining order. Protection orders, often called restraining orders, are meant to keep you safe from a person who is harassing or hurting you. The police can arrest a person who violates a restraining order and charge them with a crime.
Q: What should I do if I’ve been sexually assaulted or raped?
A: If you can, get away from the person who assaulted you and get to a safe place as fast as you can.
- Don’t wash or clean your body. Don’t wash, brush, or clean any part of your body, including your teeth. You might wash away important evidence. Don’t change clothes, if possible. Don’t touch or change anything at the scene of the assault. That way, the local police will have physical evidence from the person who assaulted you.
- Get medical care. Call 911 or go to your nearest hospital emergency room. The doctor or nurse may give you medicine to prevent HIV and some other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy. Ask if there is a sexual assault forensic examiner (SAFE) or a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) available. This person has special training to use a rape kit to collect evidence.
- If you think you were drugged, talk to the hospital staff about testing for date rape drugs, such as Rohypnol and GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyric acid). Date rape drugs pass through the body quickly and may not be detectable by the time you get tested.
- Reach out for help. The hospital staff can connect you with local sexual assault and rape resources that can help you cope with emotions and trauma afterward.
- Report the assault or rape to the police. You do not have to decide whether to press charges while at the hospital. An advocate or counselor can help you understand how to report the crime.
- If the person who assaulted you was a stranger, write down as many details as you can remember about the person and what happened.
Q: What are the effects of violence against women?
A: Violence against women, including sexual or physical violence, is linked to physical and mental health problems.
Physical effects of sexual violence can include:
- Vaginal bleeding or pelvic pain
- Unwanted pregnancy
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Trouble sleeping or nightmares
- Health problems such as arthritis, asthma, digestive problems, heart problems, and problems with the immune system
- Chronic pain
- Migraine headaches
Long-term mental health effects can include:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
According to The National Domestic Violence Hotline, some of the signs of an abusive relationship include a partner who:
- Tells you that you can never do anything right
- Shows extreme jealousy of your friends and time spent away
- Keeps you or discourages you from seeing friends or family members
- Insults, demeans or shames you with put-downs
- Controls every penny spent in the household
- Takes your money or refuses to give you money for necessary expenses
- Looks at you or acts in ways that scare you
- Controls who you see, where you go, or what you do
- Prevents you from making your own decisions
- Tells you that you are a bad parent or threatens to harm or take away your children
- Prevents you from working or attending school
- Destroys your property or threatens to hurt or kill your pets
- Intimidates you with guns, knives or other weapons
- Pressures you to have sex when you don’t want to or do things sexually you’re not comfortable with
- Pressures you to use drugs or alcohol
For more information please visit The National Domestic Violence Hotline: Abuse Defined
The Office on Women’s Health in the Department of Health and Human Services has generously provided all content contained herein: www.womenshealth.gov