Office of Women's Health

Facts About Domestic Violence

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence, or intimate partner violence, occurs when one person causes physical or psychological harm to a current or former intimate partner. It includes all acts of violence within the context of family or intimate relationships. Besides being the leading cause of injury to women in the United States (a woman is beaten every 15 seconds), it is an issue of increasing concern because of its negative effect on all family members, especially children.

While accurate information on the extent of domestic violence is difficult to obtain because of under-reporting, some aspects of the problem are known:

  • Domestic violence is not confined to any one socioeconomic, ethnic, religious, racial or age group and knows no geographic or educational boundaries. It also occurs within teenage relationships and among same-sex partnerships.

  • About one out of every four women in America will be physically assaulted or raped by an intimate partner at some point in their lives. In fact, American women are more likely to be assaulted, injured, raped or killed by a male partner than by any other type of assailant.

  • Estimates of assaults on women by partners range from approximately 2 million to 4 million annually in the United States.

  • The majority of women killed at work are murdered by a current or former intimate partner.

What are the signs of domestic violence?

If you believe you may be in an abusive relationship, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Have you ever been physically hurt, such as being kicked, pushed, choked or punched, by your partner or ex-partner?

  • Has your partner ever used the threat of hurting you or members of your family to get you to do something?

  • Has your partner ever injured or abused your pets?

  • Has your partner ever destroyed your property or things that you care about?

  • Has your partner tried to keep you from seeing your family, going to school or doing other things that are important to you?

  • Do you feel like you are being controlled or isolated by your partner? For instance, does your partner control your money, transportation, activities or social contacts?

  • Have you ever been forced by your partner to have sex when you did not want to or to have unsafe sex?

  • Is your partner jealous and always questioning whether you are faithful?

  • Does your partner regularly blame you for things that you cannot control, or for his/her violent outbursts?

  • Does your partner regularly insult you?

  • Are you ever afraid of your partner or of going home? Does he/she make you feel unsafe?

There are other signs of domestic violence that observers might see in a relative or friend who is in an abusive relationship. They include:

  • being prone to "accidents" or being repeatedly injured

  • having injuries that could not be caused unintentionally or that do not match the story of what happened to cause them

  • having injuries on many different parts of the body, such as the face, throat, neck, chest, abdomen or genitals

  • having bruises, burns or wounds that are shaped like teeth, hands, belts, cigarette tips or that look like the injured person has a glove or sock on (from having a hand or foot placed in boiling water)

  • having wounds in various states of healing

  • often seeking medical help or, conversely, waiting to seek or not seeking medical help even for serious injuries

  • showing signs of depression

  • using alcohol or other drugs

  • attempting suicide

What are the health effects of domestic violence?

Besides the obvious physical injuries, domestic violence can lead to depression, anxiety, panic attacks, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder. Abuse also might trigger suicide attempts or psychotic episodes.

How can you leave an abusive partner?

Leaving an abuser can be dangerous. In order to do it as safely as possible, you should plan ahead and take the following precautions:

  • Pack a bag ahead of time that will be available to take with you when you decide it is the safest time to leave. Include items such as extra clothes, important papers, money, extra keys and prescription medications.

  • Know exactly where you will go and how you will get there.

  • Call a local women’s shelter or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233) to find out about legal options and resources available to you.

While making plans to leave, avoid making long-distance phone calls from home of using a cell phone. An abuser could trace long-distance calls to find out where you are going or intercept your cell phone conversations using a scanner. Also, be aware that the abuser may be able to monitor your Internet activities and access your e-mail account.

Where can you turn to for help?

In an emergency situation, call 911 or your local law enforcement agency. If you are not in immediate danger, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-Safe (7233), which provides crisis intervention and referrals to in-state or out-of-state resources, such as women’s shelters or crisis centers.

What is the law on domestic violence in Illinois?

The Illinois Domestic Violence Act of 1986 focused more government effort on this problem. These efforts were further bolstered by recent Illinois Supreme Court rulings putting more “teeth” into the law by effectively mandating that law enforcement act to protect victims of domestic abuse. According to Illinois law, police officers must take steps to protect a victim of domestic abuse whenever a family or household member has committed any act of abuse.

The Illinois Elder Abuse and Neglect Act became law in 1988 and provided that people who report suspected abuse or cooperate with an investigation are not subject to criminal or civil liability or professional disciplinary action. It further provides that the identity of the reporter shall not be disclosed without the written permission of the reporter or by order of a court. Anonymous reports are accepted.

The following hotlines can help women experiencing violence:

National Domestic Violence Hotline
800-799-SAFE (7233)

Illinois Department of Human Services Domestic Violence Helpline
877-To End DV (877-863-6338)

Elder Abuse Hotline

The Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN)
(automatically transfers you to the rape crisis center nearest you)