What is domestic violence?

Recognizing abusive behavior can be the first step to building a safer life! Develop a safety plan regardless of whether or not you are planning on leaving the relationship. Advocates are equipped to help you develop a personalized safety plan just for you. We can help you do this over the phone. You do not have to come into the shelter to access these services.

Abuse in a relationship refers to physical, emotional, or sexual abuse by an abuser towards their partner that is designed to control another human being through the use of fear, humiliation, and verbal or physical assaults. It can be very confusing!


Abuse can happen to anyone of any age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion or gender. Abuse can affect people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels. It has no boundaries.

Abuse is a repetitive pattern of behaviors to maintain power and control over an intimate partner. While we often assume that abuse is physical, there are in fact many forms of domestic violence. Some are less obvious and difficult to see but are no less devastating. Many of these different forms of abuse can be going on at any one time.


Abusers rarely exercise only one form of abuse on their loved ones. It is often the manipulation of several forms of abuse and a behavior which can go from loving and attentive to violent and abusive in a matter of hours if not minutes.

Physical Abuse can include slapping, punching, kicking and choking. It is being slammed against a wall or being injured with a weapon or object.

Psychological Abuse includes living with the constant fear of threats of violence against you and/or your children, friends, relatives and pets. Your partner may be harassing you at work by calling repeatedly or by showing up. They may destruct items that you value or may make suicide threats.

Emotional Abuse is never-ending experience of criticism, name-calling, and put downs alone or in public. It includes unjust blaming, false accusations about loyalties and controls on your time, activities and actions.

Sexual Abuse or Marital Rape is being forced against your will to perform sexual acts or also have pain and injury inflicted during intercourse.

Financial Abuse means that you have limited or no access to the family’s money therefore no control over what is spent or saved, over what moneys come into the family and over what will be bought.

Digital abuse is the use of technology to bully, harass, stalk or intimidate a partner. This includes your partner controlling who your Facebook friends are, writing degrading messages about you in public spaces online and having control of your passwords. The abuser may also access your phone to monitor who you are texting and calling.

Spiritual Abuse may mean mocking or denigrating one’s spiritual beliefs or using religious doctrine as justification for abuse.



Credit for this section goes to the Strong Hearts Native Helpline for this excellent description of gaslighting!

Does your partner blame you for their abusive behavior or deny that their actions are hurtful? Are you starting to question your own version of events or reality in the relationship? If so, your partner may be using a form of abuse called gaslighting, where an abuser refuses to acknowledge their actions or role in the abuse.

Gaslighting can include when your partner says: 

  • “You’re crazy – that never happened.”
  • “Are you sure? You tend to forget a lot.”
  • “You’re imagining things.”
  • “It’s all in your head.”
  • “You’re just making things up.”
  • “You’re too sensitive.”
  • “I don’t want to hear it.”
  • “You’re being dramatic.”
  • “Is that another crazy idea you got from [friend/family member]?”

What may seem like a harmless misunderstanding can become manipulative over time. If an abuser uses gaslighting to excuse or deny their abusive behavior, you may become confused, anxious, isolated and depressed, and begin to question or lose your sense of what is actually happening. In this situation, it can be very difficult to recognize that you are being abused.

How Do I Know If I’m Being Gaslighted?

If you think you might be experiencing this form of abuse, it’s important to get help and begin the journey in learning to trust yourself again. According to author and psychoanalyst Robin Stern, Ph.D., the signs of being a victim of gaslighting can include:

  • Constant self-doubt or second-guessing
  • Question whether you can do anything right
  • Asking yourself “Am I too sensitive?” multiple times a day
  • Feeling confused and/or that you are “going crazy”
  • Question whether you are “good enough” for your partner
  • Feel hopeless, unhappy or joyless
  • Apologizing profusely to your partner
  • Find yourself making excuses for your partner’s behavior to friends and family
  • Feel that something isn’t right in your relationship, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself
  • Creating your own lies or mistruths to avoid the put downs and reality twists
  • Find it difficult to make simple decisions
  • Feel as though you have become a different person, where before you felt more confident, more fun-loving and relaxed

If any of these signs raise a red flag for you, please call us at 1(800)478-1090 or (907)586-1090, available 24/7. You are not alone.


Safety planning is very important. Leaving a relationship is often the most dangerous point because the abuser feels that they are losing control over the victim. Developing a personalized safety plan as a first step in protecting yourself and your children.

In addition to planning in advance where you would go in an emergency and how to get there, a safety plan also includes thinking about how to deal with your emotions, tell friends and family about the abuse, take legal action and more. You should consider including the following in your safety plan:

  • Know the quickest route out of your home. Practice escaping that way.
  • Know the quickest route out of your workplace. Practice escaping that way.
  • Know the route to shelters, police stations, hospitals, and public places/stores that are open 24 hours a day
  • Decide who can help you and talk to them about your plan.
  • If appropriate, teach your children how to reach help (e.g. dialing 911, going to a neighbour) in an emergency situation.
  • Try to put aside some money that your partner doesn’t know about.
  • Make an extra set of car keys and hide them in case your partner takes your keys away when you want to leave.
  • If appropriate, tell your neighbours about the abuse and ask them to call the police if they hear a disturbance.
  • Have a code word to use with your children, family and friends. They will know to call the police and get you help.
  • Gather in one accessible place key documents such as your health card, bank and/or credit cards, keys, medication, legal papers, important phone numbers, jewelry/photos/sentimental items, a few items of clothing and favourite toys/blankets.
  • Have a bag packed with copies of important papers, clothes etc. and store with a trusted friend or family member.
  • If a situation looks like it may turn violent don’t run to the bathroom or bedroom where you may be trapped, rather head for the nearest exit.



Your partner can often tell when you have made up your mind to stop the abuse. Do not underestimate your partner. Make sure your phone calls don’t leave tracks.

Your cell phone can keep records of the numbers that have been called. Local calls made on a regular telephone line will not produce a record, however, many telephones have a “redial” button, and you may want to call a friend or other “safe” number after you make any call you don’t want your partner to know about – they can check up on you just by pressing “redial”.

Internet-based telephones, which also go by names like “VOIP”, or “Network Telephony”, keep records of all calls. Web-based telephone systems, such as “Skype”, also keep records. You should not use these types of telephone systems to call for help if your partner has access as well.

The safest way to call or to receive calls from a shelter is from a friend’s phone, a public phone, a work phone, or any telephone that has nothing to do with your partner.



Power and control issues are a part of domestic violence and abusive partners frequently use technology to monitor and control those they abuse. This is why it is important to cover your tracks. You should not save the address of this website or bookmark it in your website’s browser. Remember it instead. Many women’s shelter websites have a “Hide This Site” button – if you click on this button it will immediately take you away from this website. You can use this button to hide what you are doing quickly.

If possible, enable the privacy mode of your Internet browser. This may be called “private browsing”, “InPrivate browsing”, “incognito mode” or “private window”, among other names. This is a privacy feature that disables browsing history and prevents your browser from saving web cache information.

If you do not use the privacy mode, you should delete your Internet history in your web browser. This information is created when you visit websites and is stored on your computer. Every browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome or Safari) creates this information differently. Find out where the history is stored in your web browser.

Clearing web browser histories in this way will delete ALL histories of visited websites. If you are concerned that someone may be checking up on your Internet usage, the absence of all files and history may appear suspicious.


Domestic violence takes many forms and can happen all of the time, or once in a while. An important step to help someone you know in preventing or stopping violence is to learn more about it.

Contact AWARE for more information and for available resources at 1-800-478-1090.


Here are some additional resources:

Domestic Violence Emerging Solutions