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Domestic Violence

The DOVES Program works with victims of domestic violence every day. You aren’t alone. 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.  Female, male, transgender, intersex or non-binary, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, or straight, it doesn’t matter. Domestic violence affects everyone and can happen to anyone.


Domestic violence is a pattern of actual or threatened acts used to control another person. Although each abusive relationship may be different, all abusers have the same goal of manipulating and establishing power over the victim. Everyone has their own idea of what abuse is and what it looks like. Until a spouse or partner crosses that line, you might not be consciously aware of the other forms of abuse that may be occuring.


Physical abuse is the use of force that results in injury, pain, and/or impairment. Examples include slapping, hitting, kicking, shoving, burning, restraining, withholding food or medicine, being denied sleep, hurting other people or animals.


Sexual abuse occurs when the abuser forces sexual contact or sexual acts on their partner. Examples include sexual threats, forced pornography (watching or making), sexual mocking, unwanted sex talk, sex-shaming, corrective sex, etc...

Emotional abuse can consist of the silent treatment, accusations, questioning paternity, stalking, degradation in public, sabotage, gaslighting, harassment, threats of suicide, empty promises, threats to harm pets, etc ...



Verbal abuse consists of name-calling, yelling, swearing, blaming, brainwashing, lying, contradictory statements, irrational questioning, interrogating, bringing up the past, mimicking, mocking, sarcasm, constant fighting.


Financial abuse consists of controlling & withholding money, giving punitive allowances, withholding resources such as food or medicines, not allowing work, stealing identity, money, credit or property, justifying behavior as cultural, etc ...

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Abusive behavior, whether physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, financial, or social is a CHOICE. The abuse is purposeful
and intentional.

You didn't cause your partner to hit you by your actions, your words, what you wore, or your tone of voice.


Should you stay or leave?


An abusive relationship is complex. It's hard to cope with the ups and downs, the uncertainty. Perhaps there is a child or children to care for. Bills have to be paid. The mess in the living room needs cleaned. All this plus the fear of wondering--when will my partner hurt me next? Will he be nice to me today? Will she snap and scream at me in front of the kids again?

It can be hard to even get out of bed in the morning, let alone make a life-altering decision about leaving a relationship. You may have a very real fear of being hurt or killed by your abuser if you leave. Or maybe they've threatened to kill themselves if you go. Your decision may be impacted by money. You don't have any. You haven't worked in five years because your partner hasn't let you so you don't have any work experience. Maybe you have a job but you know that you can't support yourself and your children on what you make alone. You might have strong beliefs about marriage. Your faith community or friends and family may encourage you to stay. 

What do you do?  

It's tempting to ask someone to tell you what to do. But experience shows us that the best decisions come from you. It's important that you think through your options. Ask yourself some questions:

If I stay

  • How can I keep myself safe?

    • If we have kids, how can I protect them?

  • Am I in danger of being killed by my partner? 

    • Take the Danger Assessment here. *

  • How is the violence affecting my children?

  • What does my partner control and what does my partner allow?

  • Where can I go without my partner bothering me?

  • Who can I talk to about the violence?

  • Who supports me?

  • Do I know when my partner is about to be violent?

  • What is my escape plan if things get bad?

If I leave


  • How can I keep myself safe?

    • If we have kids, how can I protect them?

  • Am I in danger of being killed by my partner?

    • Take the Danger Assessment here.  *

  • Where can I go to be safe?

  • Will a protection order keep me safe?

  • Where will I live?

  • How will I take care of my children?

    • Daycare

    • School

    • Insurance

    • Child support

  • Do I have transportation and if I don't, how will I get to work?

  • Can I find a job?

  • What is my escape plan if things get bad?

You've thought through your options but you're still feeling unsure. That's okay. It's not an easy decision to make and there can be many obstacles in your way. People in abusive relationships may leave over and over again only to return to their abuser. This may happen to you. It doesn't mean that you're weak or stupid. It doesn't mean that you like the abuse or deserve it. Know that every time you reach out for help, every time you leave, you are gathering information and strength. You aren't giving up.

If you need to talk through your options, please call the DOVES Program for help and guidance. We may know of resources you aren't aware of. We may be able to show you a new way to think about your situation that inspires or strengthens you. An advocate is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 866-95-DOVES (866-953-6837). 

Planning for your safety

Whether you decide to stay or plan to leave, safety is very important. The DOVES Program believes that you should have a safety plan so that you know what to do in an emergency situation and we're here to help. Just like the fire drills at school and work, safety plans help you practice being safe. Each person’s plan is unique and needs to be adapted as the situation changes. You are the expert on your situation and you are the best person to map out your plan. An advocate at the DOVES Program can help you create a safety plan that's right for you. Below you’ll find some helpful guidance for your new safety plan. If you'd like to look over a Safety Planning brochure, you can click here.

Safety if you stay:

Sometimes there are warning signs before violence erupts. What are some signs that your partner is about to get violent?


  • Increase in jealousy? 

  • Controlling or possessive behavior?

  • Yells more or gets irritated faster?

  • Gets really quiet?

There are things you’ve done in the past to keep yourself safe when violence occurs. Think about the things that were successful and the things that made the situation worse.

  • Did you leave the room?

  • Ignore the outburst?

  • Talk calmly?

  • Call a friend or family member?

Think about how you could leave your home in a hurry if you need to. 

  • Which door, window, staircase, or elevator would be safest? 

  • Practice your escape route. If you have kids, practice with them. They practice fire drills at school and that’s what you can tell them you are doing.

  • Pack a bag with items you may need and keep it ready at a trusted friend or family member’s home.

    • Consider:

      • Identification

      • ​Birth certificates for you and your children

      • ​Social security cards

      • ​Work permit, green card, or VISA

      • ​Passport

      • ​Driver’s license or other picture ID

      • ​Insurance card

      • ​Financial information

      • ​Bank account information

      • ​Tax returns

      • ​Pay stubs

      • ​Savings bonds 

      • ​Loan information​

      • protection order if you have one

      • Lease or title to home

      • Car title/loan papers, registration, insurance

      • Immunization records

      • House and car keys

      • Pets and pet supplies

      • Photos

      • Your kids’ important items: toys, books, stuffed animals, etc…

      • Cell phone & charger

      • Clothes

Consider a code word to give to your friends, family, or neighbors that will alert them if you’re in danger. Let them know what they should do if you give them the code word.

If you can’t get out in time and nothing has worked to defuse the situation, be mindful of where you are. Are you in a room with an exit or phone? Are there things in the room that can be used as weapons, for instance the kitchen where there are knives, etc… 

Safety if you leave:


  • Don’t tell your abuser that you’re leaving. If you feel like you need to tell your partner, don’t do it while alone with them. Tell them over the phone, via email, or have trusted family members with you.

    • Open a checking or savings account in your name only.

    • Gather up all the information listed in the section above and keep it in a safe place so you won’t have to spend a lot of time packing up when you leave.

  • Plan where you will go and how you’ll get there.

  • What will you tell your kids? 

  • What about school? 

    • You may need to call the school to let them know your kids won’t be there.

    • Consider what the school might tell your abuser if he or she calls.

    • Can you pick up homework for the kids?

    • If your kids go to school, have you let the school know not to release the children to anyone but you?

    • If you’re going to school, have you spoken with your professors or called in if you’ll be absent

  • What about work? 

    • Can you get a leave of absence? 

    • If you continue to work, will your abuser bother you there?

    • If you left without the car, how will you get to work

  • If you go into a safe shelter, does your abuser know where it is?

    • ​What is your plan during your shelter stay?

    • What resources do you have?

    • What agencies may be able to help you transition from shelter to your own place?

  • If you stay in a hotel:

    • Do you think your abuser will find you?

    • How long can you afford to stay?

  • If you stay with friends or family…

    • How long will they let you stay?

    • Is it a safe place for you and your kids?

    • Are they supportive of you and your decisions?

Safety when you are living alone:


  • Does your abuser have a key to your home?

    • Consider changing the locks on all the doors: front, back, garage.

    • You could also install safety devices and/or new locks for the windows.

    • An alarm system is pricier but might give you peace of mind if you get one and use it faithfully.

  • Practice leaving your home in a hurry and if you have kids, have them practice too.

  • Get to know your neighbors and ask them to help you stay safe.

    • You could give them a code word or signal so they know if they should call the police.

    • If they don’t know your abuser, you could show them a picture and ask them to call the police if they see the abuser come around.

  • Consider getting a PO Box at the post office rather than having your mail sent to your mailbox. Your abuser could get to your mail if it’s in an unlocked box outside your home.

  • Let the school know who has permission to pick up your children. If you have a protection order, give the school a copy.

  • Talk with your landlord about the situation.

    • Give him or her a copy of your protection order if you have one.

    • If your abuser was on the lease too, let the landlord know that your abuser doesn’t live there anymore and ask to have their name removed from the lease.

  • Consider your pet’s safety. If you work all day and your pet has to stay outside, will the abuser harm it?

    • Ask a friend or family member to care for the pet during the day.

    • Consider keeping the pet inside.

​​Other things to consider:


  • Does your abuser have access to your email, Facebook, or other online accounts such as credit cards, checking accounts, utility accounts?

    • Change your password to something your abuser couldn’t easily guess. 

    • Consider using a phrase that’s easy to remember and taking the first letter of each word to make your password. Example: My dog Fred loves chicken! He’s 12 years old & fat. This would become the password: MdFlc!H12yo&f.

  • If your abuser sends messages via text, e-mail, or through instant messaging, keep copies of all the conversations. You can use these as proof of harassment.

  • Change the PIN numbers on your credit, ATM, EBT cards.

  • Call utility, phone, credit card and other companies with which you have accounts and ask them to put a security code on your account so that no one can call in and change or cancel service without your permission.

    • Does your abuser have access to your cell phone or telephone bills?

    • All your calls are recorded on the bills and can give an abuser access to whom you’re calling.

    • Is the location service activated on your cell phone? If it is, then the abuser could be getting updates on where you are.

  • Don’t use the computer at home if your abuser has access to it as well.

    • Assume that your abuser is monitoring your computer use. Use a computer at a library or other public place to help keep your plans from your abuser.

  • Change your routine. This might be harder to do in a small town, but try not to visit the same stores, banks, parks every day at the same times.

    • Vary your route to and from work.

    • Consider shopping in different stores or even in a different town for a while if your town is small and you’re afraid you’ll run into your abuser.


Campbell, JC. (2004). Danger Assessment. Retrieved May 28, 2008, from


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