No one ever plans to venture out into the dating world and choose an abusive partner. No one goes on a blind date hoping for red flags that signal this new romantic partner is potentially controlling, obsessively jealous or has a penchant for violence. And yet, statistics show that 1 out of every 3 women, and 1 out of every 4 men will experience a violent partner at some point in their life. Countless others will be subjected to nonphysical forms of abuse by an intimate partner, such as mental, verbal, psychological or financial abuse.
Survivors often look back and wonder how they could have missed the signs. But this blame game isn’t fair—abuse is never a survivor’s fault, nor their responsibility to prevent.
Unfortunately, abusers aren’t branded with a scarlet “A.” Many are hiding in plain sight, disguised as some of the most charismatic people you’ll ever meet. In a 2013 Psychology Today article, “Behind the Veil: Inside the Mind of Men That Abuse,” author John G. Taylor writes that men who abuse are “very clever, smart and extremely charming. Most of these men have a personality that draws people in because of their level of charm. This is part of their art to deceive and manipulate.”
And yes, statistics show that most abusers are men. An estimated 85 percent of reported domestic violence cases are men abusing women, while 5 percent of reported cases are women abusing men. Though, this doesn’t take into account abuse in same-sex relationships, which can also occur.
Predictive Indicators for Abuse
As survivors well know, the transition from love to control to violence can be slow and inconspicuous. And while domestic violence is a choice that abusers make, there are a number of factors suspected to contribute to the likelihood of someone becoming abusive. Knowing these factors may help identify risks related to potential partners:
- A history of abuse in one’s family or past
- Being physically or sexually abused as a child
- A lack of appropriate coping skills
- Low self-esteem
- Codependent behavior
- Untreated mental illness
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Socioeconomic pressures (studies show a higher incidence of abuse in lower-income communities)
- A prior criminal arrest history
Of course, it should be reinforced that just because someone has endured one or more of those factors, it does not guarantee they will become an abuser. However, on the other hand, abusers may try to use one or more of the above as excuses for their behavior, negating responsibility and even using these reasons to justify their abuse. But as social worker Larry Bennett, PhD, puts it: “A batterer who quits drinking is a sober batterer.”
Do You Recognize Abuse?
People often think about abuse in the context of physical violence, such as slapping, shoving, grabbing, pinching, biting, hair pulling, hitting, choking, strangulation, beating, or at its most grave, assault with deadly weapons. However, it is common that physical violence is foreshadowed by other patterns of behavior and forms of violence, such as:
- Calling someone names or putting someone down
- Shouting and cursing
- Making threats
- Extreme jealousy and suspicion
- Keeping someone away from their family and friends
- Throwing things around the house or at another person in a violent manner
- An additional 25 red flags to watch out for.
Whether you’re being abused or are recognizing abusive behavior in yourself, talking to a trained domestic violence advocate is a free, confidential and potentially lifesaving place to start. Contact your local domestic violence shelter or advocacy group — find the one nearest you by entering your ZIP code on our home page. And for more about predicting abusive behavior read, “Why Do People Abuse?“