Sometimes a romantic relationship may not be abusive but may have serious problems that make it unhealthy. If you think you might be in an unhealthy relationship, try talking with your partner about your concerns. If that seems difficult, you might also talk to a trusted friend, family member, counselor, or religious leader.

Relationships and Safety

Every woman has the right to live her life safely and free of violence. Yet one in four women in the United States experiences violence from an intimate partner. Intimate partner violence includes domestic abuse, sexual assault, verbal and emotional abuse, coercion, and stalking. Violence and abuse can cause physical and emotional problems that last long after the abuse. If you’ve experienced violence or abuse, it is never your fault, and you can get help.

Am I being abused?

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In a close relationship, it can be difficult to know whether you are being abused, especially if your partner says they love you, gives you a lot of attention, or pays for the groceries or rent. People who are abusive sometimes act loving and supportive as a way to keep you in the relationship. A partner’s loving behavior does not make their abusive behavior OK. Forced sex and cruel or threatening words are forms of abuse. Learn more about how to recognize abuse.

Signs of abuse

There are many types of violence and abuse. Some of these signs are signs of physical abuse or domestic violence. Some are signs of emotional and verbal abuse or sexual abuse.  

Signs of abuse include:

If you think someone is abusing you, get help. Abuse can have serious physical and emotional effects.

Signs of an unhealthy relationship

Sometimes a romantic relationship may not be abusive but may have serious problems that make it unhealthy. If you think you might be in an unhealthy relationship, try talking with your partner about your concerns. If that seems difficult, you might also talk to a trusted friend, family member, counselor, or religious leader.

You might be in an unhealthy relationship if you:

  1. Focus all your energy on your partner

  2. Drop friends, family, or activities you enjoy

  3. Feel pressured or controlled by this person

  4. Have more bad times than good in the relationship

  5. Often feel sad or scared when with this person

  6. Know that this person does not support you and what you want to do in life

  7. Do not feel comfortable being yourself or making your own decisions

  8. Cannot speak honestly to work out conflicts in the relationship

  9. Cannot talk about your needs or changes in your life that are important

Domestic or intimate partner violence

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Domestic violence is sometimes called intimate partner violence. It includes physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, as well as sexual coercion and stalking by a current or former intimate partner.1 An intimate partner is a person with whom you have or had a close personal or sexual relationship. Intimate partner violence affects millions of women each year in the United States.

Signs of domestic violence or abuse

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Intimate partner violence, or domestic violence, can be difficult to see if it starts little by little, if your partner says they love you, or if they support you financially. Domestic violence can include forced sex, physical abuse, and emotional abuse, such as cruel words or threats. It can happen between married people, to a couple who lives together or apart, or to a same-sex couple. Abuse is never OK.

How do I know whether I’m being abused?

You may be experiencing domestic violence if your partner:

  1. Controls what you’re doing

  2. Checks your phone, email, or social networks without your permission

  3. Forces you to have sex when you don’t want to

  4. Controls your birth control or insists that you get pregnant

  5. Decides what you wear or eat or how you spend money

  6. Prevents or discourages you from going to work or school or seeing your family or friends

  7. Humiliates you on purpose in front of others

  8. Unfairly accuses you of being unfaithful

  9. Destroys your things

  10. Threatens to hurt you, your children, other loved ones, or your pets

  11. Hurts you physically (e.g., hitting, beating, punching, pushing, kicking), including with a weapon

  12. Blames you for his or her violent outbursts

  13. Threatens to hurt herself or himself because of being upset with you

  14. Threatens to report you to the authorities for imagined crimes

  15. Says things like, “If I can’t have you, then no one can”

What are signs of domestic violence or abuse in same-sex relationships?

If you are in a same-sex relationship, many signs of domestic violence are the same as other people in an abusive relationship. Your partner may hit you, try to control you, or force you to have sex. But you may also experience additional signs of abuse, including:

  1. Threatening to “out you” to your family, friends, employer, or community

  2. Telling you that you have to be legally married to be considered a victim of domestic violence and to get help

  3. Saying women aren’t or can’t be violent

  4. Telling you the authorities won’t help a lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or other nonconforming person

  5. Forcing you to “prove” your sexuality by performing sex acts that you do not consent to

Regardless of your gender identity or sexual orientation, no one has the right to physically hurt you or threaten your safety.

What can I do if I’m being abused?

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:

If you are the victim of domestic violence, know that you are not alone. There are people who want to help you and who are trained to respond. See our page on leaving an abusive relationship for tips on what to do and where to go.

What can happen if I don’t get help?

Domestic violence often results in physical and emotional injuries. It can also lead to other health problems, reproductive health challenges, mental health conditions such as depression, and suicide. Women affected by intimate partner violence are also more likely to use drugs or alcohol to cope.

Domestic violence can even end in death. Women who live in a home with guns are five times more likely to be killed. More than half of women murdered with guns are killed by intimate partners.

Read more about the effects on your health.

How common is domestic violence against women?

Domestic or intimate partner violence is a very common type of violence against women:

  1. Domestic or intimate partner violence happens in all types of relationships, including dating couples, married couples, same-sex couples, former or ex-couples, and couples who live together but are not married.

  2. Intimate partner violence happens more often among younger couples.

  3. Almost half of American Indian and Alaskan Native women, more than four in 10 African-American women, and more than one in three white and Hispanic women have experienced sexual or physical violence or stalking by their intimate partner.

  4. Nearly 23 million women in the United States have been raped or experienced attempted rape in their lifetimes.

  5. More than 33 million women — including one in three African-American and white women and one in four Hispanic women — have experienced unwanted sexual contact, other than rape, by an intimate partner.

  6. Women who identify as lesbian experience as much or more physical and sexual violence as heterosexual women by an intimate partner. Women who identify as bisexual experience intimate partner violence more often than heterosexual women.

How are gender and sexual minority women affected by domestic violence?

Gender and sexual minority women, such as lesbian or bisexual women, may be more likely than heterosexual women to experience domestic violence. Two in five lesbian women and three in five bisexual women experience intimate partner violence at some point in their lifetimes.

Researchers think women who identify as something other than straight or cisgender (people whose biological sex matches their gender identity) may experience higher levels of domestic violence. But there is not yet enough research on all types of gender and sexual minority women to know for sure.

Learn more about other signs of domestic violence in same-sex relationships.

Did we answer your question about domestic or intimate partner violence?

For more information about domestic or intimate partner violence, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or contact the following organizations:

  1. Domestic Violence and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Relationships (link is external) (PDF, 261 KB) — Fact sheet from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

  2. Family Violence Prevention & Services Resource Centers — Information from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

  3. Help a Friend or Family Member (link is external) — Information from the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

  4. Intimate Partner Violence — Information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  5. Power and Control Wheel (link is external) (PDF, 345 KB) — Tool from the Family Violence Prevention Fund that helps people identify whether they are experiencing relationship abuse.

  6. Power and Control Wheel for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Relationships (link is external) (PDF, 845 KB) — Tool from the Texas Council on Family Violence that helps lesbians, bisexual women, and transgender people identify whether they are experiencing relationship abuse.

  7. Questions and Answers About Domestic Violence (link is external) (PDF, 368 KB) — Publication from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

  8. Spouse/Partner Abuse Information (link is external) — Information from the National Council on Child Abuse and Family Violence.

  9. Stalking Fact Sheet (link is external) (PDF, 171 KB) — Fact sheet from the Stalking Resource Center.

  10. The Effects of Domestic Violence on Children (link is external) — Information from the Domestic Violence Roundtable.

Getting a restraining order

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If you are in an abusive relationship, you can take steps to protect yourself, such as getting a restraining order. There are also laws to protect you. One option is leaving the relationship. Many people can support you in leaving safely, including police, social workers, shelter workers, and friends and family. You can also create a safety plan if you decide to leave in the future.

What happens if I call the police about abuse?

First, the police will make sure everyone is safe, which might mean arresting someone who has a weapon or is physically hurting or threatening you.

Once you are safe, the police will ask you questions about what happened. The police can also offer information about community resources for temporary housing and other support you might need. If the alleged abuser is present, police will probably take you to separate areas to talk individually about what happened.

It can be difficult to talk to strangers — police, counselors, or health care professionals. You might feel scared, ashamed, or embarrassed. It can also be difficult to tell your story many times to different people. Take your time. They are there to help. The questions they ask are necessary for the official police report, which will be used to support a court case if there is one.

If you aren’t ready to report the violence or leave your abuser, you can take steps to make yourself safer now.

What is the difference between a police report and filing charges?

When the police investigate a crime, or ask you and other witnesses questions about what happened, they must file a report. A police report is not the same thing as filing charges. This police report is important. It documents the violence, even if the abuser denies the violence, and creates an official record that can be used as evidence in court.

The police may decide to file criminal charges against the abuser after their investigation is completed. Once the police file criminal charges, a lawyer for the state (called a prosecutor) will begin a court case against the abuser.

What should I tell the police if I’ve been abused?

You can choose what to share with the officers who respond. Only you can decide what to say, because you know your situation better than anyone else.

If you want to hold the person criminally accountable:

  1. Tell the police about anything your partner did or said that would be an example of a crime, such as physical or sexual violence or threats made to you verbally or in writing.

  2. Show the police any injuries or bruises you have. It may be painful to talk about or show, but the more information you can give the police, the better it is for documenting the abuse.

  3. Remember: Even if you do not have physical bruises or other signs of abuse, that does not mean your partner has not committed a crime.

  4. Share whatever you are comfortable with in order to help the officers understand the circumstances and why you’re seeking support. If you have any emails, screenshots, or texts that show abuse, show the police. Any written or video evidence you have will also be helpful.

Even if there isn’t a criminal charge filed against your partner, you can use the police report to help you if you go to family court or get a protection order.

Learn more at the Center for Domestic Peace (link is external) about the benefits of calling the police and about what to tell the police when they arrive.

Will we go to court if I call the police?

Maybe. If you’ve been abused and call the police, the police must file a report. A lawyer for the state government, called the prosecutor, may decide to file a criminal charge in court against the person who hurt you. When this happens, the state government brings charges against the person who harmed you. At this point, you can no longer drop the charges, because it is the state government, not you, that has filed the charges. In court, the state will try to prove its case against the person who hurt you.

What is a protection order or 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. Depending on the laws in your state, restraining orders may also allow you to have sole custody of children, make an abuser move out of a shared home, and make an abuser pay your court and legal fees.1 Federal law says that you can get a restraining order for free.

You can get more than one type of restraining order at the same time. Laws about restraining orders or other orders of protection are different in each state. Learn more about the laws in your state at WomensLaw.org (link is external). Experts in local law will be able to help you the most.

Common types of restraining orders include:

  1. Emergency restraining order. The police may issue this if you are in immediate danger or cannot get to the courthouse right away to file a more permanent restraining order. It usually expires after a few days.

  2. Temporary restraining order. A judge may issue this to help keep you safe in the time before your case goes to court. Temporary restraining orders usually last for about 14 days.

  3. No-contact order. A judge may issue this if the case goes to court and the abuser is charged with a crime. It is a punishment for a crime and it means the abuser may not have any contact with you. A no-contact order can last for a short or long time, depending on the facts of your case. 

  4. Domestic violence restraining order. A judge may issue this after a court hearing. A domestic violence restraining order lasts longer than emergency or temporary restraining orders, possibly for several years.

How does a restraining order help?

A restraining, or protection, order can legally force someone who abuses you or harasses you to:

  1. Stay away from you physically and have no contact with you by phone, by email, through social media, or otherwise, even through another person

  2. Pay temporary child support, continue making mortgage payments on a home you own together or rental payments if the person’s name is on the lease, and allow you to stay in the home while the other person lives somewhere else

  3. Turn over any guns to the police

  4. Have regular drug testing and attend counseling for domestic violence or drug and alcohol use

  5. Stay away from your children and your children’s school, or visit the children only with supervision

  6. Do other things designed to protect you. Judges have flexibility and will work with you to ensure that the order, if granted, meets your needs.

If you have a restraining order and the person who hurt you does not follow it (tries to contact you or your children), call the police right away. The police can arrest the person for not following the order.

Where do I get a restraining order?

You can apply for a restraining (or protection) order at courthouses, women’s shelters, lawyers’ offices, and some police stations. You do not need a lawyer to get a restraining order. Federal law says that you can get a restraining order for free.

Still, you might want to get help from a lawyer to understand your rights. Often, a local domestic violence agency can help you find a lawyer. Some lawyers will help you for free. You can find a list in your state of organizations and lawyers that provide free and low-cost legal services at WomensLaw.org (link is external).

How do I file for a restraining order?

To file most types of restraining, or protection, orders, you will go to a family court located in the county where you live, where the person who hurt or harassed you lives, or where the abuse happened. You will fill out forms and provide specific information about when, where, and how the abuse or harassment happened.

What is the difference between a family court and a criminal court?

A family court is very different from a criminal court. A family court will view you and your partner as equals. It becomes your word against your partner’s, unless you have police reports and documents showing criminal charges against your partner. The family court must include those documents when making a judgment about your case.

If you decide to go to family court, work with an experienced attorney to prepare your case. Collect police reports, arrest records, and documents showing charges filed against your partner. If you have pictures of injuries, hospital records, or pictures of property damage, include them. Tell your attorney about any witnesses to the abuse so the witnesses can provide statements about what they saw.

How can I find a lawyer?

You can find a lawyer to help you at WomensLaw.org (link is external). You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (link is external), 800-799-SAFE (7233), or the National Sexual Assault Hotline (link is external), 800-656-HOPE (4673), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They can answer questions or help you find resources in your area. The Victim Connect Resource Center (link is external) also provides referrals to local services.

How can I protect my children?

Your partner may threaten to take your children if you leave. Here are some steps to help protect your children:

  1. Keep their identity documents. Keep important legal documents like birth certificates and Social Security cards with you or in a safe place. Make sure you have recent pictures of your children and their birth certificates. The police can help you more easily if you have these items showing you are their parent.

  2. Get contact information for family. Make a list of your partner’s family and friends, including their addresses and phone numbers. This can help the police find your children if your partner takes them without your permission.

  3. Get a restraining order. Apply for a restraining order that says your partner has to stay away from you and your children.

  4. Apply for sole custody. Apply for a custody order in family court that says your children have to live with you. You can also ask for the order to say that your partner may not take your children out of the United States.

If you have a restraining order or custody order, give a copy to your children’s school and child care providers. Ask them not to release the children to the abuser or anyone else not authorized to be with your children.

Are there laws to protect me from domestic violence?

Yes. There are laws against domestic and sexual violence, and they can help protect you. To protect you, a law must be enforced. For it to be enforced, a person must report domestic violence to the police as soon as possible after it happens.

Most domestic violence and sexual assault laws are state laws, which means they might be different in different states. So what is against the law in one state might not be in another. Regardless of the specific laws in your state, domestic or sexual violence is never your fault. It is never OK to hurt or abuse someone else.

Find out more about domestic violence and sexual assault laws in your state (link is external).

Learn more about the laws protecting women against violence.

How can I protect myself if I don’t leave?

It can be difficult to think about leaving your home, your partner, and the life you have right now. You may not be ready to leave the relationship right away, but if you are in immediate danger, get to a safe place. You can start thinking about what to do if you need to leave in a hurry, and how you can be safe.

If you can’t leave or you decide not to leave right now, consider these tips for protecting yourself:

Create a safety plan. Leaving an abusive relationship can be dangerous, but you can make a plan to make it safer. Start with your safety packing list, which includes a list of the most important documents, medicines, and items to take when you leave. Learn more (link is external) about creating a safety plan.

You may think you can stop your partner’s abusive behavior. But only your partner is in control of changing his or her behavior. You must take steps to protect yourself and your children.

Did we answer your question about domestic or intimate partner violence?

For more information about domestic or intimate partner violence, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:

  1. Family Violence Prevention & Services Resource Centers — Information from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

  2. Help a Friend or Family Member (link is external) — Information from the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

  3. Intimate Partner Violence — Information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  4. What Is a Safety Plan? (link is external) — Information from the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

  5. Power and Control Wheel (link is external) (PDF, 345 KB) — Information from the Family Violence Prevention Fund.

  6. Questions and Answers About Domestic Violence (link is external) (PDF, 368 KB) — Publication from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

  7. The Effects of Domestic Violence on Children (link is external)  — Information from the Domestic Violence Roundtable.

Leaving an abusive relationship

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No one should feel unsafe. If you are in an unsafe, violent relationship, you might be thinking of leaving. You do not have to leave today or do it all at once. But a safety plan can help you know what to do when you are ready to leave. Having a plan in place can help you get out safely later if you do decide to leave.

What are some things to consider as I decide whether to leave?

Leaving an abusive relationship can seem overwhelming. Women often leave several times before finally deciding to end the relationship. There are many complicated reasons why it is difficult to leave an abusive partner.

You may have doubts or fears or just feel overwhelmed at the thought of leaving. That’s normal. But consider the following as you make your decision:

  1. Domestic violence often starts as emotional abuse and becomes physical later. It’s important to ask for help as soon as possible.

  2. Your partner may try to make you think the violence is your fault. It’s not. You cannot make someone hurt or mistreat you. Your partner is responsible for his or her own behavior. Violence and abuse are never the victim’s fault.

  3. Abuse is not normal or OK. You may think that abuse is a sign that your partner loves you. It’s not. Your partner may love you, but abuse is not a sign of that love. You may think that romantic love is passionate and that physical abuse is a sign of passion. It’s not. A healthy relationship is one in which you feel safe and which has no physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal abuse.

  4. Abuse can happen to anyone. Some women and men believe that abuse is not something that could happen to them. Abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of whether you have a college education, which neighborhood you live in, your age, your gender, your sexual orientation, or whether you’re married, dating, or single.

  5. Your partner may be very good to you at times. Most abusers have a pattern of abuse followed by making it up to you or making you feel special and loved. It’s most likely that the abuse will happen again. Abuse usually gets worse over time, not better. Learn about how to get help even if your partner promises to stop the abuse.

  6. You cannot help or fix an abusive partner. It’s not your responsibility to convince a violent or abusive partner to get help. Your responsibility is to your own safety and the safety of any children in the household. Some abusive partners say they will get help as a way to “make it up to you” after violence. But getting help does not always mean the violence will stop.

  7. Intimate partner violence is linked to serious physical and emotional problems. The longer it continues, the more damage it can cause.

Also, if you have children, consider their safety. Consider whether you are willing to allow your partner to visit them if you decide to leave the relationship. Many abusers get even more violent after their victims leave. That’s why a safety plan, agreed on with others in your life, can help keep you safe after you leave.

Who can I talk to about leaving an abusive relationship?

Many people can help you think about your options to leave an abusive relationship safely. It might be unsafe if an abusive partner finds out you’re thinking about leaving. Try to talk only to people who will not tell the abuser about your plans:

  1. Your doctor or nurse. Most people visit the doctor at least once a year for a checkup, so try to visit the doctor or nurse without your partner. If your partner insists on going with you, try to write a note to the office staff saying that you want to see the doctor or nurse alone. Or, tell your partner that you need privacy to speak about a woman’s health issue that you’re too embarrassed to talk about. Or, tell your partner, where others can hear you, that the doctor’s policy is patients only in the exam room.

  2. A teacher, counselor, or principal at your child’s school. An adult at your child’s school can help connect you to shelters and other safe places in your community. Teachers and others at your child’s school want to help the families of the children they teach.

  3. Human resources. If you work outside the home, the human resources (HR) department at your workplace may be able to connect you to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or other resources in your community.

  4. Family or friends. Family or friends who knew you before you met an abusive partner might be able to help you. If more than one family member or friend can help you, it might be good for a few people to work together to help.

  5. A free 1-800 telephone hotline. You can talk to trained advocates at the National Domestic Violence Hotline (link is external), for free 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without giving your name or address. The counselors can help you talk through the steps of leaving an abusive relationship. You can call a hotline as many times as you need to.

How can I plan to leave and keep myself safe?

Even if you don’t leave right away, creating a safety plan (link is external) can help you know what to do if your partner abuses you again. It can help you be more independent when you leave.

Your safety plan will help you be prepared:

  1. Identify a safe friend or friends and safe places to go. Create a code word to use with friends, family, or neighbors to let them know you are in danger without the abuser finding out. If possible, agree on a secret location where they can pick you up.

  2. Keep an alternate cellphone nearby. Try not to call for help on your home phone or on a shared cellphone. Your partner might be able to trace the numbers. If you don’t have a cellphone, you can get a prepaid cellphone. Some domestic violence shelters offer free cellphones.

  3. Memorize the phone numbers of friends, family, or shelters. If your partner takes your phone, you will still be able to contact loved ones or shelters for a safe place to stay.

  4. Make a list of things to take if you have to leave quickly. Important identity documents and money are probably the top priority. See the Safety Packing List for a detailed list of items to pack. Get these items together, and keep them in a safe place where your partner will not find them. If you are in immediate danger, leave without them.

  5. If you can, hide an extra set of car keys so you can leave if your partner takes away your usual keys.

  6. Ask your doctor how to get extra medicine or glasses, hearing aids, or other medically necessary items for you or your children.

  7. Contact your local family court (or domestic violence court, if your state has one) for information about getting a restraining order. If you need legal help but don’t have much money, your local domestic violence agency may be able to help you find a lawyer who will work for free or on a sliding scale based on what you can pay.

  8. Protect your online security as you collect information and prepare. Use a computer at a public library to download information, or use a friend’s computer or cellphone. Your partner might be able to track your planning otherwise.

  9. Try to take with you any evidence of abuse or violence if you leave your partner. This might include threatening notes from your partner. It might be copies of police and medical reports. It might include pictures of your injuries or damage to your property.

  10. Keep copies of all paper and electronic documents on an external thumb drive.

Advocates at the National Domestic Violence Hotline (link is external), 800-799-SAFE (7233), can help you develop your safety plan. The National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence provides a form (link is external) (PDF, 193 KB) for developing your own safety plan. You can also find more tips on developing your safety plan (link is external). Every person deserves to be safe.

What do I need to include in my safety packing list?

When you leave an abuser, the most important thing is your life and safety as well as your children’s. If you are able to plan ahead, it will help you to have important information with you, in addition to money, clothing, medicine, and other basic items.

Even if you are not sure you want to or are ready to leave, go ahead and make copies of as many of the following documents as you can, or secure them in a safe place outside of the home:

  1. Birth certificates, Social Security cards, and passports or immigration papers for you and your children

  2. Health insurance cards for you and your children

  3. Financial records, including recent bank statements and stocks or mutual fund records

  4. Housing documents, such as rental agreements, mortgage statements, or the title or deed

  5. Your most recent credit report (you can request one for free (link is external))

  6. The title or lease paperwork for your car

  7. Statements for any retirement plans

  8. The past two years’ tax returns

  9. A written copy of phone numbers or important addresses in case you cannot get to your cellphone or address book

Many of these records are available online, so try to keep access to these accounts if you do not have paper copies.

You may also want to take photos of any valuable assets in the home (anything you think may be worth some money). Also, if you have any family heirlooms (such as jewelry), take them with you or put them in a safe place before you leave. You can get a safe deposit box at the bank to store copies of the paperwork listed, as well as small valuable items. If you have a joint checking account, consider opening your own checking account and storing money there. Any adult has the right to open their own bank account, even if they are married or dependent on another person.

What if I’m too scared to leave?

Leaving a relationship is not easy. You may still care about your partner or have hope that things will get better. It may also be difficult or frightening to leave because:

You can get help dealing with all of these issues. Talk to a friend, a loved one, or a counselor at the National Domestic Violence Hotline (link is external), 800-799-SAFE (7233). People want to help you.

Even if it seems like the only way you can be safe is to leave, you may still be feeling confused and frightened about leaving. That is normal. You don’t have to decide to leave today. But if you are in an abusive relationship, you need to get help.

How can I leave if I don’t have any money?

In abusive or controlling relationships, it is common for the abusive partner to get control of all of the money. Often, an abusive partner will not allow a woman to work outside of the home or talk to family and friends.

Even if you do not have any money, you can find the closest women’s shelter by calling the 24-hour National Domestic Violence Hotline (link is external) at 800-799-SAFE (7233) for free. You do not have to pay money to stay at a domestic violence shelter.

Many domestic violence shelters can help you pay for a ride to the shelter. If you are already in a temporary but safe place, call the shelter to ask about help with transportation.

Where can I go if I decide to leave?

Even if you don’t have a friend or family member to go to, you still have a safe option. A domestic violence shelter, also sometimes called a women’s shelter, is a safe place for a woman who has a violent partner. Its location is usually not public, making it harder for an abusive partner to find. These shelters have rooms for women and children.

Find a women’s shelter near you (link is external). If your safety and well-being depend on leaving your violent partner, help is available. Go online or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (link is external), 800-799-SAFE (7233); or the National Sexual Assault Hotline (link is external), 800-656-HOPE (4673), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

What happens after I arrive at a domestic violence or women’s shelter?

Domestic violence shelters provide basic items for women who have to leave in a hurry and arrive with nothing. They may also provide food and child care. These services are usually free.

Domestic violence shelters often provide:

Housing in a domestic violence shelter is usually short-term and limited. The shelter can help you with the next step in housing.

What happens after my time in a shelter is up?

The next step can be transitional housing. This type of housing is usually independent, separate apartments for each family. It allows a family to find safety and time to recover from domestic violence. The shelter can help you find transitional housing.

Services offered by these facilities may include:

Did we answer your question about domestic or intimate partner violence?

For more information about domestic or intimate partner violence, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:

Effects of domestic violence on children

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Many children exposed to violence in the home are also victims of physical abuse. Children who witness domestic violence or are victims of abuse themselves are at serious risk for long-term physical and mental health problems. Children who witness violence between parents may also be at greater risk of being violent in their future relationships. If you are a parent who is experiencing abuse, it can be difficult to know how to protect your child.

What are the short-term effects of domestic violence or abuse on children?

Children in homes where one parent is abused may feel fearful and anxious. They may always be on guard, wondering when the next violent event will happen. This can cause them to react in different ways, depending on their age:

What are the long-term effects of domestic violence or abuse on children?

More than 15 million children in the United States live in homes in which domestic violence has happened at least once. These children are at greater risk for repeating the cycle as adults by entering into abusive relationships or becoming abusers themselves. For example, a boy who sees his mother being abused is 10 times more likely to abuse his female partner as an adult. A girl who grows up in a home where her father abuses her mother is more than six times as likely to be sexually abused as a girl who grows up in a non-abusive home.

Children who witness or are victims of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse are at higher risk for health problems as adults. These can include mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. They may also include diabetes, obesity, heart disease, poor self-esteem, and other problems.

Can children recover from witnessing or experiencing domestic violence or abuse?

Each child responds differently to abuse and trauma. Some children are more resilient, and some are more sensitive. How successful a child is at recovering from abuse or trauma depends on several things, including having:

Although children will probably never forget what they saw or experienced during the abuse, they can learn healthy ways to deal with their emotions and memories as they mature. The sooner a child gets help, the better his or her chances for becoming a mentally and physically healthy adult.

How can I help my children recover after witnessing or experiencing domestic violence?

You can help your children by:

Your doctor can recommend a mental health professional who works with children who have been exposed to violence or abuse. Many shelters and domestic violence organizations also have support groups for kids. These groups can help children by letting them know they are not alone and helping them process their experiences in a nonjudgmental place.

Is it better to stay in an abusive relationship rather than raise my children as a single parent?

Children do best in a safe, stable, loving environment, whether that’s with one parent or two. You may think that your kids won’t be negatively affected by the abuse if they never see it happen. But children can also hear abuse, such as screaming and the sounds of hitting. They can also sense tension and fear. Even if your kids don’t see you being abused, they can be negatively affected by the violence they know is happening.

If you decide to leave an abusive relationship, you may be helping your children feel safer and making them less likely to tolerate abuse as they get older. If you decide not to leave, you can still take steps to protect your children and yourself.

How can I make myself and my children safe right now if I’m not ready to leave an abuser?

Your safety and the safety of your children are the biggest priorities. If you are not yet ready or willing to leave an abusive relationship, you can take steps to help yourself and your children now, including:

If you are thinking about leaving an abusive relationship, you may want to keep quiet about it in front of your children. Young children may not be able to keep a secret from an adult in their life. Children may say something about your plan to leave without realizing it. If it would be unsafe for an abusive partner to know ahead of time you’re planning to leave, talk only to trusted adults about your plan. It’s better for you and your children to be physically safe than for your children to know ahead of time that you will be leaving.

Did we answer your question about the effects of domestic violence on children?

For more information about the effects of domestic violence on children, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:

Sexual assault and rape

Sexual assault

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Sexual assault is any type of sexual activity or contact that you do not consent to. Sexual assault can happen through physical force or threats of force or if the attacker gave the victim drugs or alcohol as part of the assault. Sexual assault includes rape and sexual coercion. In the United States, one in three women has experienced some type of sexual violence.1 If you have been sexually assaulted, it is not your fault, regardless of the circumstances.

What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault is any type of sexual activity or contact, including rape, that happens without your consent. Sexual assault can include non-contact activities, such as someone “flashing” you (exposing themselves to you) or forcing you to look at sexual images.

Sexual assault is also called sexual violence or abuse. Legal definitions of sexual assault and other crimes of sexual violence can vary slightly from state to state. If you’ve been assaulted, it is never your fault.

What does sexual assault include?

Sexual assault can include:

Sexual assault can also be verbal, visual, or non-contact. It is anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual activities or attention. Other examples can include:

What does “consent” mean?

Consent is a clear “yes” to sexual activity. Not saying “no” does not mean you have given consent. Sexual contact without consent is sexual assault or rape.

Your consent means:

Sometimes you cannot give legal consent to sexual activity or contact — for example, if you are:

Remember:

What is NOT considered consent in sexual activity?

Who commits sexual assault?

Sexual assault is most often committed by someone the victim knows. This may be a friend, an acquaintance, an ex, a relative, a date, or a partner. Less often, a stranger commits sexual assault.

Women and men commit sexual assault, but more than 90% of people who commit sexual violence against women are men.

What is the average age a woman is sexually assaulted?

Four of every five women who are raped are raped before age 25. About 40% of women who have been raped, or two in every five, were assaulted before age 18.

Can I be sexually assaulted by my partner or spouse?

Yes. Sexual assault is any sexual activity you do not consent to — no matter whom it is with.

Sexual assault by an intimate partner (someone you have a sexual or romantic relationship with) is common. Nearly half of female rape victims were raped by a current or former partner.

What do I do if I’ve been sexually assaulted?

If you are in danger or need medical care, call 911. If you can, get away from the person who assaulted you and get to a safe place as fast as you can. You can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline (link is external) at 800-656-HOPE (4673) to connect with a sexual assault service provider in your area who can direct you to local resources.

What do I do if I’ve been raped?

How can I get help after a sexual assault?

After a sexual assault, you may feel fear, shame, guilt, or shock. All of these feelings are normal, and each survivor can feel a different range of emotions at different times in the recovery process. Sexual assault is never your fault. It may be frightening to think about talking about the assault, but it is important to get help. You can call these organizations any time, day or night. The calls are free and confidential.

Each state and territory has organizations and hotlines to help people who have been sexually assaulted. These numbers can show up on your phone bill or history, so try to use a public phone or a friend’s cellphone.

How can I lower my risk of sexual assault for myself and others in social situations?

If you are assaulted, or if you find yourself in a situation that feels unsafe, it is not your fault. Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault, no matter what she was wearing, drinking, or doing at the time of the assault. You can’t prevent sexual assault, but you can take steps to be safer around others:

Is there a link between alcohol and drugs and sexual assault?

Yes. Research shows that up to three out of four attackers had been drinking alcohol when they sexually assaulted someone.

Research also shows that about half of sexual assault victims had been drinking. However, this does not mean that drinking causes sexual assault or that the violence is the victim’s fault. Many attackers use alcohol as a way to make you drunk and unable to consent, understand what is happening, or remember the assault. They may take advantage of a victim who has already been drinking or encourage her to drink more than she might normally drink. If someone sexually assaulted you while you were drunk or passed out, they have committed a crime, no matter how much you had to drink or how old you are.

Some attackers also use drugs called date rape drugs. These drugs are put into drinks — even nonalcoholic drinks — or food without the victim’s knowledge. The drugs can cause memory loss, so victims may not know what happened. Some attackers also use other drugs, such as ecstasy, marijuana, or prescription pills. They may give drugs to someone who takes them willingly or may drug someone without her knowledge.

Someone who is drunk, drugged, or high on drugs cannot give consent. Without consent, any sexual activity is sexual assault.

Does sexual assault have long-term health effects?

Yes, sexual assault can have long-term health effects. People who have experienced sexual violence or stalking by any person or physical violence by an intimate partner are more likely to report:

Other health effects can include:

Getting support after a sexual assault can help. You are not alone. Reach out to friends or family, talk to a counselor or advocate, or join a support group in person or online.

How can I help someone who was sexually assaulted?

You can help a friend or family member who was sexually assaulted by listening and offering comfort. Remind this person you believe them. Reinforce the message that she or he is not at fault. A victim never causes sexual assault or “asks for it.” You can also explain that it is natural to experience confusion, have problems remembering what happened, or feel angry, numb, or ashamed.

Ask the person whether she would like you to go with her to the hospital or to counseling. If she decides to report the crime to the police, ask whether she would like you to go with her. Let her know that she can get help. Let her know about the hotlines to call to talk to someone. Get more tips on helping someone who has been sexually assaulted or abused.

Did we answer your question about sexual assault?

For more information about sexual assault, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:

Rape

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Rape is a type of sexual assault that includes sexual penetration, no matter how slight, without consent. Although other types of sexual assault may be done by men or women, rape is almost always done by men. Most women who are raped are raped by someone they know, such as a former or current intimate partner, an acquaintance, or a family member.1 Rape is never the victim’s fault.

What is rape?

The U.S. Department of Justice defines rape as “the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” The federal government uses this legal definition to collect information from local police about rape. The legal definition of rape may be slightly different in your community.

Giving your consent means giving a clear “yes” to any type of sexual activity, though the laws about consent vary from state to state. It is also rape when penetration takes place when you are drunk, high, drugged, passed out, or asleep and cannot give consent. People under the age of 18 (in most states) cannot give consent to sexual activity with an adult.

How can I tell if I have been raped?

You may not be sure if you were raped. The definition of rape is different in different states. But you may have been raped if you were penetrated — even partially — by a body part or object without your permission. In some states, penetration by other body parts, such as fingers or objects, is also rape. If you were drinking, were drugged, or were unconscious, you may not know if you were raped.

Find out more and get help by calling the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN (link is external)) at 800-656-HOPE (4673).

What should I do if I have been raped?

Why do I need medical care after a rape?

After a rape, it can be difficult to think about being touched in personal areas by doctors or nurses. But it’s important that you get examined by health professionals who can look for internal injuries and get you medicines to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy.

Go to a hospital emergency room or a special clinic where staff are specially trained to treat rape and sexual assault victims. To find a special clinic in your community, call the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN (link is external)) at 800-656-HOPE (4673). The police can also tell you where to find a clinic in your area.

If you think you were drugged, ask the hospital or clinic to take a urine sample. This will make it possible to test for date rape drugs like Rohypnol or GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyric acid). But these drugs pass through the body quickly and may not be detectable by the time you are tested.

What happens at the hospital?

Even if you were not physically injured, you may need a full and complete medical exam. This type of medical exam is called a sexual assault forensic exam. It should be very thorough and might take several hours.

If you give permission for the doctors and nurses to do a sexual assault exam, that does not mean you are required to report the rape to the police. Giving your permission for the exam only means the doctors and nurses have your permission to collect DNA and other evidence from your body.

You might have heard of something called a rape kit. This is a container with several things in it that help a doctor, nurse, or examiner collect evidence of rape. These kits usually include a checklist. This helps to make sure all procedures are followed correctly. They may also include forms for collecting the facts and tubes and envelopes for physical evidence and DNA.

Collecting this evidence is important. If the rapist is caught and prosecuted, the evidence will be used in court. Even if the attacker is not identified or arrested, his DNA can be added to a national database. This can make it possible to connect the attacker to a future crime if he does it again.

The hospital or clinic will usually set up a follow-up appointment. This will help to make sure any injury continues to be treated and that you are getting any other care, such as counseling, that you might need.

Can I get medicine to prevent sexually transmitted infections and HIV after a rape?

Yes. The hospital or clinic can give you medicines that can help keep you from getting many sexually transmitted infections. This is called a prophylactic (proh-fuh-LAK-tik) treatment. It helps to keep you from getting an infection in case you have been exposed. Medicines should be given as soon as possible.

The hospital or clinic can also give you medicine, called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), to help keep you from getting HIV. PEP should be given within 72 hours of the rape.

Can I get medicine to prevent pregnancy after a rape?

Most hospitals or clinics can give you emergency contraception pills to keep you from getting pregnant, or you can buy them over the counter at the drugstore. These pills are sometimes called morning-after pills. Emergency contraception is not the same thing as the abortion pill. Emergency contraception has the same hormones found in regular birth control pills. Emergency contraception prevents you from ovulating (releasing an egg from the ovary) or prevents sperm from fertilizing an egg. Emergency contraception works best when taken as soon as possible. Learn more about emergency contraception.

Get help (link is external) if you are raped and become pregnant.

What if I can’t afford to pay?

Under the Violence Against Women Act (PDF, 410 KB), your medical exam after sexual assault should be free. Every state also has a crime victim compensation program. The National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards (link is external) provides links to every state’s program. These programs can help you with medical expenses, counseling, and lost pay from missing work.

You can get more information and counseling from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN (link is external)) at 800-656-HOPE (4673).

What happens if I decide to report a rape?

If you decide to report a rape to the police, they may begin an investigation to collect evidence of the crime. The police will file an official report. Sometimes the police arrest the attacker if they believe the attacker is an immediate danger to you or anyone else in the community. If the evidence is strong enough, the lawyer for the state government, the prosecutor, will charge the attacker with a crime.

You will have to answer questions from the police and lawyers about the rape. You may be asked to testify in court if the attacker is charged with a crime.

Consider asking a friend, relative, or advocate to come with you to the police station. Having someone else present with you when you report the rape may help the situation feel less scary or overwhelming.

How common are false rape charges?

Many women are afraid to report a rape or sexual assault because they fear no one will believe them. And false rape charges are often talked about in the media. But researchers think that less than 10% of reported rapes are false.

Just as it is impossible to know the exact number of rapes or sexual assaults, it is impossible to know the exact number of false accusations. Sexual assault is a serious crime, and charges must be taken seriously by everyone involved.

Did we answer your question about rape?

For more information about rape, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:

Sexual Assault on College Campuses

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Sexual assault on college campuses is a common problem that often goes unreported. It includes any unwanted sexual activity, from unwanted touching to rape. Alcohol and drugs often play a role in sexual assault on campuses. If you have been sexually assaulted, it is not your fault. You are not alone, and you can get help.

How common is sexual assault on college campuses?

Sexual assault is common among female students of all ages, races, and ethnicities. One in five women in college experiences sexual assault.

Studies show that students are at the highest risk of sexual assault in the first few months of their first and second semesters in college.

Women who identify as lesbian, bisexual, or gay are more likely to experience sexual assault on college campuses than heterosexual women.

Why is sexual assault on college campuses so common?

Sexual assault happens everywhere and to women and men of all ages. But it is common on college campuses, and, among adults, sexual assault happens most often to traditionally college-age women (18–24). Colleges that get federal funding are required to publicly report sexual assault.

How can I protect myself from sexual assault on a college campus?

You cannot prevent sexual assault because violent or abusive behavior is always the responsibility of the person who is violent or abusive. However, you can take steps to be safer around others and help keep others safe from potential perpetrators:

Find other tips for safety on campus at the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (link is external).

What should I do if I am sexually assaulted while in college?

If you are sexually assaulted, it is not your fault, regardless of the circumstances. If you are in immediate danger, call 911. If you are in a safe place, you can call 911 to report the sexual assault to the police as soon as possible.

If the sexual assault happened on campus or the person who harmed you was a student, you can also report it to school authorities for additional support. The school is required (link is external) to help you continue your education. There are options to help you feel safe on campus, such as requesting to change class schedules, changing dorms, or obtaining a no-contact order. Schools that receive federal funding may provide other forms of support, such as counseling or tutoring, if you need it because of a sexual assault on campus.

What are some effects of sexual assault on campus?

Women who are sexually assaulted may face health problems that include depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. But they may also have trouble reporting the assault or getting help they are entitled to from the school. Women may also see the person who harmed them regularly in classes, dorms, or other places on campus, which can make it harder to recover from the assault.

One study found that among rape survivors who stayed on campus, nearly one in three had academic problems and more than one in five considered leaving school.

If you’ve been sexually assaulted, know that you are not alone. Learn what you can do if you’ve been sexually assaulted. This includes going to school authorities and getting help. Your school is required to help you if you’ve been assaulted on campus.

How can I protect myself when studying abroad?

The risk of rape may be up to five times higher during a semester studying abroad than on a college campus in the United States.

You can protect yourself by following the same tips that can help keep you safe at your home campus. These include being aware of your surroundings, always going out and staying with a group, either not drinking or limiting your drinking to a level at which you still feel in control, and watching your drink at all times.

Before you go, check out information about the country in which you will be living on the U.S. Department of State website Students Abroad. You can enroll in a program called the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to get safety information and connect with the U.S. embassy in the country where you will be studying.

Sexual Assault Support and Help for Americans Abroad (link is external) offers pre-travel information (link is external), tips for staying safe (link is external), and an international crisis line (link is external).

Did we answer your question about sexual assault on campus?

For more information about sexual assault on campus, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out these resources from the following organizations:

Other types of violence and abuse against women

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Women experience violence in many ways, from physical abuse to sexual assault and from financial abuse to sexual harassment or trafficking. Whatever form it takes, violence against women can have serious long-term physical and emotional effects.

Dating violence and abuse

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Dating violence is when someone you are seeing romantically harms you in some way, whether it is physically, sexually, emotionally, or all three. It can happen on a first date, or once you’ve fallen deeply in love. Dating violence is never your fault. Learn the signs of dating violence or abuse and how to get help.

What is dating violence?

Dating violence is physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal abuse from a romantic or sexual partner. It happens to women of all races and ethnicities, incomes, and education levels. It also happens across all age groups and in heterosexual and same-sex relationships. Some people call dating violence domestic abuse, especially when you live with your partner.

Dating violence includes:

It can also include forcing you to get pregnant against your will, trying to influence what happens during your pregnancy, or interfering with your birth control.

What are signs of dating abuse?

Some signs of dating abuse include:1

None of the behavior described above is OK. Even if your partner does only a few of these things, it’s still abuse. It is never OK for someone to hit you or be cruel to you in any way.

What is digital abuse?

Digital abuse is a type of abuse that uses technology, especially texting or social media. Digital abuse is more common among younger adults, but it can happen to anyone who uses technology, such as smartphones or computers.

Digital abuse can include:

In a healthy relationship, both partners respect relationship boundaries. You do not have to send any photos that make you uncomfortable. Once you send a revealing photo, you have no control over who sees it. The other person can forward it or show it to others.

How does dating violence or abuse start?

Dating violence or abuse often starts with emotional and verbal abuse. The person may start calling you names, constantly checking on you, or demanding your time. This is your partner’s attempt to gain power and control over you.

These behaviors can lead to more serious kinds of abuse, such as hitting or stalking, or preventing you from using birth control or protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Dating violence can happen even on the first date. If a date pays for the date, that does not mean you owe them sex. Any sexual activity that is without your consent is rape or sexual assault.

How common is dating violence?

Dating violence is very common in the United States. It can happen at any age, but young women are most likely to experience dating violence. More than four in 10 college women have experienced violence or abuse in a dating relationship.

What can happen if I don’t end an abusive dating or romantic relationship?

Staying in an abusive relationship can have long-lasting effects on your mental and physical health, including chronic pain and depression or anxiety. Read more about the effects on your health.

Abusive partners may also pressure you into having unprotected sex or prevent you from using birth control. Or you may think that getting pregnant will stop the abuse. Abuse can actually get worse during pregnancy. It’s a good idea to talk with your doctor about types of birth control you can use. If you are concerned about your partner knowing or becoming aware of your birth control use, talk to your doctor. If a male partner refuses to wear a condom, get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Did we answer your question about dating violence or abuse?

For more information about dating violence or abuse, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:

Elder abuse

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Elder abuse happens when a trusted caregiver or adult knowingly harms an older person (someone 60 and older). It includes many types of abuse, such as physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, and financial. Elder abuse can also mean knowingly neglecting an older person to the point that they are harmed, such as by withholding food or medical care. Elder abuse affects more women than men. You can help prevent or stop elder abuse of yourself or someone you love by knowing the signs to watch for.

What is elder abuse?

Elder abuse can happen in the home, in a nursing home or assisted living facility, or in public. It can include any type of abuse, such as physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, and financial, against an older person. Elder abuse is more likely to happen when an older person is dependent on other people for daily activities of living, such as eating, bathing, using the toilet, dressing, or managing money.

Elder abuse also includes neglect and taking advantage of an older person.

What are the health effects of elder abuse in older women?

Elder abuse can be very harmful to a woman’s health, especially if it continues after a single event. Researchers have found that any type of elder abuse can shorten a person’s life, regardless of any other health problems they might have. Studies show that if an older person also has dementia (serious problems with thinking and remembering), the risk of early death after abuse is even higher.

How common is elder abuse?

Experts aren’t sure how common elder abuse is, because many victims of elder abuse may not report it or may not be aware of it. Studies suggest that elder abuse may affect one in 10 older adults. More women than men experience elder abuse, in part because women live longer.

Emotional and verbal abuse and financial abuse are the most common types of elder abuse.

Who commits elder abuse?

Someone who abuses an older adult is more likely to have mental or physical health problems, financial problems, a history of substance abuse, or to be experiencing major stress.5

What are the signs of elder abuse?

Elder abuse comes in many forms. Below are the types of elder abuse and signs to watch for.

Physical abuse

Hitting, slapping, beating, pushing, shoving, kicking, pinching, and burning

Signs:

Emotional and verbal abuse

Verbal assaults, threats, intimidation, harassment, and isolating the person from regular activities, family, and friends

Signs:

Sexual assault and abuse

Any sexual contact that is not agreed to, such as unwanted touching

Signs:

Neglect

Knowingly not taking proper care of an older person, including physical care (food, clothing, shelter, medicine, personal hygiene) and financial care (not paying for living arrangements, care, and other bills)

Signs:

How can I help prevent elder abuse?

If you are an elderly or older person:

If you or someone you know has been the victim of elder abuse, seek help from family, friends, or community organizations. Talk to a doctor or other health care professional.

Many states have 24-hour toll-free numbers for confidential reports of abuse. The National Center on Elder Abuse can help you find services in your community.

How can family members and friends help prevent elder abuse?

Elder abuse may be more likely to happen if the older person has dementia or any other type of serious problem with thinking or remembering. Family members and friends of an older adult can help to prevent abuse by:

Many states have 24-hour toll-free numbers for confidential reports of abuse. The National Center on Elder Abuse can help you find services in your community.

What should I do if I suspect elder abuse?

Call 911 if the older person is in immediate danger.

If the older person can speak, ask about any signs of abuse you see such as bruises, unusual financial activity, or fear of caregivers. If possible, document any signs of abuse with photos, videos, or written statements. Contact the local police.

You can also report elder abuse to the local adult protective services agency, similar to child protective services. Each state has an adult protective services agency. Use this online map to find help in your area. (link is external) If the older person is in a facility like a nursing home, you can report abuse to an ombudsman, whose job is to resolve disputes.

Did we answer your question about elder abuse?

For more information about elder abuse, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:

Emotional and verbal abuse

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You may not think you are being abused if you’re not being hurt physically. But emotional and verbal abuse can have short-term and long-lasting effects that are just as serious as the effects of physical abuse. Emotional and verbal abuse includes insults and attempts to scare, isolate, or control you. It is also often a sign that physical abuse may follow. Emotional and verbal abuse may also continue if physical abuse starts. If you have been abused, it is never your fault.

How can I tell if I’m being emotionally or verbally abused?

You may be experiencing emotional or verbal abuse if someone:

How does emotional and verbal abuse start?

Emotional and verbal abuse may begin suddenly. Some abusers may start out behaving normally and then begin abuse after a relationship is established. Some abusers may purposefully give a lot of love and attention, including compliments and requests to see you often, in the beginning of a relationship. Often, the abuser tries to make the other person feel strongly bonded to them, as though it is the two of them “against the world.”

Over time, abusers begin to insult or threaten their victims and begin controlling different parts of their lives. When this change in behavior happens, it can leave victims feeling shocked and confused. You may feel embarrassed or foolish for getting into the relationship. If someone else abuses you, it’s never your fault.

What are the effects of emotional or verbal abuse?

Staying in an emotionally or verbally abusive relationship can have long-lasting effects on your physical and mental health, including leading to chronic pain, depression, or anxiety. Read more about the effects on your health.

You may also:

Your partner’s behavior may leave you feeling as though you need to do anything possible to restore peace and end the abuse. This can feel stressful and overwhelming.

Learn ways to cope and where to get help.

What is gaslighting?

“Gaslighting” is the word used when an abuser makes you feel like you are losing your mind or memory.

An abuser might:

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that abusers use to maintain power and control. When a victim is questioning her memories or her mind, she may be more likely to feel dependent on the abuser and stay in the relationship.

Gaslighting happens over time, and you may not notice it at first. Learn how to get help if you feel gaslighting is happening in your relationship.

How can I get help for emotional or verbal abuse?

If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

If you aren’t in immediate danger, reach out to a trusted friend or family member, therapist, or volunteer with an abuse shelter or domestic violence hotline (link is external). Learn more about how to get help if you are in an emotionally or verbally abusive relationship.

Did we answer your question about emotional and verbal abuse?

For more information about emotional and verbal abuse, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:

Financial abuse

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Financial abuse happens when an abuser takes control of finances to prevent the other person from leaving and to maintain power in a relationship. An abuser may take control of all the money, withhold it, and conceal financial information from the victim. Financial abuse happens often in physically abusive relationships. Financial abuse can also happen in elder abuse when a relative, friend, or caregiver steals money from an older person.

What is financial abuse?

Financial abuse happens when an abuser has control over finances in a relationship and withholds money from the victim. Often, a woman does not leave an abusive relationship because she fears she will not be able to provide for herself or her children. Financial abuse can make the victim feel as if she can’t leave. This fear is often the main reason women don’t leave an abusive relationship.1

Financial abuse of older adults is also common. Read more about elder abuse.

How can I tell if I am being financially abused?

Often, financial abuse is subtle and gradual, so it may be hard to recognize. Your partner may act as though taking over the finances is a way to make life easier for you, as if he or she is doing you a favor. Your partner might explain that giving you a set amount of money will help keep your family on track financially. But slowly, the “allowance” becomes smaller and smaller, and before you know it, you are asking for money and being refused.

Some of the common ways that financial abuse happens includes:

  1. Urging you to or demanding that you quit your job or preventing you from working

  2. Stalking or harassing you at work

  3. Refusing to give you access to bank accounts and hiding or keeping assets from you

  4. Giving you a set amount of money to spend and no more

  5. Constantly questioning purchases you make and demanding to see receipts

  6. Making financial decisions without consulting you

  7. Stealing your identity or filing fraudulent tax returns with your name attached to them

  8. Selling property that was yours

  9. Filing false insurance claims with your name on them

  10. Not paying child support so you can’t afford rent, food, and other needed items

  11. Forcing you to open lines of credit

What steps can I take to protect myself from financial abuse?

If the abuser has access to your credit cards, bank accounts, or Social Security number, they may try to open accounts in your name or deliberately try to ruin your credit in order to make it harder for you to leave the relationship. But you can take steps to protect yourself and your money, whether you stay in the relationship or leave.

What do I need to know about money when I’m ready to leave?

When you are getting ready to leave an abusive relationship, money issues may seem overwhelming. But you can take steps to care for yourself and your children. Gather important documents for you and your children, such as birth certificates and Social Security cards. You might also try to get copies of health insurance cards and bank statements. These will increase your independence, and they will help with your case if you have divorce or child custody hearings.

In case the abuser has opened credit cards in your name or other types of illegal financial activity, you should get a copy of your credit report.

You may not have time to gather much information before you go. That’s OK. Collect what you can. The highest priority is getting out of the abusive relationship as safely as possible.

Learn more and see a safety packing list to help you prepare to leave an abusive relationship.

How can I financially recover from financial abuse?

Make a plan to leave the abuser . Once you are away from that person, you can take steps to repair your credit and become financially independent.

Did we answer your question about financial abuse?

For more information about financial abuse, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:

Harassment

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Harassment is any unwelcome behavior or comments made by one person to another. Sexual harassment is a term usually used to describe unwanted sexual contact or behavior that happens more than once at work, home, or in school. It includes any unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors that affect a person’s job, schoolwork, or housing. Street harassment is behavior or comments that can be sexual but are not always and may target your sex, gender, age, religion, nationality, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment happens when someone in your workplace, home, or school makes unwelcome sexual advances to you or requests sexual favors. It also includes verbal or physical behaviors that may affect your job, home, or education. These acts are sexual harassment when they are without your consent, or are unwanted, and interfere with your work or school performance or create a hostile or offensive environment.

Sexual harassment violates most work, housing, or school policies and may be illegal. Sometimes sexual harassment is also sexual coercion. Coercion is when you are forced in a nonphysical way into sexual activity. Sexual harassers can be anyone — men or women — and can be managers, co-workers, landlords, teachers, or other students. Sexual harassment does not mean you are in a sexual relationship with the person doing it.

How common is sexual harassment?

The exact number of people who are sexually harassed at work, home, or school is not known. This is because many people do not report sexual harassment.

Surveys show that more than half of women have experienced sexual harassment at work. However, only one in four who experienced harassment reported the behavior to a supervisor or human resources representative. Reasons for not reporting the behavior included fear that their supervisor wouldn’t believe them or wouldn’t help them. It also included fear of losing their job, especially if their supervisor was the person harassing them.

Studies of sexual harassment in housing are not common, but one study shows that sexual coercion by someone in authority like a landlord is the most common type of sexual harassment experienced by women in rental housing. Recent studies also show that sex and gender minority women may have a harder time finding housing compared to other women.

What are some ways that women can be sexually harassed?

There are many different types of sexual harassment that happen at work, home, or school:

Verbal or written sexual harassment

Physical sexual harassment

Visual sexual harassment

Sometimes you may experience other types of harassment that may be difficult to document or prove but that can still be threatening. These can include someone staring at your body in a sexual way or making offensive sexual gestures or facial expressions.

What can I do to stop sexual harassment?

As with all other types of abuse, if you are being sexually harassed, it is not your fault. You can take steps to alert others to the harassment and protect yourself from the person harassing you. Many types of sexual harassment are against the law. If you are being sexually harassed, try one or all of these actions:

What is street harassment?

Street harassment is unwanted comments, gestures, and actions forced on someone in a public place without that person’s consent. It may or may not also be sexual harassment. The harassment usually comes from strangers and is often directed at someone because of sex, gender, religion, nationality, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

In a national survey, more than half of women reported experiencing street harassment. Women of color, lesbians, and bisexual women experienced street harassment more often than other women.

You may have experienced street harassment if anyone has ever:

How can I respond to street harassment?

You may have only a few seconds to decide on the best way to react to someone harassing you or someone else. Because street harassment often happens between strangers in a public place, you may not have the same legal protection that you have for sexual harassment that takes place at work or school or in rental housing. But no one has the right to physically touch or hurt you. Physically hurting someone or touching someone else without their permission or consent is always illegal.

It’s probably safest to leave the situation as quickly as possible. If you cannot physically leave the situation right away, you have some other options:

If you see someone else being harassed, and feel safe doing so, try to help. You can support the person being harassed without talking to the person doing the harassing. Ask the person being harassed if they’re OK, or if you can help them move away from the situation. Offer to record the harassment with a smartphone.

Did we answer your question about harassment?

For more information about harassment, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:

Human trafficking

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Human trafficking is a form of slavery.1 It happens when a person is forced or tricked into working in dangerous and illegal conditions or having sexual contact with others against their will. A person who is trafficked may be drugged, locked up, beaten, starved, or made to work for many hours a day. Girls and women are the most common victims of sex trafficking, a type of human trafficking.

How are girls and women trafficked in the United States?

Traffickers control victims by:

Types of work a trafficked person may be forced to do include prostitution or sex work, farm work, cleaning, child care, sweatshop work, and other types of labor.

Sometimes a woman may end up trafficked after being forced to marry someone against her will. In a forced marriage, a woman’s husband and his family have control over her. Not all people who are trafficked are taken across state lines or national borders.

How common is human trafficking in the United States?

Human trafficking happens in every U.S. state. In 2016, 7,500 people were trafficked in the United States,3 and up to 800,000 are trafficked worldwide each year. Half of these victims are under 18, and most are girls and women.

Who is at risk for being trafficked?

Human trafficking victims can be from urban, suburban, or rural areas and can have varying levels of education. In the United States, most human trafficking victims come from within the country, or from Mexico and the Philippines.5

While human trafficking can happen to anyone, some people in the United States are at greater risk. These include:

What are the signs of human trafficking?

Recognizing the signs of human trafficking can be difficult. If a woman or girl shows several of these signs, she may be trafficked:

What is sex trafficking?

Sex trafficking is a type of human trafficking. Sex trafficking is when a child or adult is forced to have sexual contact or engage in sexual activity in exchange for money or favors. In sex trafficking, someone forces or coerces a child or adult to participate in sexual activity in order to get money or other things of value from a person who pays for the sex acts.

Almost all victims of sex trafficking are women or girls.

What are the effects of sex trafficking?

The physical and mental health effects of sexual trafficking are serious. Studies show that women who have been trafficked for sex have higher levels of fear, are more isolated, and have greater trauma and mental health needs than other victims of crime. Women and girls who have been trafficked may also misuse alcohol or drugs as a way to cope with their situation.

What is the link between sex trafficking and HIV?

Sex trafficking victims are at high risk for getting HIV, among many other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Sex trafficking victims may be forced into prostitution and may be sexually assaulted, including being forced to have unprotected sex with multiple partners, many of whom may also have had unprotected sex with many partners. This increases their risk of getting HIV.

Often, trafficking victims endure the riskiest types of sexual assault, such as violent vaginal and anal rape without a condom, which puts them at higher risk of getting HIV.

How can I help victims of human trafficking?

If you think you have come in contact with a victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s Hotline at 888-373-7888. You can also text HELP to BeFree (233733). Hotline staff can help you figure out whether you have seen a victim of human trafficking and can suggest local resources.

Anyone who is brought into the United States for forced labor may be able to get a special visa and other help rebuilding their lives. Learn more about help for trafficked immigrants.

Did we answer your question about human trafficking?

For more information about human trafficking, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:

Physical abuse

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Physical abuse is using physical force that injures you or puts you in danger. Physical abuse can happen in dating or married relationships, but it can also happen outside a relationship. No one — not a spouse, romantic partner, or family member — has the right to physically abuse you.

What is physical abuse?

Physical abuse is any physical force that injures you or puts your health in danger. Physical abuse can include shaking, burning, choking, hair-pulling, hitting, slapping, kicking, and any type of harm with a weapon like a knife or a gun. It can also include threats to hurt you, your children, your pets, or family members. Physical abuse can also include restraining you against your will, by tying you up or locking you in a space. Physical abuse in an intimate partner (romantic or sexual) relationship is also called domestic violence.

Physical abuse is:

If you think you are in an abusive relationship, learn more about getting help. Talk to your doctor or nurse. If you’re in immediate danger or are physically hurt, call 911.

How does physical abuse affect a woman’s health in the long term?

Physical abuse can have lasting effects on your physical and mental health. Physical abuse can cause many chronic (long-lasting) health problems, including heart problems, high blood pressure, and digestive problems.1 Women who are abused are also more likely to develop depression, anxiety, or eating disorders. Women who are abused may also misuse alcohol or drugs as a way to cope.

Learn more about the health effects of physical abuse.

How do I leave a physically abusive relationship?

If you are thinking about leaving an abusive relationship, even if you don’t leave right away, creating a safety plan (link is external) can help you know what to do if your partner abuses you again. It can help you be more independent when you leave.

Your safety plan will help you be prepared:

Did we answer your question about physical abuse?

For more information about physical abuse, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:

Sexual coercion

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Sexual coercion is unwanted sexual activity that happens when you are pressured, tricked, threatened, or forced in a nonphysical way. Coercion can make you think you owe sex to someone. It might be from someone who has power over you, like a teacher, landlord, or a boss. No person is ever required to have sex with someone else.

What is sexual coercion?

Sexual coercion is unwanted sexual activity that happens after being pressured in nonphysical ways that include:1

In a healthy relationship, you never have to have sexual contact when you don’t want to. Sexual contact without your consent is assault. Sexual coercion means feeling forced to have sexual contact with someone.

Who commits sexual coercion?

Anyone, including friends, co-workers, bosses, landlords, dates, partners, family members, and strangers, can use coercion. Sexual coercion is most likely to happen with someone you already have some type of relationship with. Sexual activity should always happen with your consent. If you are being pressured or coerced into sexual activity, that may be a type of sexual assault and it may be against the law.

What are some examples of sexual coercion?

Sexual coercion can be any type of nonphysical pressure used to make you participate in sexual activity that you do not agree to. See the chart below for ways someone might use sexual coercion:

Examples of sexual coercion

Ways someone might use sexual coercion

What he or she may say

Wearing you down by asking for sex again and again or making you feel bad, guilty, or obligated

  • “If you really loved me, you’d do it.”

  • “Come on; it’s my birthday.”

  • “You don’t know what you do to me.”

Making you feel like it’s too late to say no

  • “But you’ve already gotten me all worked up.”

  • “You can’t just make someone stop.”

Telling you that not having sex will hurt your relationship

  • “Everything’s perfect. Why do you have to ruin it?”

  • “I’ll break up with you if you don’t have sex with me.”

Lying or threatening to spread rumors about you

  • “Everyone thinks we already have, so you might as well.”

  • “I’ll just tell everyone you did it anyway.”

Making promises to reward you for sex

  • “I’ll make it worth your while.”

  • “You know I have a lot of connections.”

Threatening your children or other family members

  • “I’ll do this to your child if you don’t do it with me.”

Threatening your job, home, or school career

  • “I really respect your work here. I’d hate for something to change that.”

  • “I haven’t decided yet who’s getting bonuses this year.”

  • “Don’t worry about the rent. There are other things you can do.”

  • “You work so hard; it’d be a shame for you not to get an A.”

Threatening to reveal your sexual orientation publicly or to family or friends

  • “If you don’t do this, I will tell everyone you’re gay.”

How can I respond in the moment to sexual coercion?

Sexual coercion is not your fault. If you are feeling pressured to do something you don’t want to do, speak up or leave the situation. It is better to risk a relationship ending or hurting someone’s feelings than to do something you aren’t willing to do.

If the person trying to coerce you is in a position of power over you (such as a boss, landlord, or teacher), it’s best to leave the situation as quickly and safely as possible. It might be difficult, but if you can report the person to someone in authority, you are taking steps to stop it from happening again. Some possible verbal responses include:

Be clear and direct with the person trying to coerce you. Tell the person how you feel and what you do not want to do. If the person is not listening to you, leave the situation. If you or your family is in physical danger, try to get away from the person as quickly as possible. Call 911 if you are in immediate danger.

How can I get help after being sexually coerced?

Sexual coercion can be a type of sexual violence. If you are in immediate danger, call 911. If you are in a safe place, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline (link is external) at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or chat online with a trained hotline worker on the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline (link is external) at any time to get help.

Some sexual coercion is against the law or violates school, rental, or workplace policies. Sexual coercion from someone at school, work, or a rental company or loan office is usually called sexual harassment. If you are younger than 18, tell a trusted adult about what happened. If you are an adult, consider talking to someone about getting help and reporting the person to the local authorities. You could talk to a counselor, the human resources department, or the local police.

You can also file a sexual harassment complaint with a federal agency. For workplace sexual harassment complaints, contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). For school sexual harassment complaints, contact the U.S. Department of Education. For housing sexual harassment complaints, contact the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Department of Justice at 1-844-380-6178 or fairhousing@usdoj.gov.

Did we answer your question about sexual coercion?

For more information about sexual coercion, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:

Stalking

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Stalking is repeated contact that makes you feel afraid or harassed. Someone may stalk you by following you or calling you often. Stalkers may also use technology to stalk you by sending unwanted emails or social media messages. About one in six women has experienced stalking in her lifetime. Women are twice as likely to be stalked as men are. Stalking is a crime.

What is stalking?

Stalking is any repeated and unwanted contact with you that makes you feel unsafe. You can be stalked by a stranger, but most stalkers are people you know — even an intimate partner. Stalking may get worse or become violent over time. Stalking may also be a sign of an abusive relationship.

Someone who is stalking you may threaten your safety by clearly saying they want to harm you. Some stalkers harass you with less threatening but still unwanted contact. The use of technology to stalk, sometimes called “cyberstalking,” involves using the Internet, email, or other electronic communications to stalk someone. Stalking is against the law.

Stalking and cyberstalking can lead to sleeping problems or problems at work or school.

What are some examples of stalking?

Examples of stalking may include:

What are some examples of cyberstalking?

Examples of cyberstalking include:

Are there laws against stalking?

Yes. Stalking is a crime. Learn more about the laws against stalking in your state at the Stalking Resource Center (link is external). If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

You can file a complaint with the police and get a restraining order (court order of protection) against the stalker. Federal law says that you can get a restraining order for free. Do not be afraid to take steps to stop your stalker.

What can I do if I think I’m being stalked?

If you are in immediate danger, call 911. Find a safe place to go if you are being followed or worry that you will be followed. Go to a police station, friend’s house, domestic violence shelter, fire station, or public area.

You can also take the following steps if you are being stalked:

For more information or emotional support, call the Stalking Resource Center National Center for Victims of Crime Helpline (link is external) at 800-FYI-CALL (394-2255), Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET.

What can I do if someone is cyberstalking me?

If you are being cyberstalked:

Did we answer your question about stalking?

For more information about stalking, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:

Violence against immigrant and refugee women

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Female immigrants or refugees face many of the same challenges as other abused women. However, they may also face some unique challenges, such as a fear of being deported or of losing custody of their children. Physical, sexual, emotional, or other type of abuse is never OK, even if it happens within a marriage. Violence against women is also against the law, even when the abuser or victim is not a U.S. citizen.

What can prevent immigrant and refugee women from reporting violence or abuse?

Immigrant and refugee women may not report violence or abuse because they may be:

Although immigrant and refugee women may face such challenges, they also often have strong family ties and other sources of support. If you think you are being abused, reach out to someone who cares about you.

How can women who are immigrants report violence or abuse?

You can report a crime regardless of your immigration status. Violence is against the law. If you have been abused, you do not have to respond to questions about your immigration status. If the police officers do not speak your language, ask the police to provide a translator or find someone who can translate for you.

You can also call the free National Domestic Violence Hotline (link is external), 800-799-SAFE (7233), for help and resources in your area.

Can I be deported if I report abuse?

You cannot be deported if you are a U.S. citizen or a legal resident or have a valid visa. The only exceptions to this are if you used fake documents to enter the country, broke the rules of your visa, or committed certain crimes.

If you are undocumented (don’t have legal papers to be in the United States) or are not sure about your immigration status, you should talk to an immigration lawyer. Your local domestic violence shelter can help you find an immigration lawyer. You may be able to get a lawyer at no charge. (link is external)

You may also be able to:1

Can I get a restraining order if I am not a U.S. citizen?

Yes. You can get a restraining order (or court order of protection) even if you are not a citizen or legal permanent resident of the United States. A restraining order can prevent your partner from contacting or touching you. You can get an application for a restraining order at a courthouse, women’s shelter, or police station. Getting a restraining order is free.

How can I protect my children?

If you are worried about the safety of yourself and your children, you can:

If you have a protection order or custody order, give a copy to your children’s school. Ask the school not to release the children to the abuser or anyone else not legally allowed access to your children.

How is female genital cutting related to violence against immigrant and refugee women?

In some countries outside of the United States, female genital cutting (FGC) is done to girls or women for cultural or traditional reasons. FGC means piercing, cutting, removing, or sewing closed all or part of a girl’s or woman’s external genitals for no medical reason. As a type of violence against women, FGC is illegal in the United States and in many other countries.  FGC has no health benefits and can cause long-term health problems.

In the United States, estimates suggest that more than 513,000 girls and women have experienced FGC or are at risk of FGC.

Learn more about female genital cutting in our Female genital cutting page.

Did we answer your question about violence against immigrant and refugee women?

For more information about violence against immigrant and refugee women, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:

Violence against women with disabilities

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Research suggests that women with disabilities are more likely to experience domestic violence, emotional abuse, and sexual assault than women without disabilities. Women with disabilities may also feel more isolated and feel they are unable to report the abuse, or they may be dependent on the abuser for their care. Like many women who are abused, women with disabilities are usually abused by someone they know, such as a partner or family member.

How can I recognize signs of abuse in a loved one with a disability?

Relatives must be strong advocates for their loved ones with disabilities. If you have a relative with a disability, learn the signs of abuse, especially if your relative has trouble communicating.

Report abuse to adult protective services if you notice any of the following with a loved one who has a disability:

Each state has an adult protective services agency. Use this online map to find help in your area. (link is external)

How common is violence or abuse against women with disabilities?

Women with a disability are more likely to experience violence or abuse compared to women without a disability. Some studies show that women with a disability may be more likely to experience violence or abuse by a current or former partner compared to women without disabilities.

Who commits violence or abuse against women with disabilities?

Most often, violence or abuse against women with disabilities is by their spouses or partners. But women with disabilities can also face abuse from caregivers or personal assistants.4 Women with disabilities who need help with daily activities like bathing, dressing, or eating may be more at risk of abuse because they are physically or mentally more vulnerable and can have many different caregivers in their life.5

What should I do if I suspect abuse against a woman with a disability?

Report any suspected abuse to adult protective services. Each state has an adult protective services agency. Use this online map to find help in your area. (link is external)

Did we answer your question about violence against women with disabilities?

For more information about violence against women with disabilities, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations: