Anyone can be the victim of domestic violence. Recognizing the characteristics of an abuser and having a safety plan in place can save your life.

Domestic violence is violent or controlling behavior directed by a person toward a current or past intimate partner. Intimate partners can be any two people that are dating or living together, married, separated, or divorced. Domestic violence is also referred to as battering or partner violence. The abuse can be physical, emotional, and/or sexual, and may occur occasionally or often.

Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior in which the abuser is trying to gain and maintain power and control over the victim. According to Elaine Alpert, MD, MPH, associate professor of public health and medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine in Boston, "Many victims of domestic violence have been led to believe that the problems they see in their relationship are their fault. They think it is their responsibility to change themselves and/or their partner so that the abuse will end. However, the abuse is NOT the victim's fault. It occurs no matter what the victim does."

Over time, domestic violence usually occurs more frequently and worsens. It often follows a three-stage cycle:

  • Stage 1—Tension builds. The abuser may criticize and threaten the victim.
  • Stage 2—The abuser becomes physically violent and/or emotionally abusive.
  • Stage 3—The abuser apologizes, promises to change, and may seem very loving. Although the apologies and apparent acts of love may offer hope that things will change, the cycle of violence almost always starts again. It does not end until the abuser seeks help and makes a concerted effort to change or the victim leaves.