Signs of Abuse

Margaret E. Retter, Esq.

There are many kinds of abusive behavior – psychological, sexual, physical, legal, and economic. The following is a list of some possible signs.This list is not complete but only examples of types of abuse.


Perpetrators will use varying combinations of psychological abuse depending on what works on their victims.


Verbal threats, name-calling, and criticism against the victim, family members, and pets. Verbal attacks usually focus on the victim’s vulnerabilities, which are well known to the abuser. The perpetrator’s threats of harm may be against the victim, others important to the victim, or they may be threats of suicide.


Harassment and blackmail

Brandishing weapons

Threats to kidnap the victim’s children

Standing over the victim in a threatening manner

Outing same-sex partners

Threats to out same-sex partners

Isolation: Abusers try to control their victims’ time, activities, and contact with others. Control over the victim is gained through a combination of isolating and misinformation tactics. If a victim is isolated s/he will believe whatever the abuser says, since there are no other sources of information. Tactics include:

Moving the victim away from supportive friends and family members.

Claiming that the victim’s friends or family are “interfering”

Restricting access to the phone, transportation, and outside world.

Monitoring conversations.

Sabotaging a partner’s relationship with his/her children

Misinformation: These tactics can be used by the abuser to distort what is real or the truth. They can include: giving contradictory information, lying to the victim, and withholding information.


Some domestic violence victims are unclear whether forms of sexual abuse are really abuse, believing it to be their duty as a spouse/partner.

Coerced sex by manipulation or threat of physical force

Violent sex

Sex at a time when the victim is not willing

Forcing victim to watch pornography

Assaults to genital area or breasts

Forced sexual activity with a third person

Withholding or demanding frequent sex


There are many degrees of physical abuse. Some result in physical injury; some do not. Some forms of physical abuse could be as subtle as a purposeful overdose of anti-diarrheal medication. Other examples include:

Grabbing, choking, pushing, kicking, slapping, punching, biting, hair-pulling, and/or burning

Forcing alcohol or drug use

Using weapons against the victim

Withholding access to medication, medical care, food, fluids, and/or sleep


It is not uncommon for abusers to use the legal system against the victim. Examples of this can include:

Falsely reporting victim to law enforcement. If reported first, the victim is often forced to defend herself instead of protecting herself from the abuser.

Threatening deportation

Threatening to report drug use

Threatening reports to social service agencies who might cut benefits

Filing orders of protection against the victim to make the victim appear to be the violent one

Instituting legal proceedings that the victim cannot afford to fight

Threatening to have victim declared incompetent


The abuser may purposely prevent the victim from becoming financially self-sufficient in order to maintain power and control- financial dependence is often a reason a victim remains with the batterer. Examples of this behavior include:

Controlling access to resources such as cars, food, clothing, shelter, money

Victims are put in the position of having to ask permission to spend money on basic family needs.

Preventing victim from keeping a job or from attending school

Not listing victim as owner on a car, home or insurance policies

Ruining the victim’s credit

Threatening to take victim off of medical insurance

Refusing to work or to be responsible for financial affairs

Controlling how all resources are spent

Working “off the books” or for cash so that no or very little income is reported which the victim may be awarded


The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of The articles have been reprinted without editorial input or comment.





Contact us

If you would like to ask Kol Isha a question, please click here:

Request an interview, inquire about speaking engagements, ask a question, or send a comment.