What is abuse?
Abuse, broadly speaking, is the misuse of power causing
harm to the person or people being abused. While we
often think of abuse as physical violence or coercion,
the damage verbal, psychological, and emotional abuse
can cause must not be underestimated. An abuser tries
to control others and force them, through physical,
verbal, emotional, or other means, to submit to his
or her desires. Through their abusive treatment of others,
abusers disregard the integrity, worth, and fundamental
rights of individuals and threaten their well being.
The term "abuse" can refer to domestic violence,
the mistreatment of children, elders and other dependent
adults, bullying, sexual harassment, and hate crimes.
Domestic violence is any act of violence committed
by a current or former spouse or romantic partner, including
physical violence, sexual violence or coercion, and
verbal, emotional, economic, or psychological abuse.
Child abuse and elder abuse can take many of the same
forms as domestic violence, and may also include neglect.
What all of these forms of abuse have in common is
that they are harmful and wrong. Abuse can have long-term
physical and emotional effects. While the direct victims
of abuse may suffer the most serious consequences, both
witnesses and perpetrators of abuse can also be harmed.
For example, children who witness domestic violence
can be traumatized and need support to process what
they have experienced.
How can I recognize abuse?
Listen to your gut. If a voice inside tells you that
you or someone around you is being abused, it is probably
right. You need to seek help. Remember, you have the
right to be treated with respect and to live without
fear of physical or emotional harm.
The following behaviors are just some of the actions
that may signify abuse: physical violence such as hitting,
punching, shaking, or burning; intimidation, threats
or ultimatums; extreme forms of punishment; excessive
blaming, rejecting, ignoring, name calling, or belittling;
and failure to give necessary care and attention to
those who are dependent.
What should I do?
The most important action you can take if you or someone
you know is being abused, or if you are abusing someone,
is to seek help. If you or someone near you is in immediate
danger, call 9-1-1 and try to move to a safe place.
If the danger is not immediate, you can seek help from
local law enforcement agencies, psychological services,
and other resources. In Marin, you can contact the Marin
Abused Women's Services Hotline ( 924-6616, or
 924-3436 para español). If you are abusing
someone and need support so that you can stop, you can
call the Men's Hot Line (415-924-1070) or Women's Hot
Many victims (and perpetrators) of abuse are afraid
to speak out. They are worried about retaliation and/or
they are ashamed about what is happening. Sometimes
speaking out can put someone in immediate and severe
danger. However, as soon as safely possible, it is important
to reach out for help. Remember that you are not alone
in what you are experiencing and that there are many
caring, trained professionals who can help.
Healing from abuse takes time. You may need to get
medical treatment, take appropriate legal action (such
as reporting the abuse to the police or obtaining a
restraining order), make a plan for keeping yourself
safe, and find people, including friends and/or therapists,
who can listen and provide emotional support. Above
all, remember that you do not deserve to be abused and
you are not alone.
Abusers also need help and intervention in order to
stop their abusive behavior and learn to deal interpersonally
in a way that is more respectful both to others and
themselves. Psychotherapy to deal with underlying issues
(perhaps childhood experiences of abuse) can be effective.
Other treatment strategies may include substance abuse
treatment, anger management skills, communication skills,
and so on.