Relationship Violence

What is relationship violence?

Relationship violence (also called domestic violence, dating violence and intimate partner violence) is verbal, physical or sexual abuse inflicted on a dating, domestic, or intimate partner to gain power or control. The abuse can take many forms:

  • Emotional abuse: Includes actions by a partner that systematically destroy a person’s sense of self-esteem and self-worth. Includes jealous behavior, ignoring feelings, belittling values, restricting social activities with others, and withholding love, approval, and affection.
  • Verbal abuse: Using words to injure another person. Includes name calling, insults, threats of physical and/or sexual violence, threats of self-harm and/or suicide, humiliation, intimidation, and exaggerated criticism for mistakes.
  • Sexual abuse: Includes any forcible sexual activity that occurs without consent. This can range from unwanted touching to forcible penetration. Sexual abuse also includes verbal criticism of one’s body.
  • Physical abuse: Includes any behavior that causes or threatens bodily harm. Some examples are hitting, slapping, grabbing, breaking things, or threatening to do any of the above.
Cycle of Abuse

Cycle of Abuse in Relationships

Abuse in relationships can follow a cyclical pattern. There are times when abusive behavior happens only once, but unfortunately this is not the case in most abusive relationships. Even if physical abuse happens only one time, there is usually an underlying context of emotional and verbal abuse. Violent behavior typically repeats throughout the cycle. Keep in mind that not all of the victim/abuser behaviors listed in the graphic always occur, they are just some examples of commonly reported reactions. Instead of looking at these categories as stages, it can be more helpful to look at them as categories of behavior that may appear in different parts of the relationship.

Download a high resolution pdf of the chart

Below are some behaviors to look for in a violent relationship


Question relationships with a partner who:

  • Abuses alcohol or other drugs.
  • Has a history of trouble with the law, gets into fights, breaks and destroys property.
  • Chooses not to work or go to school.
  • Blames you for how they treat you, or for anything bad that happens.
  • Abuses siblings, other family members, children or pets.
  • Puts down people, including your family and friends, or calls them names. This can be to their face or behind their back.
  • Is always angry at someone or something.
  • Tries to isolate you and control whom you see or where you go.
  • Nags you, guilts you, pressures you, or forces you to be sexual when you don’t want to be.
  • Cheats on you.
  • Is physically rough with you in way that you don’t like (push, shove, pull, yank, squeeze, restrain).
  • Takes your money, makes you pay for everything, or runs up bills on your credit.
  • Accuses you of flirting or “coming on” to others or accuses you of cheating on them.
  • Doesn’t listen to you or show interest in your opinions or feelings... things always have to be done their way.
  • Ignores you, gives you the silent treatment, or hangs up on you.
  • Lies to you, doesn’t show up for dates, and maybe even disappears for days without contact.
  • Makes vulgar comments about others in your presence or about you to others.
  • Blames all arguments and problems on you.
  • Tells you how to dress or act.
  • Threatens to kill themselves if you break up with them, or tells you that they cannot live without you.
  • Experiences extreme mood swings. . .tells you you’re the greatest one minute and rips you apart the next minute.
  • Tells you to shut up or tells you you’re dumb, stupid, fat, or calls you some other name (directly or indirectly).
  • Compares you (negatively) to former partners.

You may be in an abusive relationship if you:

  • Feel afraid to break up with your partner.
  • Feel tied down; feel like you have to check-in.
  • Feel afraid to make decisions or bring up certain subjects because your partner might get mad.
  • Tell yourself that if you just try harder and love your partner enough that everything will be fine.
  • Blame yourself for not being good enough.
  • Find yourself crying a lot, being depressed or unhappy.
  • Find yourself worrying and obsessing about how to please your partner and keep them happy.
  • Find the physical or emotional abuse getting worse.

Adapted from The Red Flag Campaign, which is a project of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance.

What to do if You are Experiencing Relationship Violence

If you or someone you know has experienced relationship violence, please know that assistance is available. Virginia Tech encourages all community members to seek help and report incidents of relationship violence.

Personal Safety

  • Call the Virginia Tech Police Department, 540-231-6411 or 911 if you feel you are in danger.
  • If you need assistance with living arrangements due to safety issues or you would like to discuss a safety plan, contact an advocate from the Women’s Center at Virginia Tech, 540-231-7806, or from the Women’s Resource Center of the New River Valley, 540-639-1123.
  • Make a plan of what to do and where to go if you are in danger.
  • Consider requesting a protective order through the court system. An advocate from the Women’s Center at Virginia Tech, 540-231-7806, or from the Women’s Resource Center of the New River Valley, 540.639.1123 can help explain the protective order process to you.

Get Help

  • Help is available from many resources on and off campus. To learn what resources are available and what to do if you or someone you know has been a victim of relationship violence, go to our Get Help page.
  • Consider seeking medical care as needed, even if your injuries look like they have healed. You might have internal injuries that can only be assessed by a medical professional.
  • Consider talking with a counselor who is trained to assist you with the emotional impact of relationship violence. You can contact the Women’s Center at Virginia Tech, 540-231-7806, the Virginia Tech Cook Counseling Center, 540-231-6557, or the Women’s Resource Center of the New River Valley, 540-639-1123.
  • To assist you in accessing resources and understanding reporting options, contact an advocate from the Women’s Center at Virginia Tech, 540-231-7806, or from the Women’s Resource Center of the New River Valley, 540-639-1123.
  • Abusers will often isolate their victims. Share what’s happening with a trusted friend or reach out to friends and family you may have not connected with in a while. It is important to have a good support system.
  • You have a right to stay in school. The Women’s Center at Virginia Tech has resources to help you get through tough semesters, or options if you are considering taking a break from campus. If you are having trouble attending classes or completing your academic assignments, papers, and/or exams, contact the Dean of Students Office, 540-231-3787, or the Cook Counseling Center, 540-231-6557, about academic relief.

Reporting

  • Virginia Tech encourages you to contact the police if you have experienced any act of relationship violence. If the act of relationship violence occurred on campus, contact the Virginia Tech Police Department, 540-231-6411. If the act of relationship violence occurred off campus, contact the police department in the locality where the act occurred.
  • If you are or have been a victim of relationship violence by a student, consider making a report to the Deputy Title IX Coordinator, 540-231-8064. Relationship violence violates the Student Code of Conduct. Visit our Title IX at Virginia Tech page to learn more about the Title IX investigation process and your rights and responsibilities in that process.
  • If you are, or have been, a victim of relationship violence by a professor, staff person, or other employee of the university, consider making a report to the Equity and Access office in Human Resources, 540-231-2010.
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