Domestic Violence

There are different types of abuse, and in many cases victims and abusers may not  even view themselves as being in an abusive situation.  They become trapped in a cycle of abuse that could eventually progresses to become life threatening.


Domestic violence and abuse take many forms and can include physical, emotional, sexual, financial, verbal, social and institutional forms of abuse. Abuse could get progressively more intense and frequent resulting in a range of reactions and risks including fear, anxiety, trauma, physical and life threatening danger.

To discuss these factors in more detail, read the following articles relating to the nature of abuse in domestic violent situations. Domestic Violence and Abuse – Signs of Abuse and Abusive Relationships

Find a summary of the types of abuse and the signs / symptoms displayed by the victim of abuse.

Types of Abuse/Signs & Symptoms


Many people wonder how women get themselves trapped in abusive relationships that are difficult to break out of. The pattern and phases of abuse are however not always obvious. The pattern of abuse can progress very slowly, making it hard to recognise in the early stages. Abusers use different tactics of control at different times in the relationship, forming a distinct pattern that is very effective in establishing and maintaining control over the victim.

Women who are abused consistently report that the abuse gets worse over time. As the abuse and isolation get worse, the level of fear and danger they experience increases. The higher the level of fear and danger, the more difficult it can be for these women to achieve safety for themselves and their children and break the cycle of abuse. Some of the behaviours to take note of that could indicate a progressive pattern of abuse are discussed

Escalation or Tension Building Phase

The escalation phase of the pattern of abuse may be a period in which the abuser uses a broad range of tactics to control the victim, such as taking control of the finances, attempting to isolate the victim from support structures, and using emotional abuse to wear away at the victim’s self-confidence and self- worth.
These efforts to control are often made under the guise of good intentions such as love, and concern, especially in the early stages.

Some examples of behaviour: An abuser may constantly point out the difficulties of working full-time and raising a family as a way to get his partner to quit her job and become more financially dependent on him. Or an abuser might attempt to isolate his partner from friends by persuading her to spend more time with him. The long-term effectiveness of these forms of control depends upon the abuser’s ability to make the victim afraid to resist.

The Incident of Abuse

The acute incident is an ‘intense show of force’ intended to make the victim afraid and to firmly establish the abuser’s control over her. While the acute incident is often a physical assault of some kind such as a slap, punch or hit, the use of threats to harm a loved one or the destruction of pets or property such as damaging a cell phone or car, can also be effective ways of instilling fear and establishing control. These behaviours may take place while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, but this may not always be the case.

Reconciliation Phase

In the reconciliation or honeymoon phase, abusers often apologise, promise to not repeat the abusive behaviour, give gifts, or express a desire for sexual intimacy. For abusers, this ‘making up’ behaviour may help them ease any genuine feelings of guilt they may have. Abusers may however use these behaviours as a way to manipulate their partner’s emotions and give victims hope that the abuse won’t happen again. This helps abusers avoid the negative consequences of their abuse.

Progression of Violence

Early on in a relationship, when the controlling behaviours are typically less intense, less severe, and often imposed under the guise of “good intentions,” it is very difficult to clearly identify them as part of a pattern of abuse. As a result, the first acute violent incident may easily be considered by the victim (and by others) as an “isolated” incident of abuse. Coupled with her partner’s remorse and promises to never repeat the behaviour, a woman is easily persuaded to stay and “work it out.”
But over time, the victim may begin to see the repeated promises and apologies as empty, seeing little change (or an increase) in her partner’s violence since the first acute incident. If the abuser’s “making up” behaviours no longer instil hope and motivate the victim to stay in the relationship, he may look for other ways to maintain control. Often, that means increasing his use of threats, violence or other forms of control, which increases a victim’s level of danger and fear-a process known as entrapment.
The fear, isolation, and confusion caused by this pattern of abuse can keep a woman “walking on eggshells,” often afraid to tell anyone what is happening or to reach out for help.

The Four Stages of an Abusive Relationship


Even though victims may experience similar types of abuse, the response to trauma may vary from person to person. Many factors can influence how a person responds to the short- and long-term effects of the abuse, such as the frequency of abusive incidents, degree of severity and the effects on physical health. The overall impact of domestic violence also depends on the individual’s natural reactions to stress and ways of coping with stressful situations.

Physical and health effect

Psychological and emotional effects

Economic and social costs

Physical and health effect

The many physical and health related effects could include bruises from choking, punching or defending oneself, black eyes, red or purple marks at the neck, sprained or broken wrists or legs.

The result from the trauma of domestic violence and can be experienced immediately after the incidence of abuse or after the abuse has taken place. The physical effects of trauma could include: chronic fatigue, shortness of breath, muscle tension, involuntary shaking, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, sexual dysfunction, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.

Severe effects of domestic violence could result in death, permanent disability, gynaecological problems, concussion, losing an unborn baby or having a baby with birth defects, infertility, sexually transmitted infections and other related health effects.

Psychological and emotional effects

The psychological and emotional effects of violence could include fear, low self-esteem, loss of confidence, violent thoughts or actions, feeling out of control, feeling suicidal, committing suicide, self-harm, alcohol and drug abuse, anxiety and stress, feelings shame, guilt or embarrassment, withdrawing from family and friends, eating s: The many physical and health related effects could include bruises from choking, punching or defending oneself, black eyes, red or purple marks at the neck, sprained or broken wrists or legs.

and sleeping problems, feeling apathetic, self-blame, hurting others that are close, copying controlling and violent behaviour and mental instability.and sleeping problems, feeling apathetic, self-blame, hurting others that are close, copying controlling and violent behaviour and mental instability.

Economic and social costs

The economic costs to the victim could be substantial due to medical expenses, reduced income due to absenteeism from work, loss of employment or having to move to find alternative accommodation. The drain on the health system and services and the economy due to reduced productivity has a broader impact on our society.

For more information:
Effects of Domestic Violence
Gender-Based Violence and HIV Infection among Pregnant Women in Soweto

We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in any society, a life free from violence and fear

Nelson Mandela


Children are affected by domestic violence in many ways which could include SEEING actual incidents of physical/and or sexual abuse, HEARING threats or fighting, OBSERVING the aftermath of physical abuse such as blood, bruises, tears, torn clothing, and broken items and be AWARE of the tension in the home such as their mother’s fearfulness when the abuser’s car pulls into the driveway or comes home. Children may be affected by being caught in the ‘cross fire’ and be PHYSICALLY HARMED in the abusive situation.


they can act out, over-react, be hostile, impulsive, aggressive or defiant. They can also withdraw or dissociate or run away. Drug and alcohol use can be a problem with older children.


normal development can be impaired. They can look like they are regressing or acting younger than their age. This can be a subconscious way of trying to get to a state where they are safe and secure. It can also be a result of the harm to the brain’s development caused by exposure to trauma.


they may avoid closeness and push people away. Children may also attach to peers or adults who may be unsafe for them, to try to develop an alternative secure base, if home feels insecure.


children often feel fearful, stressed, depressed, angry, anxious or ashamed. Emotional security is the foundation of healthy relationships later in life. This security can be damaged if attachment between the mother/carer and baby is disrupted by domestic violence.


they may not be able to concentrate at school because they are constantly on the lookout for ‘danger’. This can be subconscious. Detentions, missed school and frequent changes of schools can also affect learning.


children may have low self-esteem, and think negatively about themselves or people around them. (For example, they may think, “everyone hates me”.)

Physical health

a range of illnesses may be related to domestic and family violence. Headaches, stomach aches, stress reactions (e.g. rashes or immune system related illnesses) and sleep disturbances (e.g. nightmares, insomnia or bedwetting) are common.

Children who have experienced domestic violence may also internalise these behaviours and become victims or perpetrators themselves.

Find more information on:
How does domestic and family violence affect children?
Children Often Witness Domestic Violence, with Side Effects


There are myths about abuse, abusers and victims of abuse. The following myths about abuse were published by the Saartjie Baartman Centre.