What is interpersonal violence?

Interpersonal Violence

Physical abuse: Overview

Violence can happen to anyone—children, teens, adults, older adults, or people with disabilities. You are not to blame. No matter what happened, violence is not okay. Violent people usually have many problems that they find hard to deal with. This can cause them to act out with violence.

Physical abuse can include things like hitting, pushing, shaking, slapping, kicking, pinching, choking, strangling, and burning. It may come from a stranger. Or it may come from an acquaintance, a partner, a close friend, or a family member. Many people who are abused know their attacker.

Violent behavior can also hurt you emotionally. It may be hard to reach out for help at first. But it's important for you to seek help and keep getting help for yourself as long as you need it. Talk to your local child or adult protective agency, the police, or a health professional, such as a doctor, nurse, or counselor. You can also call a local mental health clinic. They can help you find resources, provide support, and help keep you safe.

What are signs of abuse-related injuries?

Most injuries are not caused by abuse. But bruises are often the first sign of possible abuse. Suspect physical abuse of a child or vulnerable adult when:

  • Any injury cannot be explained or does not match the explanation.
  • Repeated injuries occur.
  • Explanations change for how the injury happened.

You may be able to prevent further injuries by reporting abuse. Seek help if:

  • You suspect child abuse or elder abuse. Call your local child or adult protective agency, police, or a health professional, such as a doctor, nurse, or counselor.
  • You or someone you know is experiencing intimate partner violence (IPV).
  • You have trouble controlling your anger with a child or other person in your care.

What can you do if you feel threatened with physical abuse?

If you feel threatened, be sure to have a plan for keeping yourself safe. If a family member or someone else has threatened to harm you or your child, seek help.

  • If you need help right away, call 911.
  • Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233) or see the website at www.thehotline.org for free, confidential counseling and information about local community resources.
  • Tell someone, such as the police, a trusted friend, a faith leader, or a health professional. If the incident occurred at work, contact your human resources department for help.
  • Find local resources that can help in a crisis. Your local police department, mental health clinic, or hospital has information on shelters and safe homes.
  • Be alert to warning signs, such as threats or drunkenness, so that you can avoid a dangerous situation. If you can't predict when violence may occur, have an exit plan you can use in an emergency.
  • If a child tells you that they have been abused, stay calm. Tell the child that you believe them and that you will do your best to keep them safe. Report the abuse to the local police or child protective services agency.

If you are no longer living with a violent person, contact the police to get a restraining order if your abuser continues to pursue you and act violently toward you.

How can physical abuse during childhood affect you?

Physical abuse can affect people in different ways and for a long time. If you've been abused and still have issues related to the abuse, you may have a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

People who are mistreated as children are also more likely to abuse others. If you were ever abused, it's very important to get treatment, such as counseling. It can help you learn different ways to resolve conflict and help stop the cycle of abuse.

Living in a violent environment increases a child's chances of having:

  • Behavior problems.
  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • PTSD.
  • Poor school achievement.
  • Lowered expectations for the future.

How can you help support someone who may be threatened by physical abuse?

Here are some things you can do to help a friend or family member who may be threatened by physical abuse. If they are in danger and need help right away, call 911.

  • Help your friend contact local domestic violence groups. This is the most important step. There are programs across the country that provide options for safety, legal support, and needed information and services. To find the nearest program:
    • Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233). Or go to thehotline.org to visit the website.
    • Call the National Center for Victims of Crime at 1-855-4-VICTIM (1-855-484-2846). Or go to www.victimsofcrime.org to visit the website.
  • Let your friend know that you're willing to listen whenever they want to talk. Don't confront your friend if they aren't ready to talk. Encourage them to talk with their health professional, human resources manager, and supervisor to see what resources might be available.
  • Tell your friend that the abuse isn't their fault and that no one deserves to be abused. Remind them that violence is against the law and that help is available. Be understanding if your friend is unable to leave. They likely know the situation best and when it is safest to leave.
  • If your friend has children, gently point out that you are concerned that the violence is affecting the kids. Sometimes it's hard for people in abusive situations to see the harm it has on their children.
  • Encourage and help your friend make a safety plan. This plan will help keep your friend and their children safe during a violent incident, when they prepare to leave, and after they leave.

The most dangerous time may be when your friend is leaving the abusive relationship. Make sure that any advice you give about leaving is informed and practical.

Be careful giving your friend written information. It may not be safe for them to take it home. See if you can keep it for them. Your friend should be careful online too. Their online activity may be seen by others. Using their personal computer or device to search for these programs may not be safe. Offer to let them use your computer or device. Or they could use a safe computer at work or a library.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.

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