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Signs Someone Is Being Abused

Victims of Abuse May Try to Hide It


Updated April 23, 2014

Abused Woman
Peter Dazeley Collection/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images
Domestic abuse can happen to anyone regardless of their social, educational or financial status. Abuse occurs when one person in a relationship attempts to dominate and control the other person.

Usually, the control begins with psychological or emotional abuse then escalates to physical abuse. When domestic abuse includes physical violence, it is called domestic violence.

Warning Signs of Abuse

Out of fear or shame, many victims of domestic abuse will try to hide it or deny it, and in the process of trying to cover it up, exhibit signs that abuse is taking place.

If you suspect someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, the following list of signs could be a clue. These behaviors could be attributed to other factors and can't be considered proof that abuse is occurring.

However, the experts say if someone is being abused, they are likely to display some of these signs:

Physical Signs of Abuse

If someone is being physically abused they will likely have frequent bruises or physical injuries for which they have a week or inconsistent explanation. Some common injuries include black eyes, busted lips, red or purple marks on the neck and sprained wrists.

They may exhibit injuries consistent with being punched, choked or knocked down. Bruises on the arms might indicate defensive wounds from the victim trying to defend themselves.

The victim may offer excuses for the injuries like falling or being accident-prone, but often the seriousness of the injury will seem more severe than the cause the explanation provides.

If victims have such injuries, they will often try to cover them up with makeup or clothing. You may notice that they are wearing clothing that is not appropriate for the weather, such as wearing long sleeves or scarves in the summer.

Wearing heavier than normal makeup or wearing sunglasses inside, are also common signs of abuse. Complaining of a lack of sleep or, likewise, complaining of sleeping too much can be a sign of physical abuse.

How dangerous is the situation? Take the Danger Assessment Quiz

Withdrawn or Unusually Quiet

If you notice that someone who was once outgoing and cheerful has gradually become quiet and withdrawn it could be a sign of domestic abuse. A person who was once chatty and gregarious who is suddenly quiet, reserved and distant, could be an abuse victim.

You may notice that the victim drops out of activities they would usually enjoy. Or they cancel appointments or meetings with you at the last minute. They may often be late to work or other appointments.

Victim of abuse might exhibit excessive privacy concerning their personal life or the person with whom they are in a relationship. They may begin cutting off contacts with friends and even family members and begin isolating themselves from those whose company they once enjoyed.

Signs of Fear

People who are being abused may seem anxious or nervous when they are away from the abuser or they may seem overly anxious to please their partner. If they have children, the children may seem timid, frightened or extremely well behaved when the partner is around.

Although victims may not talk about the actual abuse, they might refer to the abuser as "moody" or having a bad temper. They may reveal that the partner is particularly bad tempered when drinking alcohol.

Sometimes, the fear a victim of abuse experiences is so intense they feel paralyzed to make decisions or to even protect themselves or their children. When the fear gets to that point, they will even turn down help offered to them by friends, family or even professional protective services.

Emotional Signs of Abuse

Domestic abuse can take an emotional toll on victims to the extent that they will exhibit a sense of helplessness, hopelessness or despair. They come to believe that they will never escape the control of the abuser.

They may also exhibit and constant state of alertness to the point they never can completely relax. This may also affect their sleep.

Other emotional signs of abuse can include:

These symptoms, of course, could be due to many other conditions or factors, but they are typical of domestic abuse victims who feel they are trapped in the abusive relationship.

Signs of Control

If you know someone who is a victim of domestic abuse, you may notice that they have to ask permission to go anywhere or to meet and socialize with other people. They may refer to their partner as jealous or possessive. They may say their partner accuses them of having affairs.

When you are with the victim, you may notice that their partner constantly calls or texts them wanting to know where they are, what they are doing and who they are with. You may notice that the partner even follows the victim to check up on them.

It is also not unusual for a victim of abuse to have very little money available to them and they may not have a credit card. They may not even have a vehicle. They may mention that their partner controls all the money and that they have to account for every penny they spend.

It's About Control

Domestic abuse is not about violence, it's about control. If you notice that someone seems to be controlled or extremely manipulated in all areas of their life, it could be a sign they are being abused at some level.

What can you do? You can reach out to the victim and offer a sympathetic ear. For tips on how to approach someone you think is being abused, see How to Help a Victim of Domestic Violence.


Florida Agency for Persons With Disabilities. "Common Signs and Symptoms of Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation." Accessed May 2013.

Queensland Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services. "What You Can Do to Support a Victim of Domestic and Family Violence." 17 September 2012

Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. "Types and Signs of Abuse." 13 March 2013.

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