We all know that romantic relationships can take a lot of work to be successful. But protecting your sexual and reproductive health, avoiding risks, and learning how to get yourself out of an abusive relationship is vital to your emotional and physical health as well.
If you’ve experienced violence or abuse, it is never your fault, and you are not alone. Twenty-five percent of women in the United States experience violence from an intimate partner, including physical abuse, sexual assault, verbal and emotional abuse, stalking, and digital abuse.
Domestic violence often starts as emotional abuse and becomes physical later. It’s important to ask for help as soon as possible, and to understand the following about abuse:
- It’s not your fault.
- It can happen to anyone, regardless of your education level, age, gender, sexual orientation, or whether you’re married, dating, or single.
- Your abusers may have a pattern of abuse followed by making it up to you, but it’s most likely they will repeat the cycle.
- It gets worse over time, not better.
- You cannot help or fix your abusive partner.
Staying in an abusive relationship can have long-lasting mental and physical health effects, including:
- Mental health issues
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Chronic pain
- Sexually transmitted infections
- Sleep difficulties
- Unwanted pregnancy
- Eating disorders
Signs of Abuse
You may be experiencing domestic violence if your partner:
- Hurts you physically
- Threatens you and/or your children, loved ones, or pets
- Threatens to harm themselves because of you
- Blames you for their violence
- Checks your phone, email, or social media without your permission
- Controls what you wear, how you spend money or what you eat
- Seeks to limit your interaction with family and/or friends
- Forces you to have sex
- Prevents or discourages you from going to work or school
- Unfairly accuses you of being unfaithful
- Destroys your property
How to Get Help
If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
If you are not in immediate danger:
- Get medical care. If you have been injured or sexually assaulted, go to a local hospital emergency room or urgent care center to receive medical care.
- Call a helpline for free, anonymous help. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233) or 800-787-3224 (TDD). The hotline offers help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in several languages.
- Make a safety plan to leave. Domestic violence usually does not get better. Think about a safe place for you to go and other things you will need. Staff at the National Domestic Violence Hotline can help you plan.
- Save the evidence. Keep pictures of your injuries or threatening emails or texts in a safe place where the abuser cannot access them.
- Find out where to get help in your community. Your healthcare provider or local hospital can provide you with resources.
- Talk to someone. Reach out to someone you trust to get emotional help, like a support group, mental health professional, or loved one.
- Look into a restraining order. Consider getting a protection order to keep you safe from your abuser.
How to Protect Your Sexual and Reproductive Health
- Reduce your risk of getting a sexually transmitted infections (STIs) by protecting yourself and your partner(s). Untreated STIs can have a lasting effect on your health and can lead to infertility. Visit your healthcare provider for testing if you have symptoms or questions. Some STIs do not have symptoms, so it’s important to get tested even if you don’t notice anything unusual.
- Use contraception to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. Research shows that planned pregnancies result in healthier babies, moms and families. Talk to your healthcare provider about the contraception that is best for you.
- Take control of your health by visiting your healthcare provider regularly for checkups and screenings.
- Avoid and remove yourself from abusive situations and unhealthy relationships. Your partner should respect the decisions you make about your body, treat you well and make you feel good about yourself.
ACTION ITEMS: It’s important to know how to guard your sexual and reproductive health and protect yourself against domestic violence. Talk to your healthcare provider about what STI testing is right for you, and for information on resources that are trained to support you if you are suffering from domestic abuse.
© 2019 Relevate Health Group Inc. All rights reserved.