06/12/2016 04:58 SAST | Updated 06/12/2016 11:13 SAST

13 Signs of Domestic Abuse and 5 Things You Can Do About It

AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam
In this Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 file photo a mourner holds a funeral program with a portrait of Reeva Steenkamp in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

If you've ever been in a conversation about domestic violence, you may have heard (or even uttered) the question "why doesn't she just leave him?". For most people that seems like a very reasonable thing to do. You're in an undesirable situation and so you get out.

The reasons women stay in abusive relationships are complex, and go as far as fear of death. In many cases, women feel helpless. They stay to protect their children from growing up without a father, which can turn out worse. Research shows that children who grew up in abusive households are more likely to go into abusive relationships later in life, or even become the abusers themselves. So, to break the cycle, we need to know how to recognize domestic violence in all its forms. Below is a list of signs that you (or a friend/loved one) are in an abusive relationship, and a few things you can do to help.

Signs of domestic violence

1. Jealousy. Domestic violence starts slowly and develops over time. One of the earliest warning signs is an overly jealous partner. Accusations of "flirting", being suspicious of close friendships, checking phones and showing up at work unexpectedly are all signs of an unhealthy relationship.

2. Unpredictable behaviour and/or a bad temper. If your partner is likely to take his (or her) bad temper out on you, you should get out. Does he shout at you in public or private for no good reason? Does he make you believe his reasons are good enough? If you're afraid you might say the wrong thing and set him off, your relationship is in need of an overhaul. As in haul ass and run.

3. Controlling behaviour. An abuser often tries to control their partner in various ways. This includes telling them who they can and can't see (isolating them from friends and family), how they should dress, taking control of finances (another reason many women can't leave), and where they can go and when. In some cases an abusive partner will also force you (or 'persuade' you) to quit your job, perhaps because he thinks you'll be 'happier' at another job which is conveniently closer to his place of work, or even better yet, you'd be a great housewife.

4. Breaking you down. If your partner frequently belittles you, even in public, humiliates you, criticises you for perceived 'incorrect behaviour' (you said something 'stupid' at dinner), ignores or puts down your opinions and achievements while glorifying their own, or blames you for their bad behaviour, they're trying to break down your self-esteem. You might not even notice them doing it, so it'll take some thinking to get to the realisation. Over a long period of time, the end-game is to make you believe you don't deserve better than this gross sack of shit. You do.

5. Making excuses and making up. It was just a bad day. I had a bad childhood. You made me angry and I couldn't help it. All lies. Abusers can and do control their behaviour. They pick their moments when it'll hurt you most. They don't hit you in public, but they humiliate you in public for maximum effect and minimum jail time. When the police show up they're sweet as sugar. And then they promise they'll never do it again and everything's fine for a while, and then the cycle starts again.

6. Threats. Abusers use threats to get their victim to stay. They might threaten to kill you, take the children away, cut off access to funds, or commit suicide.

7. Physical violence. This is the easiest to recognise. An abusive partner might force you to sleep with him (this is called rape, even if you are married), shove you during an argument, hit you (some are so well practiced, they only hit their partners in places that can be covered up with clothes), bring a gun or a knife to a word fight, or hurt the kids or animals in an effort to hurt you (or out of purely sadistic behaviour).

If you feel like...

8. your partner's violent behaviour is your fault;

9. you deserve to be hurt;

10. you're afraid of your partner all the time;

11. you're walking on eggshells to avoid setting them off;

12. you're crazy;

13. you're helpless;

Here's what you can do:

1. Realise that your partner may have installed software on your computer to spy on you. Bleak, I know. Find an alternative, like a computer at a public library or a friend's computer at work. Don't do anything on your own computer that might put you in danger, including downloading documents and sending Facebook messages asking for help. Consider creating another email account for that purpose. Gmail or Yahoo is a good free option.

2. Clear your browser history immediately after use. Empty the recycle bin. Log out of everything.

3. If you need to make a call that can put you in danger, use a pay phone or a phone at work. Abusive partners almost always check cell phone records and bills.

4. Identify a friend you can trust. If you have been isolated from everyone around you, choose someone from work with whom you have a good relationship.

5. Identify a safe place, and necessary items to take in case you need to go in a hurry. This is a useful guide if you're planning to leave.

Sometimes calling the police is not an option. Find a safe place first and then take legal steps, like getting a restraining order and opening a case. In these cases it is almost always better to have a social worker at your side. Lastly, here is a list of shelters and relevant numbers and sources if you or someone you know is in trouble:

LifeLine South Africa: 0861 322 322

Free counselling via telephone.

Stop Gender Violence helpline: 0800 150 150

Free telephonic counselling, information and referrals.

People Opposed to Woman Abuse (Powa): 011 642 4345/6

Free counselling via telephone or face to face, as well as free short-term sheltering and legal assistance.

Thuthuzela Care Centres.

Governmental centres in areas of high incidence offering counselling in cases of sexual abuse, as well as legal support an arrangements to go to a place of safety.