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Learning About. . .Domestic Violence

You are already taking action against abuse, by learning more about domestic violence. You might be wondering whether what your partner is doing to you is abuse.  You might be wondering whether a friend or family member may be a victim. And you may be wondering how to take care of yourself, if you or someone you know is being abused.  We hope the information here is useful to you.  We are always happy to hear from you, any time.  Just call our hotline at 850-681-2111, or 850-584-8808.

Refuge House can offer a range of services, including emergency shelter, counseling and therapy, injunction and legal support, children’s services, and transitional housing, for victims of domestic violence and their children.

What is domestic violence?  

You might feel uncertain whether what you are experiencing, or see happening to another person, “counts” as domestic violence.  Your partner may have never hit you.  You may think that you made your partner mad, and so what he/she said or did to you is really your fault.  You may have hit your partner back, or yelled at him/her.
At Refuge House, we think of domestic violence as any kind of action where one partner is trying to control or dominate the other person.  
There are many ways that a partner can try to control and dominate:
  • When your partner uses mean words (verbal abuse), and treats you like you are worthless and bad (emotional abuse).  For example, if your partner calls you names, yells at you that you are ugly, disgusting, crazy, and that no one loves you. 
  • When you partner tries to control your body.  For example, telling you what to wear, telling you when you can or can’t go to the doctor, making you have sex, telling you when you can or can’t use birth control.  Your partner may want you to drink or use drugs in a way that you don’t want or that scares you.  Your partner may demand that you have sex with other people.
  • When your partner tries to control who you can see, visit, or where you work.  For example, your partner controls or monitors your phone, controls or monitors when you can drive, prevents you from seeing your family or friends without him/her present, follows you or calls you constantly when you are out.  Your partner may accuse you of having affairs.
  • When your partner tries to control your money.  For example, your partner may demand that he/she have access to all of your money from your job, or demand that you stop working so that you become more dependent.  Your partner may try to use you to make money for him/her, by selling drugs for him/her or by prostituting. 
  • When your partner tries to control you by threats of harming you, harming himself/herself, harming your children, or harming pets.  For example, your partner may threaten to hurt or kill you, may threaten to commit suicide, may threaten to kidnap children, or kill or mutilate pets.
  • When your partner physically attacks you or objects around you.  For example, your partner may kick, push, hit or slap you, burn you, pull your hair, stab you, strangle you, or shoot at you.  Your partner may punch holes in the walls, damage your house or car, destroy your clothes, photographs, and other personal things.  
We list all these things not to scare you, but to let you know that these are the kinds of actions that we consider to be domestic violence.  We are here to help you deal with the situation you are in, and to support your choices.  We want to help you reduce the risk of future violence, and help you with resources and options to keep the violence from getting worse.  
You deserve a good life, and a partner who respects and treasures you.  

Who are victims of domestic violence?

Did I do something to make this happen to me?

While 85–90 % of domestic violence victims are women, both women and men may be victims of abuse, regardless of sexual orientation, in all age, racial, ethnic, socio-economic, and religious groups. Victims can be wealthy, educated, and prominent, or may have very limited resources. Victims of domestic violence live in rural towns, urban cities, may be homeless or live in gated communities.

In the areas of north Florida served by Refuge House, 2,118 acts of domestic violence were reported to the police in 2011 - that’s one incident every four hours. Experts agree that these figures are probably much larger since many victims are afraid or ashamed and incidents go unreported.

You did not cause or deserve to be treated abusively. Your partner may have accused you of “making” him/her be violent or abusive because of something you did. This is a common tactic used by abusers to excuse what they did and try to make it your fault.

The abuser, and other people, may tell you that you deserved to be abused for some reason. Some victims remain in the abusive relationship because they believe that the violence is their fault. Many victims make repeated attempts to change their own behavior in order to avoid the next assault. No one is responsible for abusive behavior but the person who behaves abusively. Only the violent person is responsible for the abuse.

Would I feel welcome at Refuge House?


You may feel that Refuge House is a place where other people might feel comfortable, but not you. It’s easy to feel that way, before you meet our staff, and other people who are getting support from Refuge House.

Here are some concerns you may have. We want to put your mind at ease:

1. I’m not sure that I’m really a domestic violence victim. If you are feeling confused, or scared, or just bad in your relationship because your partner puts you down, or keeps you from going places, that’s a good time to call us—even if you aren’t sure what is going on “counts” as domestic violence. Let us help you sort out your feelings, take a look at what has been happening, and talk about options. Feeling less alone is a really good feeling.

2. I am a lesbian and my partner is hurting me. We know that domestic violence happens in relationships between women; many lesbian survivors have received support from Refuge House. You may be concerned that you will “out” yourself and your partner by seeking support. You may fear retaliation for doing so. We are proud to stand with you in your journey and to be your advocate.

3. I am concerned that if I reach out for help, my community will be damaged, and both me and my abuser will be victimized by racism. You may be concerned that you will be rejected by family and by community for identifying as victim of abuse. And you may fear that your partner may be treated in a racist way if you identify him/her as an abuser. We will help you connect with the positive people in your life who will be proud of you. And we will advocate with you for justice and equality.

4. I am an immigrant and I am undocumented. Refuge House is a safe place for you and your children. We know that your legal status may be a concern for you, and that your partner may be using your status as a way to control you and isolate you. We can help you exercise your legal rights for protection and support.

5. I have a disability and I wonder if people will welcome me. We are looking forward to your call. We know that abusers can take advantage of a person’s disability to hurt you, or control your access to assistive equipment or services. We are 100% accessible.

6. I think I have a problem with alcohol or drugs. Many victims are encouraged by abusers to use a lot of alcohol and drugs to make you feel more vulnerable and defenseless. You may be using alcohol and drugs as a way to try to cope with the violence in your life or to try to manage your emotions. We are here help you be safe and to support you as you identify your healing goals.

7. I am a gay man and I wonder if you offer services to someone like me. Yes, with open arms. We know that domestic violence affects many gay survivors, and may include emotional, physical and sexual abuse. We are here as your ally and supporter.

8. I am in prostitution and I wonder if you will be willing to help me. We know that prostitution hurts. We are honored to support your well-being in body, mind, and spirit.

9. My abuser is well known in the community and I am afraid to disclose that he is beating me. We have served many victims and their children who are being abused by well known or professional partners. You will find your privacy scrupulously protected here at Refuge House. Everyone who comes to Refuge House for services has complete control over all information you share about yourself and you abuser.

10. I am a man and my abusive partner is a woman. We are here for you. You may feel especially concerned because Refuge House is identified as an agency that serves so many female victims. Please call us—all of our programs including emergency shelter services are available and welcoming for you and your children.

11. I am transgender. Will you provide services to me? Please call us. We know that you may be experiencing abuse from partners and family members who say you deserve it because you are transgender. Or you may feel that you owe your partner money or other resources, even though he/she is abusing you. We are here for you.

At Refuge House, we offer safety, welcome, and resources for all victims of abuse and their children.

There is another way to feel and to live.

Hundreds of women, children and men who have suffered abuse have been part of Refuge House, and we have been so happy to be part of the next chapter in their lives. They want you to know that they are cheering for you, and want you to feel well and happy. And that it’s possible for you. One woman said to us, as she was leaving shelter, “We can take our lives and our freedom back.”

We are here for your life and your freedom.