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Domestic Abuse

Feb. 1, 2008
Although it’s alarmingly common, you may be the link that can inspire a new lifestyle of self-worth and personal freedom.
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Although it’s alarmingly common, you may be the link that can inspire a new lifestyle of self-worth and personal freedom.

by Anastasia L. Turchetta, RDH, and Teresa Duncan, MS

Domestic abuse is alarmingly common – it knows not age, race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. It is defined as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain and/or maintain power over another partner. Not only will the effects be felt by those who are abused, but also by family members, friends, co-workers, or witnesses. To understand the impact of abuse in relation to our role in making a difference, we must first recognize the various physical or psychological signs and traits of both abuser and victim. Part 2 of this series will introduce possible solutions for a safe work environment, suggestions for counseling, city/county programs, benefits and pitfalls within the law, and proposals for change.

Five Actions Associated with Domestic Abuse

The five actions associated with domestic abuse are physical, sexual, emotional, economic, and psychological.2

  • Physical abuse – Hitting, slapping, shoving, grabbing, pinching, biting, etc., in addition to denying a partner medical care, dental care, or forcing alcohol and/or drug use.
  • Sexual abuse – Attempting to coerce any sexual contact without consent. Examples include marital rape, attacks on sexual parts of the body, forcing sex after physical violence has occurred, or treating one in a sexually demeaning manner.
  • Emotional abuse – Undermining an individual’s sense of self-worth and/or self-esteem. Constant criticism, diminishing self-capability, name-calling, damaging one’s relationship with children or family members even after the relationship has ended.
  • Economic abuse – Making an individual financially dependent by maintaining total control over financial resources, withholding one’s access to money.
  • Psychological abuse – Causing fear by intimidation, threatening harm to self, family, friends, destruction of pets and property, and forcing isolation from family, friends, and/or work.

The statistics surrounding domestic violence are astounding. At some point in your life you will come into contact with someone for whom violence has affected his or her life. Almost a third of women fall into this category.3 How you handle this issue can make a difference not only for the victim but the victim’s family. As awkward as it may be, the decision to reach out and support the victim can help to alleviate the insecurity and shame that typically accompanies this situation. Until the stigma of victimization is removed, abused women will typically remain quiet and guarded.

How Do You Recognize A Victim?

Long-term victims will be harder to identify because they have become skillful at hiding their struggle. Look for depression, low self-esteem, and a tendency toward social isolation. The victim most often is not in a position of financial independence. If an incidence of obvious bruising or injury is brought to your attention, a plausible explanation will most likely be given. Since domestic violence is often a continuing occurrence, a pattern may begin to emerge but only if you are aware of the signs.

The Abuser Is Almost Always Easier To Identify

Common traits of an abuser include a quick temper, a jealous nature, and controlling demeanor. Abusers count on the victim’s low self-esteem and eagerness to please to keep the relationship solvent. Blame for domestic problems is usually shifted to the victim’s shoulders where it is carried silently. The violence can easily escalate when alcohol or any illegal substances are also abused. Keep in mind that the first person to defend the abuser will be the victim.

How Abuse Begins

Abuse will often begin with verbal criticisms. In many cases, private insults and name-calling are the starting point. Escalation into more public verbal assaults can occur. Once an abuser begins to exhibit more characteristic traits, the progression to physical abuse has begun. Small bruises may appear that are easily explained. Emotional withdrawal by the victim may become noticeable. Your formerly upbeat employee may become reserved in an effort to avoid personal discussions. A harmless question such as “How was your night?” may provoke awkward silence. Everyday conversation can be difficult; however, reaching out over a period of time can help to ease the isolation felt by an abuse victim.

Know the Signs

Knowing the signs, traits, and statistics of domestic violence may assist you in identifying certain behaviors displayed by a patient, friend, or co-worker. We can now use this information as a guide to acknowledge this silent epidemic and hone our communication skills to effectively arrive at an acceptable solution not only with individuals’ oral health but their complete health as well. By offering your professional observation and concern, you may be the link they need to inspire a new lifestyle that welcomes self-worth, self-respect, and personal freedom.

About the Authors

Anastasia L. Turchetta, RDH, is a national and international speaker, author, and coach. Empowerment and education via a no-sleep atmosphere are granted for the audience, which promote her quest for a team-centered, patient-focused atmosphere. She maintains memberships with NSA, SCN, ADHA, and ADA. She is a feature author in Conversations of Health and Wellness and creator/author of “Just a Cleaning?” an interactive assisted hygiene guide, a unique collaboration of both her 19 years of clinical hygiene experience and coaching format. Contact her at or [email protected].

Teresa Duncan has a master’s degree in health care management from Marymount University. In addition to empowering team members to shine, she also speaks on the topic of fraud and embezzlement within the dental office. She is an educator for the Association of Dental Implant Auxiliaries. You can read her blog at Contact her by e-mail at [email protected] or through her Web site at


  1. National Domestic Violence Hotline, National Center for Victims of Crime and
  3. Health Concerns Across a Woman’s Lifespan: The Commonwealth Fund 1998 Survey of Women’s Health