It’s not always easy to tell if a relationship is unhealthy or abusive. Domestic violence can happen to anyone, regardless of age, race, class, religion, gender or sexual orientation. Abusive behavior can appear at any time in the relationship, whether you’re dating, married, or if you have children together.
How can you tell if your relationship is abusive?
Does your partner ever…
- Criticize you down, embarrass or make you feel bad about yourself?
- Control what you do, what you wear, who you see, talk to or where you go?
- Keep you from seeing your friends or family?
- Look at you or act in ways that scare you?
- Push, punch, slap, or strangle you?
- Prevent you from going to school or work?
- Tell you that you’re a bad parent or threaten to take away your children?
- Steal your money, track how you spend money, or limit your access to shared money or bank accounts? Make you ask friends or family for money?
- Force you to perform sexual acts when you don’t want to?
- Demand that you always ask for their permission to do anything, or treat you like a servant?
- Tell you that you can’t participate in ceremony, pow wows or feasts, or practice bad medicine against you?
- Use their status in the community to threaten or control you?
- Leave you stranded far from home, or lock you out of your home?
- Destroy your belongings or property, or threaten to kill your pets?
- Intimidate, threaten or hurt you with guns, knives or other weapons?
- Threaten to commit suicide, or threaten to kill you or your family members?
- Act like the abuse is no big deal, deny the abuse, or tell you ‘it’s your own fault’ or that ‘you deserved it’?
If you answered ‘yes’ to even one of these questions, you may be in an unhealthy or abusive relationship. No matter the situation, abuse is not your fault – it’s the person being hurtful or violent who chooses to behave in this way.
We are here to listen. Please call us at 1-844-7NATIVE (1-844-762-8483) if any of this information raises a red flag for you or someone you know. It’s safe, anonymous and confidential.
Does your partner blame you for their abusive behavior or deny that their actions are hurtful? Are you starting to question your own version of events or reality in the relationship?
If so, your partner may be using a form of abuse that called gaslighting, where an abuser refuses to acknowledge their actions or role in the abuse.
Gaslighting can include when your partner says:
- “You’re crazy – that never happened.”
- “Are you sure? You tend to forget a lot.”
- “You’re imagining things.”
- “It’s all in your head.”
- “You’re just making things up.”
- “You’re too sensitive.”
- “I don’t want to hear it.”
- “You’re being dramatic.”
- “Is that another crazy idea you got from [friend/family member]?”
What may seem like a harmless misunderstanding can become manipulative over time. If an abuser uses gaslighting to excuse or deny their abusive behavior, you may become confused, anxious, isolated and depressed, and begin to question or lose your sense of what is actually happening. In this situation, it can be very difficult to recognize that you are being abused.
How Do I Know If I’m Being Gaslighted?
If you think you might be experiencing this form of abuse, it’s important to get help and begin the journey in learning to trust yourself again. According to author and psychoanalyst Robin Stern, Ph.D., the signs of being a victim of gaslighting can include:
- Constant self-doubt or second-guessing
- Question whether you can do anything right
- Asking yourself “Am I too sensitive?” multiple times a day
- Feeling confused and/or that you are “going crazy”
- Question whether you are “good enough” for your partner
- Feel hopeless, unhappy or joyless
- Apologizing profusely to your partner
- Find yourself making excuses for your partner’s behavior to friends and family
- Feel that something isn’t right in your relationship, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself
- Creating your own lies or mistruths to avoid the put downs and reality twists
- Find it difficult to make simple decisions
- Feel as though you have become a different person, where before you felt more confident, more fun-loving and relaxed
If any of these signs raise a red flag for you, please call us at 1-844-7NATIVE (1-844-762-8483) Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. CST. Callers after hours have the option to connect with the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) or to call back the next business day. You are not alone.
Are you concerned that a friend, coworker or relative may be in an abusive relationship? Some of the warning signs you might notice could include:
- They have unexplained marks or injuries
- They are depressed, anxious or have noticeable changes in their personality
- They are constantly worried about making their partner angry or they make excuses for their partner’s behavior
- They’ve stopped spending time or communicating with friends and family
- Their partner puts them down in front of other people
- Their partner is extremely jealous or possessive
If someone you care about is being abused, it can be difficult to share your concerns or know what to do. Your instinct may be to “save” them, but the person experiencing the violence is the best judge of their situation. After all, there are many reasons why people stay in abusive relationships, and leaving can be a very dangerous and challenging time for a victim.
One of the most important ways you can help a person who is experiencing abuse is to consider how you might support them in making their own decisions. Speak with a StrongHearts advocate by calling 1-844-7NATIVE (1-844-762-8483) Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. CST for additional support if you are considering having this conversation with a loved one. Callers after hours will have the option to connect with the National Domestic Violence Hotline or to call back the next business day.
A safety plan is a personalized, practical plan that includes ways to remain safe while in an abusive relationship, planning to leave or after you leave: safety plans can be continuously updated, even if you return to a partner that uses abuse. Safety planning involves how to cope with emotions, tell friends and family about the abuse, protect children if involved, take legal action and more.
StrongHearts advocates can help develop a safety plan with victims, friends and family members in Indian Country — anyone who is concerned about their own safety or the safety of someone else.
A good safety plan will be tailored to your unique situation, have all the vital information you need and help walk you through different scenarios.
It’s important to remember that in moments of crisis, your brain may not function the same way as when you are calm. When adrenaline is pumping through your veins, it can be hard to think clearly or make smart decisions about your safety. Having a safety plan laid out in advance can help you quickly protect yourself in those stressful moments.
To begin exploring what your safety plan can look like, speak with a StrongHearts advocate by calling 1-844-7NATIVE (1-844-762-8483) Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. CST. Callers after hours will have the option to connect with the National Domestic Violence Hotline or to call back the next business day.
There are many legal factors advocates consider when addressing domestic violence and sexual assault in Indian Country.
Many tribes face unparalleled obstacles when attempting to address the issues of domestic violence and sexual assault on their land, and Native American survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, and sexual assault often experience jurisdictional hurdles when they report or attempt to heal. Every tribe, federally recognized or not, faces a maze of legal systems and statutory frameworks that intersect, often leaving victims without a clear path to justice.
It is important to know that federally recognized tribes are sovereign nations in the United States, but as a result of a 1978 Supreme Court decision in the case of Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, tribes were stripped of their authority to prosecute non-Native people (ex. individuals of other races) for on-reservation crimes.
Because tribes could not exercise criminal jurisdiction for several decades — the right to prosecute violent crimes committed in Indian Country by non-Native people — both state and federal authorities were expected to exercise jurisdiction in these cases.
However, state and federal authorities often declined to prosecute in the majority of these cases for different reasons. This situation left most tribes powerless to criminally punish non-Native people who came onto reservations and committed domestic or sexual violence against Native people. As a result, the prevalence of domestic violence, dating violence, and sexual assault in Indian Country grew astronomically.
In 2013, Congress reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which restored tribal courts’ ability to exercise “special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction” over domestic and dating violence crimes or violations of protection orders regardless of the defendant’s Native or non-Native status, where the tribes meet certain requirements in accordance with the Indian Civil Rights Act per the U.S. Bill of Rights, the Tribal Law and Order Act, and where the tribe’s criminal justice system fully protects defendants’ rights under applicable federal law. 
The reauthorized VAWA went into effect in 2015 and recognizes tribes’ sovereign power to investigate, prosecute, convict, and sentence both Indians and non-Indians who assault Indian spouses or dating partners or violate a protection order in Indian Country. It does not, however, cover sexual assault or rape committed by non-Natives who are strangers to their victims, nor does it protect Native American children who are victims of abuse or assault.
Tribal, state and federal jurisdiction issues remain at the forefront of legal advocacy for domestic violence advocates. Understanding the implications of laws such as Public Law 280, tribal courts and their authority as well as the federal government’s role in prosecuting on-reservation violent crimes, is critical to legal advocacy for any Native American victim of domestic violence.
Depending on your situation, you might determine that reporting abuse or taking legal action against an abusive partner is the best course for you.
Please note: The StrongHearts Native Helpline does not give legal advice, and we are not legal advocates; however, our StrongHearts advocates may be able to help you locate a legal advocate in your area if needed. Speak with a StrongHearts advocate by calling 1-844-7NATIVE (1-844-762-8483) Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. CST to explore resources for legal help. Callers after hours will have the option to connect with the National Domestic Violence Hotline or to call back the next business day.