ORLANDO, Fla. — Michelle Sperzel, CEO of Harbour House of Central Florida, knows what it’s like to be stuck in an abusive relationship.

“I thought it was just a really bad relationship — I didn’t realize that it was as dangerous as it could’ve been until I started doing domestic violence work,” she said.

What You Need To Know

  • Michelle Sperzel, CEO of Harbour House of Central Florida, says there are signs people can look for to determine if they're in an abusive relationship

  •  When a person realizes they are in an abusive situation, there are places like Harbour House where they can go for help, Sperzel said

  • More: Learn more about the signs of domestic abuse

And that’s why Sperzel says it’s so tough for many victims to escape domestic violence, because it’s often difficult to recognize that it's happening in the first place. She said some cases of abuse aren’t as obvious as others.

“Some people are in highly, highly lethal, dangerous, physical altercations with someone is abusing them,” said Sperzel. “Other people are in situations where it is verbal and gaslighting and financial.”

When a victim recognizes potential abuse and is ready to come forward, Sperzel said Harbour House makes sure they have a safe place to open up.  That’s why the organization renovated their consultation rooms to make them accommodating to domestic violence victims.

“Pillows, so if you want to protect yourself while you’re telling the story, you have something to hold on to and protect yourself while you’re talking,” said Sperzel.

Sperzel said violent confrontations typically don’t just happen — they’re usually the result of slow, subtle escalation of abuse.

“It’s about the emotional abuse, it’s about the verbal — because those are all warning signs to that physical altercation, and they start to escalate and go up,” said Sperzel.

And she said the bottom line is, if someone has a gut feeling that something isn’t right, they should reach out and tell someone about it.

“If you are intimidated, or if you are scared of your intimate partner, that is not normal," Sperzel said. "And you should reach out to somebody to talk about the fact that you’re nervous about this relationship you are in."