Definition Of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is a pattern of abuse that happens in a personal relationship. Also known as spousal abuse, it occurs when one person in an intimate relationship or marriage tries to dominate and control the other person. An abuser doesn’t “play fair.” He or she uses fear, guilt, shame, and intimidation to wear you down and gain complete power over you. He or she  may threaten you, hurt you, or hurt those around you. Domestic abuse that includes physical violence is called domestic violence.

Victims of domestic abuse or domestic violence may be men or women, although women are more commonly victimized. (Note: we will use the pronoun “he” for convenience only) This abuse happens among heterosexual couples and in same-sex partnerships. Except for the gender difference, domestic abuse doesn’t discriminate. It happens within all age ranges, ethnic backgrounds, and financial levels. The abuse may occur during a relationship, while the couple is breaking up, or after the relationship has ended.

Despite what many people believe, domestic violence is not due to the abuser’s loss of control over his behavior. In fact, violence is a deliberate choice made by the abuser in order to take control over his wife or partner. It can happen between past or current partners, spouses, or boyfriends and girlfriends. Abuse is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over the other.

Domestic violence affects men and women of any ethnic group, race, or religion; gay or straight; rich or poor; teen, adult, or elderly. But most of its victims are women. In fact, 1 in 4 women will be a victim at some point

The abuser may initially use controlling behaviors such as jealousy, telling what clothes to wear, how to style hair & makeup, who to hang around with, where to go, etc. They may call constantly or insist on going with you everywhere you go. They may use intimidation, bullying and threats to gain power over and control of other person’s behavior, thoughts and actions. He or she may act jealous, controlling or possessive. These early signs of abuse may happen soon after the start of the relationship and might be hard to notice at first. Often times jealousy or possessiveness is passed off as affection, sincerity or love, but these are early warning signs of abuse and are inherently controlling behaviors.

After the relationship becomes more serious, the abuse may get worse. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.

  • The abuser may begin making threats, calling the other person names, and slamming doors or breaking dishes. This is a form of emotional abuse that is sometimes used to make the person feel bad or weak. 
  • Physical abuse may start with slap or hair-pulling and may escalate to kicking, shoving, grabbing, pinching, biting, hair-pulling, biting, and choking over time.  Physical abuse also includes denying a partner medical care or forcing alcohol and/or drug use.
  • Sexual abuse is coercing, attempting to coerce or forcing any sexual contact or behavior without consent. Sexual abuse can start as forcing you to participate in public displays of affection and includes being sexually insulting or demeaning, putting hands on sexual parts of the body unwanted, forcing sexual contact and marital or relationship rape. Even if you are married, living together or in a committed relationship, no still means no, if sexual contact is forced, it is still and always rape. Period.
  • As a means to trap and depersonalize their partner the abuser may criticize, humiliate, make fun of, name-call and otherwise put them down. Nothing is ever good enough, clean enough, fast enough…enough. This tears apart self-worth and/or self-esteem and can make victims feel hopeless and powerless to make changes.
  • The abuser may intimidate, make threats of violence against themselves, the children (harming them or taking them away), other family members and/or pets and/or threaten to destroy cherished property. For more on pet safety, click here. The abuser may also force isolation from family members, friends, school, work, church, groups and other activities. This is Psychological abuse.

Domestic violence can happen to anyone regardless of all factors. The #1 thing heard from victims is, “I never thought it would happen to me…” No one thinks it will happen to them for any number of reasons, because they are too… educated, street smart, tough, independent, opinionated, strong, willful, rich, socially powerful… any list of things. But the fact is that, truly and absolutely, anyone can be and is a victim of domestic violence.  They are your neighbor, your sister, your grandmother, your aunt, your coworker, your daughter. 1 in 4 – odds are you know someone, right now, who is suffering in an abusive home. 

Domestic violence not only affects those who are abused, but also has a substantial effect on family members, friends, co-workers, other witnesses, and the community at large. Children, who grow up witnessing domestic violence, are among those seriously affected by this crime. Frequent exposure to violence in the home not only predisposes children to numerous social and physical problems, but also teaches them that violence is a normal way of life - therefore, increasing their risk of becoming society's next generation of victims and abusers.
(Sources: WebMD, US Dept. of Justice, National Domestic Violence Hotline, National Center for Victims of Crime, and

Types of Domestic Violence and Abuse

There are different types of domestic abuse, including emotional, physical, sexual, and economic abuse. Many abusers behave in ways that include more than one type of domestic abuse, and the boundaries between some of these behaviors may overlap. 

Emotional or Psychological Abuse   
Emotional or psychological abuse can be verbal or nonverbal. Its aim is to chip away at your feelings of self-worth and independence. If you’re the victim of emotional abuse, you may feel that there is no way out of the relationship, or that without your abusive partner you have nothing. Emotional abuse includes verbal abuse such as yelling, name-calling, blaming, and shaming. Isolation, intimidation, and controlling behavior also fall under emotional abuse. Additionally, abusers who use emotional or psychological abuse often throw in threats of physical violence. 

You may think that physical abuse is far worse than emotional abuse, since physical violence can send you to the hospital and leave you with scars. But, the scars of emotional abuse are very real, and they run deep. In fact, emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse—sometimes even more so. Furthermore, emotional abuse usually worsens over time, often escalating to physical battery.

Physical Abuse
When people talk about domestic violence, they are often referring to the physical abuse of a spouse or intimate partner. Physical abuse is the use of physical force against someone in a way that injures or endangers that person. There’s a broad range of behaviors that come under the heading of physical abuse, including hitting, grabbing, choking, throwing things, and assault with a weapon. 

Physical assault or battering is a crime, whether it occurs inside or outside of the family. The police have the power and authority to protect you from physical attack. 

Sexual Abuse 
Sexual abuse is common in abusive relationships. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, between one-third and one-half of all battered women are raped by their partners at least once during their relationship. Any situation in which you are forced to participate in unwanted, unsafe, or degrading sexual activity is sexual abuse. Forced sex, even by a spouse or intimate partner with whom you also have consensual sex, is an act of aggression and violence. Furthermore, women whose partners abuse them physically and sexually are at a higher risk of being seriously injured or killed. 

Economic or Financial Abuse
Remember, an abuser’s goal is to control you, and he will frequently hurt you to do that. In addition to hurting you emotionally and physically, an abusive partner may also hurt you in the pocketbook. Economic of financial abuse includes:

  • Controlling the finances. 
  • Withholding money or credit cards.
  • Giving you an allowance. 
  • Making you account for every penny you spend. 
  • Stealing from you or taking your money. 
  • Exploiting your assets for personal gain. 
  • Withholding basic necessities (food, clothes, medications, shelter). 
  • Preventing you from working or choosing your own career. 
  • Sabotaging your job (making you miss work, calling constantly)

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