What Is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is when one partner in an intimate relationship abuses the other. The abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional or a combination of all three.

Physical abuse can include very aggressive acts, such as beatings and forced sexual activity including intercourse, or it can take the form of less severe acts like throwing, shoving and slapping.

In emotional abuse, the abuser constantly humiliates and puts down the victim. The weapons of emotional abuse include verbal insults, threats, control of physical activity, unfounded accusations of infidelity, control of economic decisions and social isolation.

Depending on the relationship, the physical or emotional abuse may happen very often or not as often. Either way, once violence begins, it will usually continue and get worse over time. No matter how often the abuse happens, the victim of domestic violence suffers constant terror and stress, living in fear of the next episode.

While women are most commonly the victims of their male partners, domestic violence can happen between all sorts of people and in all sorts of relationships. It happens between people who are married and between people who aren’t living together. It can be abuse by a man against a woman, or by a woman against a man. It can occur in gay or lesbian relationships.

Domestic violence is a common reality in our society. It occurs in all social classes, ethnic groups, cultures and religions. Most people don’t realize how common it is, because very often victims of abuse keep quiet.

  • Between 3 million and 4 million adult women in the United States are abused yearly by an intimate partner. About one in four women is likely to be abused by a partner in her lifetime. (Journal of the American Medical Association, 267:3184-3189, 1992)
  • A study conducted in emergency rooms and walk-in clinics reported that 54 percent of a sample of women treated in emergency departments had been threatened or physically injured by a partner. (Journal of the American Medical Association, 273:1763-1767, 1995)

You are not responsible for the violence. Nor are you alone. There are alternatives to remaining in a violent situation. These include: shelters, counseling, protective orders, and safety planning. You do not need to stay in an abusive situation. See our domestic violence resources page.

The Cycle of Domestic Violence

Why do Abuse Victims Stay?

Domestic Violence in the Suburbs