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.

What is Abuse?

The abuse can be verbal, psychological, emotional, financial, physical, sexual, or spiritual or any combination of these.

Verbal Abuse could be: yelling, name-calling, constant complaining, criticizing, blaming you for everything, humiliating you in public or private, using sarcasm, teasing about things you are sensitive about, dominating conversations, mumbling then denying speaking, and employing total silence as punishment.

Psychological Abuse could be: dismissing your reality and experiences, “remembering” things that did not happen or never remembering anything, making up rules that “you should have known,” and creating an atmosphere in which you begin to doubt your own reality

Emotional Abuse could be: ignoring your feelings, ridiculing your beliefs, withholding approval, threatening to take your children, treating you like a servant, controlling what you do, whom you see, and where you go, telling you about his/her affairs, manipulating you with lies, threatening to leave you, taking the car keys or money, keeping you from working or going to school, abusing your pets or children, driving your family or friends away, misleading family about nature and extent of illnesses and conditions, forcing family to keep secrets, threatening to “out” you if you are gay, threatening suicide if you leave, threatening to use your immigrant status against you

Financial Abuse could be: taking your paycheck, withholding funds, not giving money for basic needs, spending all the money before bills are paid, demanding money from you, refusal to pay you back, over-extending or destroying your credit, making you account for every dime, threatening or refusing to pay child support, demanding his/her spending desires are a priority, hiding money or assets, and depleting accounts

Physical Abuse could be: pushing, scratching, slapping, hitting, punching, biting, choking, kicking, holding, throwing, locking you out of the house, driving recklessly when you are in the car, throwing objects at you, threatening to hurt you with a weapon, abandoning you in dangerous places, and refusing to help when you are pregnant, injured, or sick

Sexual Abuse could be: insisting that you dress in an uncomfortable sexual way, calling you sexual names like “whore” or “bitch,” forcing you to strip, forcing unwanted sexual acts, withholding sex as punishment, criticizing you sexually, insisting on sex when you don’t want it, and using pictures or intimate knowledge of you to humiliate you.

Spiritual Abuse could be: demeaning your spiritual/religious choices or beliefs, separating you from your spiritual connection to family/culture, suppressing your spiritual expression, denying you access to your spiritual connections, and wearing down your self-esteem until your “spirit” is gone

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

Barriers to Leaving

Domestic Violence in the Suburbs