What is domestic violence?

Understanding Domestic Violence

According to the Surgeon General, domestic violence is the number one health concern in the United States today. To act against domestic violence, it is important to understand what domestic violence is. Many people inflict harm on others without realizing that they are in fact inflicting domestic violence. Likewise the victims are often unaware of their rights and some victims are not even aware that they are victims of domestic violence.


According to the US Department of Justice domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior inflicted by one partner in a relationship on the other with an intention to control or subdue the latter. There are many forms of domestic violence. These include:

Physical abuse such as biting, hitting, battering, slapping, shoving, pulling, pushing, punching or just about any physical violence. Denying medical treatment or forcing consumption of alcohol or drugs is also physical abuse.

Sexual abuse includes coercion or threat of violence to compel the victim to engage in sexual activity with the abuser. Sexual abuse includes attacks on the sex organs, marital rape, cracking sexual jokes at the expense of the victim, using physically violence to force sex, etc.

Emotional abuse refers to the deflating or invalidating a person’s sense of self esteem and/or self worth. Constant criticism, interfering with the person’s abilities, influencing the person’s relationship with his or her children and other family members and name calling are considered as emotional abuse.

Economic abuse refers to the act of making or attempting to make the person financially reliant. The abusers attempts to exercise total control over the victims finances and blocks the victim’s access to money or prevents the victim from earning money.

Psychological abuse refers to intimidating or threatening physical harm to the victim, others known to the victim or even the abuser, destruction of property, preventing the victim from going to work or attending school, etc. Psychological abuse includes threats to injure, hit or use a weapon or firearm.

Stalking includes turning up at the person’s workplace or home, shadowing or following, vandalizing property, repeated phone calls or other harassing or threatening behavior, doing something that would make a person fear about his or her safety, etc.

Cyber stalking also known as online stalking shares the same characteristics of stalking but the difference is that it occurs in cyberspace.

Victims of Domestic Violence

Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender, religion, educational and socioeconomic background. Initially domestic violence was limited to abuse of the wife by the husband but over the years, it has changed to include violent acts by one family member against another. The law recognizes that victims of domestic violence can be:

• Spouse
• Cohabiting partner
• Children
• Family Member
• Dating or live in Partner

There is a myth that victims of domestic violence can only get a protective order against the abuser if the abuser happens to be the spouse of the victim. The law allows victims to get protective or restraining orders against the abuser without regard to the nature of the relationship. The exact laws vary from state to state. Please check with your state law.

Dating Violence

Domestic violence includes dating violence. Dating violence refers to the violent acts committed against the victim while the victim and the abuser are in a romantic, intimate or social relationship. Whether or not such a relationship exists will depend on:

• the duration of the relationship
• the nature of the relationship
• the frequency of interaction

Resources for Victims

Organization TelephoneWebsite
National Domestic Violence Hotline1-800-799-SAFE (7233)1-800-787-3224 (TTY)www.ndvh.org
National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline1-866-331-94741-866-331-8453 TTYwww.loveisrespect.org
National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC)1-877-739-3895www.nsvrc.org
National Center for Victims of Crime, Stalking Resource Center1-800-394-22551-800-211-7996 (TTY) www.ncvc.org
Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network1-800-656-HOPE (4673)www.rainn.org

Resources for Abusers

Organization TelephoneWebsite
EMERGE: A Men’s Counseling Service617-547-9879www.emergedv.com
Abusive Men Exploring New Directions (AMEND)303-832-6363www.amendinc.org

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