Domestic Violence

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence means cruelty and abuse by family members or intimate partners. It may be from a spouse or ex-spouse. It may be from boyfriend or girlfriend, or an ex. This kind of abuse can also happen on a date. And it may be from a family member, such as a parent. It may be from a brother or sister, or from a child to a parent. There are many terms for domestic violence, such as:

  • Intimate partner abuse

  • Family violence

  • Child abuse

  • Elder abuse

  • Sibling abuse

  • Battering

  • Courtship violence

  • Marital rape

  • Date rape

  • Stalking

Domestic violence can take many forms. It most often involves bullying and threats. It can include violent behaviors. These are used to gain power and control over another person. The abusive person is most often a man. Women are usually the victims. But domestic violence also occurs against men. It also occurs in same-sex relationships. The social stigmas of LGBTQ relationships in some communities can make seeking help harder for victims.

Facts about domestic violence

The CDC notes that:

  • In the U.S., nearly 24 people per minute are victims of rape, violence, or stalking by a partner.

  • About 3 in 10 women and 1 in 10 men in the U.S. have reported rape, physical violence, or stalking by a family member or partner.

The effects on victims can include:

  • Depression

  • Suicidal thoughts and attempts

  • Lowered self-esteem

  • Financial hardship

  • Alcohol and drug abuse

  • Posttraumatic stress disorder

What are the types of domestic violence?

The types of domestic violence include:

  • Physical. This means hitting a person to cause physical injury. It may cause bruising, broken bones, internal bleeding, and death. Often the abuse starts with minor contact. It then escalates over time into more violent actions.

  • Sexual. This means rape or other forced sexual activity. It can often happen during or after physical battering.

  • Mental or emotional. A mental or emotional abuser often uses words, threats, harassment. Abuse may include extreme jealousy, forced isolation, and destruction of personal effects. There may be threats of harm to children, other family members, or pets. Isolation often occurs when the abuser tries to control a victim's time, activities, and contact with others. Abusers may do this by blocking supportive relationships. They may create barriers to normal activities, such as taking away the car keys or locking the victim in the home. They may lie or distort what is real to gain mental control.

  • Stalking. This is repeated harassing or threatening behavior. It often leads to physical or sexual abuse.

  • Economic. This is when the abuser controls access to all the victim's resources. This includes time, transportation, food, clothing, shelter, insurance, and money. For example, an abuser may interfere with a partner's ability to become self-sufficient. They may insist on control of all the finances. When the victim leaves the violent relationship, the abuser may use economics as a way to keep control or force the victim to return.

How domestic violence starts

Abuse often starts with things such as name-calling, threats, and hitting or throwing objects. It can get worse and include pushing, slapping, and holding a person against their will. It may then include punching, hitting, and kicking. It can increase to life-threatening behaviors. This can include choking, breaking of bones, or use of weapons.

Verbal and emotional abuse often come before physical violence. Be aware of warning signs, such as extreme jealousy, a bad temper, unstable behavior, controlling behavior, cruelty to animals, and verbal abuse.

How to get help

The first step is to understand that abuse is happening and that it's not OK. The actions of domestic violence are not a sign of love. They are about power and control.

Contact your local women's or LGBTQ shelter or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 (SAFE). They can provide you with helpful information and advice.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence urges people in abusive relationships to create a safety plan. This plan may help you in difficult situations:

  • Find a safe place to go in your home if an argument starts. Stay away from rooms without an exit. Stay away from rooms with possible weapons or other dangers, such as a kitchen or bathroom.

  • Know who to contact in a crisis. Set up a code word or sign with trusted family, neighbors, or friends to let them know when you need help.

  • Memorize all important phone numbers.

  • Always keep money and change with you.

  • Keep a "go bag" of important papers and documents. Put this bag in a secure place you can easily access if needed. This bag should include social security cards, birth certificates, marriage license, checkbook, credit cards, bank statements, cash, health insurance cards, and any records of past abuse, such as photos and police reports.

Remember that help is available. You have the right to live without fear and violence. Without help, abuse will continue. It will place you at risk for serious harm.

Online Medical Reviewer: Eric Perez MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Heather M Trevino BSN RNC
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.