All too frequently the media
bombards us with news about a high-profile domestic
violence case, where a man or woman is suspected
of murdering their wife or husband, with or
without a previous history of domestic abuse.
Violence. How can a person turn from loving
and living with a person to beating them up
or murdering them? What kind of a person resorts
to domestic violence against their spouse or
domestic intimate partner? What kind of person
thinks it is okay to continually humiliate or
talk down to their life intimate partner? What
kind of a person has sex with their partner
without the person’s consent and desire
A common pattern
of domestic abuse is that the perpetrator alternates
between violent, abusive behavior and apologetic
behavior with apparently heartfelt promises
to change. The abuser may be very pleasant most
of the time. Therein lies the perpetual appeal
of the abusing partner and why many people are
unable to leave the abusive relationship.
abuse is most often one of the following:
- child abuse
- abuse of a spouse or domestic
- elder abuse
In this article,
we discuss domestic abuse between spouses and
intimate partners: the types of domestic abuse,
signs and symptoms, causes, and effects. Domestic
violence and abuse are common. The first step
in ending the misery is recognition that the
situation is abusive. Then you can seek help.
See the related Helpguide article: Domestic
Violence and Abuse: Help, Treatment, Intervention,
is the definition of domestic abuse between
between spouses or intimate partners is when
one person in a marital or intimate relationship
tries to control the other person. The perpetrator
uses fear and intimidation and may threaten
to use or may actually use physical violence.
Domestic abuse that includes physical violence
is called domestic violence.
The victim of
domestic abuse or domestic violence may be a
man or a woman. Domestic abuse occurs in traditional
heterosexual marriages, as well as in same-sex
partnerships. The abuse may occur during a relationship,
while the couple is breaking up, or after the
relationship has ended.
often escalates from threats and verbal abuse
to physical violence. Domestic violence may
even end up in murder.
key elements of domestic abuse are:
- humiliating the other
- physical injury
is not a result of losing control; domestic
abuse is intentionally trying to control another
person. The abuser is purposefully using verbal,
nonverbal, or physical means to gain control
over the other person.
In some cultures,
control of women by men is accepted as the norm.
This article speaks from the orientation that
control of intimate partners is domestic abuse
within a culture where such control is not the
norm. Today we see many cultures moving from
the subordination of women to increased equality
of women within relationships.
are the types of domestic abuse?
The types of
domestic abuse are:
- physical abuse (domestic
- verbal or nonverbal abuse
(psychological abuse, mental abuse, emotional
- sexual abuse
- stalking or cyberstalking
- economic abuse or financial
- spiritual abuse
between these types of domestic abuse are somewhat
fluid, but there is a strong differentiation
between the various forms of physical abuse
and the various types of verbal or nonverbal
is physical abuse of a spouse or intimate partner?
is the use of physical force against another
person in a way that ends up injuring the person,
or puts the person at risk of being injured.
Physical abuse ranges from physical restraint
to murder. When someone talks of domestic violence,
they are often referring to physical abuse of
a spouse or intimate partner.
or physical battering is a crime, whether it
occurs inside a family or outside the family.
The police are empowered to protect you from
- pushing, throwing, kicking
- slapping, grabbing, hitting,
punching, beating, tripping, battering,
bruising, choking, shaking
- pinching, biting
- holding, restraining,
- breaking bones
- assault with a weapon
such as a knife or gun
is emotional abuse or verbal abuse of a spouse
or intimate partner?
or emotional abuse can be verbal or nonverbal.
Verbal or nonverbal abuse of a spouse or intimate
partner consists of more subtle actions or behaviors
than physical abuse. While physical abuse might
seem worse, the scars of verbal and emotional
abuse are deep. Studies show that verbal or
nonverbal abuse can be much more emotionally
damaging than physical abuse.
or nonverbal abuse of a spouse or intimate partner
- threatening or intimidating
to gain compliance
- destruction of the victim’s
personal property and possessions, or threats
to do so
- violence to an object
(such as a wall or piece of furniture) or
pet, in the presence of the intended victim,
- a way of instilling fear
of further violence
- yelling or screaming
- constant harassment
- embarrassing, making fun
of, or mocking the victim, either alone
within the household, in public, or in front
of family or friends
- criticizing or diminishing
the victim’s accomplishments or goals
- not trusting the victim’s
- telling the victim that
they are worthless on their own, without
- excessive possessiveness,
isolation from friends and family
- excessive checking-up
on the victim to make sure they are at home
or where they said they would be
- saying hurtful things
while under the influence of drugs or alcohol,
and using the substance as an excuse to
say the hurtful things
- blaming the victim for
how the abuser acts or feels
- making the victim remain
on the premises after a fight, or leaving
them somewhere else after a fight, just
to “teach them a lesson”
- making the victim feel
that there is no way out of the relationship
is sexual abuse or sexual exploitation of a
spouse or intimate partner?
- sexual assault: forcing
someone to participate in unwanted, unsafe,
or degrading sexual activity
- sexual harassment: ridiculing
another person to try to limit their sexuality
or reproductive choices
- sexual exploitation (such
as forcing someone to look at pornography,
or forcing someone to participate in pornographic
often is linked to physical abuse; they may
occur together, or the sexual abuse may occur
after a bout of physical abuse.
harassment of or threatening another person,
especially in a way that haunts the person physically
or emotionally in a repetitive and devious manner.
Stalking of an intimate partner can take place
during the relationship, with intense monitoring
of the partner’s activities. Or stalking
can take place after a partner or spouse has
left the relationship. The stalker may be trying
to get their partner back, or they may wish
to harm their partner as punishment for their
departure. Regardless of the fine details, the
victim fears for their safety.
take place at or near the victim’s home,
near or in their workplace, on the way to the
store or another destination, or on the Internet
(cyberstalking). Stalking can be on the phone,
in person, or online. Stalkers may never show
their face, or they may be everywhere, in person.
employ a number of threatening tactics:
- repeated phone calls, sometimes
- following, tracking (possibly
even with a global positioning device)
- finding the person through
public records, online searching, or paid
- watching with hidden cameras
- suddenly showing up where
the victim is, at home, school, or work
- sending emails; communicating
in chat rooms or with instant messaging
(cyberstalking: see below)
- sending unwanted packages,
cards, gifts, or letters
- monitoring the victim’s
phone calls or computer-use
- contacting the victim’s
friends, family, co-workers, or neighbors
to find out about the victim
- going through the victim’s
- threatening to hurt the
victim or their family, friends, or pets
- damaging the victim’s
home, car, or other property
unpredictable and should always be considered
dangerous. If someone is tracking you,
contacting you when you do not wish to have
contact, attempting to control you, or frightening
then seek help immediately.
is the use of telecommunication technologies
such as the Internet or email to stalk another
person. Cyberstalking may be an additional form
of stalking, or it may be the only method the
abuser employs. Cyberstalking is deliberate,
persistent, and personal.
unsolicited email is different from cyberstalking.
Spam does not focus on the individual, as does
cyberstalking. The cyberstalker methodically
finds and contacts the victim. Much like spam
of a sexual nature, a cyberstalker’s message
may be disturbing and inappropriate. Also like
spam, you cannot stop the contact with a request.
In fact, the more you protest or respond, the
more rewarded the cyberstalker feels. The best
response to cyberstalking is not to respond
to the contact.
falls in a grey area of law enforcement. Enforcement
of most state and federal stalking laws requires
that the victim be directly threatened with
an act of violence. Very few law enforcement
agencies can act if the threat is only implied.
whether you can get stalking laws enforced against
cyberstalking, you must treat cyberstalking
seriously and protect yourself. Cyberstalking
sometimes advances to real stalking and to physical
likely is it that stalking will turn into violence?
end in violence whether or not the stalker threatens
violence. And stalking can turn into violence
even if the stalker has no history of violence.
are just as likely to become violent as are
the stalking victim are also in danger of being
hurt. For instance, a parent, spouse, or bodyguard
who makes the stalking victim unattainable may
be hurt or killed as the stalker pursues the
is economic or financial abuse of a spouse or
or financial abuse includes:
- withholding economic resources
such as money or credit cards
- stealing from or defrauding
a partner of money or assets
- exploiting the intimate
partner’s resources for personal gain
- withholding physical resources
such as food, clothes, necessary medications,
or shelter from a partner
- preventing the spouse or
intimate partner from working or choosing
What is spiritual abuse
of a spouse or intimate partner?
- using the spouse’s
or intimate partner’s religious or spiritual
beliefs to manipulate them
- preventing the partner from
practicing their religious or spiritual beliefs
- ridiculing the other person’s
religious or spiritual beliefs
- forcing the children to
be reared in a faith that the partner has
not agreed to
How do I know if I am in an abusive relationship?
What are the signs and symptoms of an abusive
The more of the following questions
that you answer Yes to, the more likely you
are in an abusive relationship. Examine your
answers and seek help if you find that you respond
positively to a large number of the questions.
Your inner feelings
and dialogue: Fear, self-loathing, numbness,
- Are you fearful of your partner
a large percentage of the time?
- Do you avoid certain topics
or spend a lot of time figuring out how to
talk about certain topics so that you do not
arouse your partner’s negative reaction
- Do you ever feel that you
can’t do anything right for your partner?
- Do you ever feel so badly
about yourself that you think you deserve
to be physically hurt?
- Have you lost the love and
respect that you once had for your partner?
- Do you sometimes wonder
if you are the one who is crazy, that maybe
you are overreacting to your partner’s
- Do you sometimes fantasize
about ways to kill your partner to get them
out of your life?
- Are you afraid that your
partner may try to kill you?
- Are you afraid that your
partner will try to take your children away
- Do you feel that there is
nowhere to turn for help?
- Are you feeling emotionally
- Were you abused as a child,
or did you grow up with domestic violence
in the household? Does domestic violence seem
normal to you?
lack of control over their own behavior:
- Does your partner have low
self-esteem? Do they appear to feel powerless,
ineffective, or inadequate in the world, although
they are outwardly successful?
- Does your partner externalize
the causes of their own behavior? Do they
blame their violence on stress, alcohol, or
a “bad day”?
- Is your partner unpredictable?
- Is your partner a pleasant
person between bouts of violence?
partner’s violent or threatening behavior:
- Does your partner have a
- Has your partner ever threatened
to hurt you or kill you?
- Has your partner ever physically
- Has your partner threatened
to take your children away from you, especially
if you try to leave the relationship?
- Has your partner ever threatened
to commit suicide, especially as a way of
keeping you from leaving?
- Has your partner ever forced
you to have sex when you didn’t want
- Has your partner threatened
you at work, either in person or on the phone?
- Is your partner cruel to
- Does your partner destroy
your belongings or household objects?
partner’s controlling behavior:
- Does your partner try to
keep you from seeing your friends or family?
- Are you embarrassed to invite
friends or family over to your house because
of your partner’s behavior?
- Has your partner limited
your access to money, the telephone, or the
- Does your partner try to
stop you from going where you want to go outside
of the house, or from doing what you want
- Is your partner jealous
and possessive, asking where you are going
and where you have been, as if checking up
on you? Do they accuse you of having an affair?
partner’s diminishment of you:
- Does your partner verbally
- Does your partner humiliate
or criticize you in front of others?
- Does your partner often
ignore you or put down your opinions or contributions?
- Does your partner always
insist that they are right, even when they
are clearly wrong?
- Does your partner blame
you for their own violent behavior, saying
that your behavior or attitudes cause them
to be violent?
- Is your partner often outwardly
angry with you?
- Does your partner objectify
and disrespect those of your gender? Does
your partner see you as property or a sex
object, rather than as a person?
my workplace, what are the warning signs that
a person is a victim of domestic violence?
often plays out in the workplace. For instance,
a husband, wife, girlfriend, or boyfriend might
make threatening phone calls to their intimate
partner or ex-partner. Or the worker may show
injuries from physical abuse at home.
If you witness
a cluster of the following warning signs in
the workplace, you can reasonably suspect domestic
- Bruises and other signs of
impact on the skin, with the excuse of “accidents”
- Depression, crying
- Frequent and sudden absences
- Frequent lateness
- Frequent, harassing phone
calls to the person while they are at work
- Fear of the partner, references
to the partner’s anger
- Decreased productivity and
- Isolation from friends and
- Insufficient resources to
live (money, credit cards, car)
If you do recognize
signs of domestic abuse in a co-worker, talk
to your Human Resources department. The Human
Resources staff should be able to help the victim
without your further involvement.
are the causes of domestic abuse or domestic
A strong predictor
of domestic violence in adulthood is domestic
violence in the household in which the person
was reared. For instance, a child’s exposure
to their father’s abuse of their mother
is the strongest risk factor for transmitting
domestic violence from one generation to the
next. This cycle of domestic violence is difficult
to break because parents have presented violence
as the norm.
living with domestic violence in their households
have learned that violence and mistreatment
are the way to vent anger. Someone resorts to
physical violence because:
- they have solved their problems
in the past with violence,
- they have effectively exerted
control and power over others through violence,
- no one has stopped them
from being violent in the past.
immediate causes that can set off a bout of
domestic abuse are:
- provocation by the intimate
- economic hardship, such
as prolonged unemployment
How does society perpetuate
Society contributes to domestic
violence by not taking it seriously enough and
by treating it as expected, normal, or deserved.
Specifically, society perpetuates domestic abuse
in the following ways.
- Police may not treat domestic
abuse as a crime, but, rather, as a “domestic
- Courts may not award severe
consequences, such as imprisonment or economic
- A community usually doesn’t
ostracize domestic abusers
- Clergy or counselors may
have the attitude that the relationship needs
to be improved and that the relationship can
work, given more time and effort
- People may have the attitude
that the abuse is the fault of the victim,
or that the abuse is a normal part of marriage
or domestic partnerships
- Gender-role socialization
and stereotypes condone abusive behavior by
may be inadequate, such that victims cannot
get the help they need. For example, seeking
refuge in a shelter may require a woman to leave
her neighborhood, social support system, job,
school, and childcare. In addition, teenagers
are often not welcome at shelters, particularly
teenage males. Teenage girls with children may
have difficulty finding shelter because of their
own age. And male victims of domestic violence
have trouble finding shelters that will take
is more common in low-income populations. Low-income
victims may lack mobility and the financial
resources to leave an abusive situation.
abuses their spouse or intimate partner?
- Ninety-two percent of physical
abusers are men. However, women can also be
the perpetrators of domestic violence.
- About seventy-five percent
of stalkers are men stalking women. But stalkers
can also be women stalking men, men stalking
men, or women stalking women.
- Domestic abuse knows no age
or ethnic boundaries.
- Domestic abuse can occur
during a relationship or after a relationship
are the results of domestic violence or abuse?
of domestic violence or abuse can be very long-lasting.
People who are abused by a spouse or intimate
partner may develop:
- sleeping problems
- anxiety attacks
- low self-esteem
- lack of trust in others
- feelings of abandonment
- sensitivity to rejection
- diminished mental and physical
- inability to work
- poor relationships with
their children and other loved ones
- substance abuse as a way
- Physical abuse may result
in death, if the victim does not leave the
is the effect of domestic violence on children?
witness domestic violence may develop serious
emotional, behavioral, developmental, or academic
problems. As children, they may become violent
themselves, or withdraw. Some act out at home
or school; others try to be the perfect child.
Children from violent homes may become depressed
and have low self-esteem.
As they develop,
children and teens who grow up with domestic
violence in the household are:
- more likely to use violence
at school or in the community in response
to perceived threats
- more likely to attempt suicide
- more likely to use drugs
- more likely to commit crimes,
especially sexual assault
- more likely to use violence
to enhance their reputation and self-esteem
- more likely to become abusers
in their own relationships later in life