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Types of Domestic Violence

Emotional and Verbal Abuse

Definitions of abuse and domestic violence can be confusing. Many researchers have used physical violence, resulting in bodily injury as a primary definition. Yet it is clear that for many victims of domestic violence, psychological and emotional abuse is at least as harmful, if not more so than physical abuse.

In her book, The Battered Woman, Lenore E. Walker writes about an abuse survivor she interviewed:

“One woman described life threatening physical assaults, one of which resulted in a broken vertebrae in her neck. She was in physical pain for months following this beating. However, when asked to describe the most painful battering incident, she said it was her husband commanded her to get on her knees and make sounds like an animal. This psychological degradation was far more humiliating and painful than the physical abuse she suffered. Battered women repeatedly cite psychological humiliation and isolation as their worst battering experiences, whether or not they have ever been physically abused.”

Emotional abuse is sometimes harder than physical abuse to define and recognize. A bruise will heal but the damage to a person’s self esteem can last forever.

The following are some examples of emotional abuse:

  • Ignoring a partner’s feelings
  • Ridiculing or insulting women as a group
  • Ridiculing or insulting valued beliefs, religion, race, heritage, or class
  • Withholding approval, appreciation, or affection as punishment
  • Continually criticizing, calling names, or shouting at partners
  • Humiliating partners in private or public
  • Refusing to socialize with people who are important to partner
  • Taking car keys, cell phone, or other means of communication away
  • Regularly threatening to leave or told to leave
  • Not allowing access to basic needs (toiletries, medication, etc.)
  • “Gaslighting” or “Crazy-Making” (Read a definition here)
  • Abandoning someone in dangerous place
  • Threatening to hurt or kill family members
  • Punishing or depriving the children when angry
  • Threatening to kidnap the children
  • Abusing, torturing or killing pets
  • Harassing partners about imagined affairs
  • Manipulating partners with lies and contradictions
  • Destroying furniture, punching holes in walls or breaking appliances
  • Wielding weapons in a threatening way

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is one of the first forms of violence people think of when they hear the words domestic violence. Physical abuse is slightly easier to recognize because it is harder to disguise, and often more overt than emotional abuse. Physical abuse occurs when behaviors are clearly intended to render the victim powerless and to gain control in the relationship. Research indicated that men overwhelmingly perpetrate this violence and that when women do engage in this level of violence, it is most likely to be self-defense against a violent male partner.

The following are some examples of physical abuse:

  • Pushing, kicking, slapping, punching or scratching
  • Pulling or ripping out hair
  • Strangling
  • Biting
  • Spitting at or near partner
  • Throwing objects at or near partner
  • Subjecting someone to reckless driving
  • Using household objects as weapons
  • Threatening partner with weapons
  • Non-consensual rough play (i.e. martial arts, MMA, self-defense techniques)
  • Abuse that results in lacerations, broken bones, internal injuries or miscarriage
  • Abuse that lead to disfigurement or disability
  • Murder

Domestic violence can be lethal. Death is always possible as an accidental outcome of the violence. It can also be an intentional outcome. In Virginia, someone is killed by their intimate partner every five days. Nationwide, 10% of all female homicide victims and 4% of male homicide victims were killed by their intimate partners in 2007 according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is a difficult aspect of domestic violence, both to discuss and, at times, identify. Women are expected to endure a tremendous amount of sexual violence in their lives, and many will have difficulty identifying sexual abuse as abuse. Sexual violence is used by abusers in the same way that physical violence is used: to establish control.

The following are some examples of sexual abuse:

  • Birth control sabotage
  • Reproductive coercion
  • Using a sexual derogatory name
  • Forcing a partner to strip
  • Forcing a partner to become a sex worker or prostitute
  • Accusing a partner of promiscuity
  • Forcing a partner to watch pornography, or the abusive partner having sex with others
  • Subjecting the partner to unwanted touching
  • Forcing a partner to participate in any form of unwanted sexual activity
  • Biting, pinching or hurting a partner with objects during sex
  • Sexually assaulting a partner

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse is an often unknown, yet very common, form of domestic violence. It occurs when one partner is controlling the financial independence and freedom of the other partner.

The following are some examples of financial abuse:

  • Having all bank accounts in the abuser’s name
  • Controlling how, when, and where money is spent
  • Assigning an allowance (often very small or unrealistic cost of living)
  • Denying a partner the right to work outside the home or make any financial contribution to the family
  • Controlling all or most of the finances
  • Misusing a partner’s name for financial reasons
  • Forcing partner to sign documents against their will, such as taxes, immigration papers or other important documents

Learn how Doorways’ Financial Independence Track, our economic empowerment program, addresses these issues with concrete, practical financial education that teaches money management and financial decision-making skills.