When people think about what domestic violence looks like, they often think about it in terms of bruises and black eyes. While physical abuse is one of the most common forms of domestic violence, the reality is that domestic violence can take many forms, some of which bystanders and victims may not even realize is abusive behavior. Because of this, it is important to be informed and spread awareness about the different forms abuse may take.
Physical abuse is what many people most typically associate with domestic violence. It includes any behavior that is intended to cause physical harm to a partner, often through violence or the use of weapons. Victims of physical abuse may show signs of bruising, scarring, frequent injuries, burn marks, and more. Some examples of physical abuse include:
- Pushing, punching, kicking, slapping, biting, etc.
- Strangulation or choking
- Throwing objects at a partner or using household items as weapons
- Threatening a partner with guns, knives, or other weapons
- Forcibly restraining or imprisoning a partner
- Withholding physical needs by denying access to food, interrupting sleep, withholding medication, denying help when injured, etc.
Emotional/psychological abuse covers a wide variety of abusive behaviors, all of which intend to exploit or manipulate a partner’s vulnerabilities, self-esteem, insecurities, and overall character. Victims of psychological abuse may show signs of an extremely low self-image, excessive concern with pleasing or excessive concern with upsetting their partner, frequent self-blame, and more. Some examples of emotional/psychological abuse include:
- Insults, criticism, personal attacks, etc.
- Purposefully humiliating a partner.
- Threats or intimidation.
- Isolation from friends and family.
- Threatening to harm oneself, the victim, the victim’s loved ones, etc. in order to intimidate the victim.
- Gaslighting (undermining another person’s reality or sanity by denying facts or manipulating the truth.)
- Using vulnerabilities against someone (disability status, immigration status, mental health, etc.)
- Excessive jealousy or accusations of imagined affairs.
- Ridiculing or insulting a partner’s religion, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, personal values, or other aspects of identity.
Sexual abuse is any behavior, verbal or physical, that uses sex in an exploitative way or forces another person to perform sexual acts without their expressed consent. Within abusive relationships, victims of sexual abuse may be told or mistakenly believe that consensual sex with their partner in the past means they no longer have the right or power to say no. Consent must be freely given, current, and revocable, meaning that simply relying on past sexual encounters, relationship status, or consent given for only specific acts is not enough to count as consent to sex. Examples of sexual abuse include:
- Using force, manipulation, coercion, guilt, or any other tactic to engage in sex with a partner
- Taking advantage of a partner unable to give consent (when they are intoxicated/drugged, underage, asleep, disabled, too afraid to refuse, etc.)
- Engaging in sexual behaviors (ex. penetration, touching, kissing, etc.) without a partner’s freely given, informed consent
- Forcing a partner into sexual relationships with others, or forcing a partner to know about or watch the abusive partner engage in sex with others
- Sabotaging a partner’s birth control or personal reproductive health
Financial abuse involves any behaviors that attempt to limit or prohibit a partner’s financial independence in order to keep the abuser in a position of power and control. This is a very common form of abuse, yet many people do not understand or know how to recognize the signs. Some some examples of financial abuse include:
- Not allowing a partner to be employed or make their own money.
- Prohibiting access to money by keeping all accounts and finances in the name of the abuser.
- Requiring that all large, joint purchases (leases, mortgages, car loans, businesses) be under the name of the abusive partner only.
- Limiting money access by assigning strict allowances that control how, when, and where a partner is allowed to use money.
- Opening accounts in a partner’s name without their permission, or forcing a partner to sign important documents/papers against their will.
- Using a partner’s economic resources without their knowledge or consent.
- Demanding that a partner turn over paychecks, passwords, account information, credit cards, etc.
Isolation, Stalking, and other Controlling Behaviors
Another category of abuse includes behaviors that center around establishing and maintaining control over a partner in order to establish complete dominance over their life. Behaviors in this category tie together by the common way they limit a partner’s personal freedom and create environments of control and intimidation.
- Checking the car’s mileage or using GPS technology to track a partner’s movement.
- Monitoring or controlling what a partner can post on social media or how/when they can use their mobile phone.
- Excessively calling or stopping by unexpectedly, usually to check that a partner is still under control and following the rules of the abuser.
- Isolation from family and friends.
- Controlling how a partner dresses, wears their hair or makeup, or any other aspect of appearance.
- Stalking or following a partner, or using methods of surveillance within the home.
- Making harassing telephone calls, stealing mail, vandalizing or destroying personal items, repeated hang-up calls, etc.
Not all abuse looks the same, and often, individuals in abusive relationships will experience more than one type of abuse. Education is important in addressing abuse and intervening regardless of form.