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What Is Domestic Violence?




The cycle of abuse  consists of 4 phases.

First, there is a buildup to abuse when tension rises until a domestic violence incident ensues.
During the reconciliation stage, the abuser may be kind and loving and then there is a period of calm.
When the situation is calm, the abused person may be hopeful that the situation will change.
Then, tensions begin to build, and the cycle starts again.

What is Domestic Violence & Abuse?

National Domestic Violence Hotline

(800) 799-SAFE (7233) 

Traditionally, domestic violence (DV) was mostly associated with physical violence. For instance, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition, domestic violence is: “the inflicting of physical injury by one family or household member on another; also: a repeated / habitual pattern of such behavior. Domestic violence is now more broadly defined, often but not always including “all acts of physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence” that may be committed by a person who is a family member or a person that has been an intimate partner or spouse, irrespective of whether they lived together.

Domestic violence occurs across the world, in various cultures, and affects people of all races. According to one study, the percentage of women who have reported being physically abused by an intimate partner vary from 69% to 10% depending on the country.

Domestic violence (closely related to domestic abuse, spousal abuse, battering, family violence, and intimate partner violence) is a pattern of behavior that involves violence or other abuse by one person against another in a domestic context, such as in marriage or cohabitation. Intimate partner violence is domestic violence against a spouse or other intimate partner. Domestic violence can take place in heterosexual or same-sex relationships. Domestic violence can take a number of forms including physical, emotional, verbal, economic, and sexual abuse, which can range from subtle, coercive forms to marital rape and to violent physical abuse that results in disfigurement or death. Globally, a wife or female partner is more commonly the victim of domestic violence, though the victim can also be the male partner, or both partners may engage in abusive or violent behavior, or the victim may act in self-defense or retaliation.

Domestic violence often occurs because the perpetrator believes that abuse is justified and acceptable, and may produce inter-generational cycles of abuse that condone violence. Awareness, perception, definition, and documentation of domestic violence differs widely from country to country. There may be a cycle of abuse during which tensions rise and an act of violence is committed, followed by a period of reconciliation and calm.

Victims of domestic violence may be trapped in domestic violent situations through isolation, power, and control, insufficient financial resources, fear, shame or to protect children. As a result of abuse, victims may experience physical disabilities, chronic health problems, mental illness, limited finances, and poor ability to create healthy relationships. Victims may experience post-traumatic stress disorder. Children who live in a household with violence may continue the legacy of abuse when they reach adulthood. Domestic violence often happens in the context of forced and child marriage.

Alcohol consumption and mental illness can be co-morbid with abuse, and present additional challenges in eliminating domestic violence. Management of domestic violence may take place through medical services, law enforcement, counseling, and other forms of prevention and intervention.

The term Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is often used synonymously with domestic abuse or domestic violence, but it usually refers to abuse occurring within a couple of relations (marriage, cohabitation).

“Intimate partner violence refers to any behavior within an intimate relationship that causes physical, psychological, or sexual harm to those in the relationship”.

IPV includes acts of physical violence, sexual violence, emotional (psychological) abuse, and controlling behaviors. Intimate Partner violence has been observed in heterosexual and same-sex relationships, and in the former instance by men against women, and by women against their male partners.

Violence Against Men

Domestic violence against men refers to abuse against men or boys in an intimate heterosexual or homosexual relationship. It can include physical, emotional, and sexual forms of abuse. Signs of abuse may be difficult to anticipate initially in a relationship and may begin as the relationship grows increasingly controlling. An abusive relationship may involve mutual violence or require a man to leave with his children if his wife or partner is abusive to their children.

Determining how many instances of domestic violence actually involve male victims is difficult. Male domestic violence victims may be reluctant to get help for various reasons. Some studies have shown that women who assaulted their male partners were more likely to avoid arrest even when the male victim contacts police. Another study examined the differences in how male and female batterers were treated by the criminal justice system. The study concluded that female intimate violence perpetrators are frequently viewed by law enforcement and the criminal justice system as victims rather than the actual offenders of violence against men.

Same-Sex Relationships

Domestic violence occurs in some same-sex relationships. Gay and lesbian relationships have been identified as a risk factor for abuse in certain populations. LGBT people in some parts of the world have very little legal protection from DV because engaging in homosexual acts is itself prohibited by the “sodomy laws” of those jurisdictions (as of 2014, same-sex sexual acts are punishable by imprisonment in 70 countries and by death in other 5 countries) and these legal prohibitions prevent LGBT victims of DV from reporting the abuse to authorities.

Forms of Abuse

Domestic violence can take many forms, including physical aggression or assault (hitting, kicking, biting, shoving, restraining, slapping, throwing objects, battery), or threats thereof; sexual abuse; controlling or domineering; intimidation; stalking; passive/covert abuse (e.g., neglect); and economic deprivation. It can also mean endangerment, criminal coercion, kidnapping, unlawful imprisonment, trespassing, and harassment.


Physical abuse is abuse involving contact intended to cause pain, injury, or other physical suffering or bodily harm. It includes hitting, slapping, punching, choking, pushing, throwing objects, burning, and other types of contact that result in physical injury to the victim. The victim may be abused by several perpetrators: for instance, the victim may be held down by a person so that someone else can assault the victim. The victim may be locked in a room or tied down.


Sexual violence, or sexual abuse, is as any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed, against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim. It also includes obligatory inspections for virginity and female genital mutilation. Aside from the initiation of the sexual act through physical force, sexual abuse occurs if a person is unable to understand the nature or condition of the act, unable to decline participation, or unable to communicate unwillingness to engage in the sexual act. This could be because of underage immaturity, illness, disability, or the influence of alcohol or other drugs, or due to intimidation or pressure.

Sexual abuse in the family can take the form of incest between an adult and a child, which is a form of child sexual abuse. In some cultures, there are ritualized forms of child sexual abuse that often take place with the knowledge and consent of the family of the child, where the child is induced to engage in sexual acts with adults, whether or not in exchange for money or goods: for instance in Malawi, some parents arrange for an older man, often called “hyena”, to have sex with their daughters.


Emotional abuse (also called psychological abuse or mental abuse) can include verbal abuse and is defined as any behavior that threatens, intimidates, undermines the victim’s self-worth or self-esteem, or controls the victim’s freedom. According to the Istanbul Convention, psychological violence is “the intentional conduct of seriously impairing a person’s psychological integrity through coercion or threats”.

This can include threatening the victim with injury or harm, telling the victim that they will be killed if they ever leave the relationship, isolating them from others, and public humiliation. Controlling behavior includes monitoring the victim’s movements or restricting their access to financial resources, employment, education, or medical care. Constant criticism, devaluing statements, and name-calling are emotionally abused behaviors. Emotional abuse may include conflicting actions or statements which are designed to confuse and create insecurity in the victim. These behaviors also lead the victims to question themselves, causing them to believe that they are making up the abuse or that the abuse is their fault. Perpetrators may alienate a child from a parent or extended family member by teaching or forcing them to harshly criticize another person. Stalking is a common form of psychological intimidation and is most often perpetrated by former or current partners.

People who are being emotionally abused may feel that their significant other has nearly total control over them. Isolation damages the victim’s sense of internal strength, leaving them feeling helpless and unable to escape from the situation. Victims often suffer from depression, which puts them at increased risk for suicide, eating disorders, and drug and alcohol abuse.


Verbal abuse is a form of emotionally abusive behavior involving the use of language, which can involve threats, name-calling, blaming, ridicule, disrespect, and criticism. Less obviously aggressive forms of verbal abuse include statements that may seem benign on the surface that are thinly veiled attempts to humiliate, falsely accuse, or manipulate others to submit to undesirable behavior, make others feel unwanted and unloved, threaten others economically, or isolate victims from support systems.


Economic abuse is a form of abuse when one intimate partner has control over the other partner’s access to economic resources. Economic abuse may involve preventing a spouse from resource acquisition, limiting the number of resources to use by the victim, or by exploiting economic resources of the victim. The motive behind preventing a spouse from acquiring resources is to diminish victim’s capacity to support his/herself, thus forcing him/her to depend on the perpetrator financially, which includes preventing the victim from obtaining an education, finding employment, maintaining or advancing their careers, and acquiring assets. Forcing or pressuring a family member to sign documents, to sell things, or to change a will are forms of economic abuse

In addition, the abuser may also put the victim on an allowance, closely monitor how the victim spends money, spend victim’s money without his/her consent and creating debt, or completely spend victim’s savings to limit available resources.

In parts of the world where women depend on husbands in order to survive (due to lack of opportunities for female employment and lack of state welfare) economic abuse can have very severe consequences. Abusive relations have been associated with malnutrition among both mothers and children. In India, for example, the withholding of food is a documented form of family abuse.

Child Abuse

“Child maltreatment sometimes referred to as child abuse and neglect, includes all forms of physical and emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, and exploitation that result in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, development, or dignity. Within this broad definition, five subtypes can be distinguished – physical abuse; sexual abuse; neglect and negligent treatment; emotional abuse; and exploitation.”

Child abuse is the physical, sexual, or emotional maltreatment or neglect of a child or children. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department for Children and Families (DCF) define child maltreatment as any act or series of acts of commission or omission by a parent or other caregiver that results in harm, the potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child. Child abuse can occur in a child’s home, or in the organizations, schools, or communities the child interacts with. There are four major categories of child abuse: neglect, physical abuse, psychological or emotional abuse, and sexual abuse.

Parental Abuse by Children

Abuse of parents by their children is a common but under-reported and under-researched subject. Parents are quite often subject to levels of childhood aggression in excess of normal childhood aggressive outbursts, typically in the form of verbal or physical abuse. Parents feel a sense of shame and humiliation to have that problem, so they rarely seek help and it is usually little or no help available anyway.

Elder Abuse

Elder abuse is “a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person. This definition has been adopted by the World Health Organization from a definition put forward by Action on Elder Abuse protecting the elderly from abuse are similar to, and related to, laws protecting dependent adults from abuse.

The core element to the harm of elder abuse is the “expectation of trust” of the older person toward their abuser. Thus, it includes harms by people the older person knows or with whom they have a relationship, such as a spouse, partner or family member, a friend or neighbor, or people that the older person relies on for services. Many forms of elder abuse are recognized as types of domestic violence or family violence.

Domestic Violence & People with Disabilities

 Bringing It Out of the Shadows

Anyone can be affected by domestic violence and abuse, but people with disabilities are more likely to experience abuse than people without disabilities. Because abuse is about power and control, people with disabilities may face unique challenges and barriers to accessing support.

According to the Equal Rights Center, domestic violence can intersect with disability in 4 key ways:

Domestic violence can cause temporary or permanent disabilityPeople with disabilities experience higher rates of domestic violence, sexual assault, and abuse
Violence, assault, and abuse against a person with a disability often take on non-“traditional” forms
People with disabilities face additional barriers when seeking help

The red flags of abuse are the same for everyone, but a person with disabilities may experience non-”traditional” signs, including an abusive partner who:

  • Tells them that they are “not allowed” to have a pain flare-up

  • Steals or withholds their Social Security Disability check

  • Tells them that they are a bad parent or could never be a parent because they have a disability

  • Uses gaslighting to invalidate their disability (for example: “You’re faking it” or “It’s all in your head”)

  • Uses their disability to shame or humiliate them

  • Refuses to help them use the bathroom or complete necessary life tasks when they had previously agreed to

  • Withholds or threatens to withhold medication; purposefully over-medicates them or mixes medications in a dangerous/non-prescribed way

  • Instigates sexual activity when they know their partner is not capable of consenting

  • Withholds, damages or breaks assistive devices

  • Does not allow them to see a doctor

  • Threatens to “out” their disability to others (for example, someone who is HIV-positive may not wish to disclose their status, and their abusive partner will use their status to control them)

  • Threatens to harm or harms their service animal

  • Uses a disability as an excuse for the abuse; tells them that they “deserve” abuse because of their disability

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), adopted in 1990, provides protection from discrimination for people with disabilities. The ADA defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities.”

It’s important to note that under Title II of the ADA, social services such as domestic violence shelters must be accessible for people with disabilities. Title III of the ADA covers public accommodations, which generally includes all places open to the public, such as offices for counseling services, legal services, translation services, doctors’ offices and shelters.

Per the ADA, to be accessible to people with disabilities, shelters and offices are required to:

  • ADMIT PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES INTO THE SHELTER People with disabilities must have an equal opportunity to benefit from programs, services, and activities. People with disabilities must be treated equally and may not be excluded from shelters on the basis of having a disability. For example, it is not permissible to deny admittance to an individual because he or she has a mental health disability or HIV.

  • PROVIDE REASONABLE ACCOMMODATIONS ‘Reasonable accommodations’ – alterations to policies, practices, and procedures – allow a program or shelter to provide the same services to people with disabilities as people without disabilities. Reasonable accommodations must be made unless they entail significant difficulty or expense. For example, if a shelter has a no pet policy, that policy may need to be altered to admit an individual who has a service dog.

  • ELIMINATE STRUCTURAL BARRIERS TO ACCESS A building must be free of structural barriers to people with disabilities. Although people with mobility disabilities are the most affected by structural barriers, people with a range of disabilities can benefit from the removal of structural barriers or modifications of physical attributes.

Resources for Survivors with Disabilities

  • Best Colleges, Gov’t Programs, Scholarships & Helpful Apps for disabled students

  • Adult Protective Services

  • Abused Deaf Women’s Advocacy Services (ADWAS)


  • Safety Planning for Domestic Violence Victims with Disabilities

  • Safety Planning for Persons with Disabilities (Advocate Guide)

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse of any kind from an intimate partner, Hotline advocates are here to support you. Please note that Hotline advocates are mandatory reporters of abuse of people with disabilities. This means that to protect confidentiality, it is advisable not to disclose identifying information when speaking with a Hotline advocate.

Internet & Computer Safety

If you are in danger, please try to use a safer computer that someone abusive does not have direct or remote (hacking) access to.

If you think your activities are being monitored, they probably are. Abusive people are often controlling and want to know your every move. You don’t need to be a computer programmer or have special skills to monitor someone’s computer and Internet activities – anyone can do it and there are many ways to monitor with programs like Spyware, keystroke loggers, and hacking tools. It is not possible to delete or clear all the “footprints" of your computer or online activities. If you are being monitored, it may be dangerous to change your computer behaviors such as suddenly deleting your entire Internet history if that is not your regular habit.

If you think you may be monitored on your home computer, be careful how you use your computer since an abuser might become suspicious. You may want to keep using the monitored computer for innocuous activities, like looking up the weather. Use a safer computer to research an escape plan, look for new jobs or apartments, bus tickets, or ask for help.

Email and Instant/Text Messaging (IM) are not safe or confidential ways to talk to someone about the danger or abuse in your life. If possible, please call a hotline instead. If you use email or IM, please use a safer computer and an account your abuser does not know about.

Computers can store a lot of private information about what you look at via the Internet, the emails and instant messages you send, internet-based phone and IP-TTY calls you make, web-based purchases and banking, and many other activities. It might be safer to use a computer in a public library, at a trusted friend’s house, or an Internet Café.

The New Jersey Statewide Domestic Violence Hotline provides 24-hour, seven-day-a-week access to domestic violence victims and others seeking information about domestic violence.

1 (800) 572-SAFE (7233)


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