When most people think of domestic violence, they imagine a situation where the abusive partner physically hurts the victim. But of the types of domestic violence, physical abuse is only one form of abuse. Domestic violence can be physical, emotional, psychological, financial, or sexual. Being victimized by a situation of domestic violence can create feelings of helplessness and even self-doubt, so it's important that you understand the different signs of abuse so that you can identify the problem and get help.
Most cases of domestic violence go unreported. Many victims try to justify their abuser's actions, and try to convince themselves that the situation will improve. Keep in mind, however, that domestic violence situations frequently escalate. What may begin as occasional intimidation, threats of violence, or aggressive sexual advances, can escalate into rape, physical assault, and even murder. If you have children, keep in mind that when children witness a domestic violence situation, it can lead to them developing violent behaviors later in life.
Remember, there are ways to protect yourself and other victims: legal prosecution of the abuser, civil protection orders and restraining orders, police help, and institutional support. If you identify in your domestic situation any of the following, you may be a victim of domestic violence.
Physical abuse is the most recognizable form of domestic violence. It involves the use of force against the victim, causing injury (e.g. a punch or a kick, stabbing, shooting, choking, slapping, forcing you to use drugs, etc.). Remember that the injury doesn't need to be a major one. Consider, for example, that your abuser slaps you a few times, causing only minor injuries that don't require a visit to the hospital. Is that domestic violence? Yes. The slapping would still be considered domestic violence.
Emotional abuse involves the destruction of the victim's self-worth, and is brought about by persistent insult, humiliation, or criticism. Emotional abuse can be a difficult type of domestic violence for many people to understand, since, on the surface, it appears to be quite common in unhealthy relationships. As a victim, you should know that in most states, emotional abuse is not enough on its own to bring a domestic violence action unless the abuse is so persistent and so significant that the relationship can be labeled extremely coercive. Most commonly, evidence of emotional abuse is combined with other abuse (physical, financial, sexual, or psychological) to bring a domestic violence action.
Sexual abuse is a common form of domestic violence. It includes not only sexual assault and rape, but also harassment, such as unwelcome touching and other demeaning behaviors. Many victims don't realize how broadly sexual abuse is interpreted. For example, if you've ever been coerced into not using contraception (the pill, a condom, an IUD, etc.) or having an abortion, then you may have actually been sexually abused. This form of abuse is known as reproductive coercion.
Domestic violence cases are most frequently brought for physical or sexual abuse, so if you think you've been sexually abused, you may have a good claim for domestic violence.
Of the types of domestic violence, financial abuse is perhaps the least obvious. Financial abuse may take on many forms, such as a husband preventing his wife from obtaining an education or a job outside the home. Financial abuse is extremely common, particularly when families have pooled their money into joint accounts (with one partner controlling) and where there's little or no family support system to help. Financial abuse is simply another form of control, even though it is usually less obvious than physical or sexual abuse.
Often, the victim is completely dependent on his or her partner for money. With no access to money except through the abusive partner, the victim is completely at the abusive partner's mercy. The abusive partner may withhold money for food, clothing, and more.
Psychological abuse is basically a catchall term for intimidating, threatening, or fear-causing behavior. This behavior must be persistent and significant. A one-time event generally won't be enough to bring a domestic violence action.
A wide variety of behaviors fall under the umbrella of psychological abuse. Some common examples include: preventing the victim from talking to people unless they have been given 'permission,' preventing the victim from leaving the house, threatening the victim with violence or emotional blackmail for doing something the abusive partner doesn't agree with, etc. Like emotional abuse, psychological abuse may not, on its own, be enough to bring a domestic violence action unless it's especially severe.
Domestic violence is a serious matter that's too often unreported, partly because victims are unaware of the different types of domestic violence. If you are a victim, know that you can get help. There are resources out there: police help, legal prosecution of the abuser, restraining orders, and institutional support. If you think you're in a domestic violence situation, please seek outside help.
Have Questions About Domestic Violence? Get Help From an Attorney
Although domestic violence comes in many forms, don't fall into the trap thinking that everything's okay just because it could be worse. Often times domestic violence starts off as seemingly harmless, but then develops into something much worse. If you're concerned about domestic violence, reach out to an experienced family law attorney to learn how you can protect yourself.