What is the Definition of Domestic Violence?

The prevalence of domestic violence is arguably one of the top health concerns in the country. Understanding its definition can help you to take more effective action against its many manifestations of abuse. In some cases, abusers may not even realize that they're inflicting domestic violence on someone else. On the flipside, victims may not take action against their abusers if they don't realize that the behavior they're experiencing is indeed domestic violence.

Also important is that friends and loved ones of victims are in a better place to help if they understand what domestic violence looks like. Therefore, it's important that people understand the definition of domestic violence and the many forms it can take.

Definition of Domestic Violence: Types of Abuse

According to the United States Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women, the definition of domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain control over another intimate partner. Many types of abuse are included in the definition of domestic violence:

  • Physical abuse can include hitting, biting, slapping, battering, shoving, punching, pulling hair, burning, cutting, pinching, etc. (any type of violent behavior inflicted on the victim). Physical abuse also includes denying someone medical treatment and forcing drug/alcohol use on someone.
  • Sexual abuse occurs when the abuser coerces or attempts to coerce the victim into having sexual contact or sexual behavior without the victim's consent. This often takes the form of marital rape, attacking sexual body parts, physical violence that is followed by forcing sex, sexually demeaning the victim, or even telling sexual jokes at the victim's expense.
  • Emotional abuse involves invalidating or deflating the victim's sense of self-worth and/or self-esteem. Emotional abuse often takes the form of constant criticism, name-calling, injuring the victim's relationship with his/her children, or interfering with the victim's abilities.
  • Economic abuse takes place when the abuser makes or tries to make the victim financially reliant. Economic abusers often seek to maintain total control over financial resources, withhold the victims access to funds, or prohibit the victim from going to school or work.
  • Psychological abuse involves the abuser invoking fear through intimidation; threatening to physically hurt himself/herself, the victim, children, the victim's family or friends, or the pets; destruction of property; injuring the pets; isolating the victim from loved ones; and prohibiting the victim from going to school or work.
  • Threats to hit, injure, or use a weapon are a form of psychological abuse.
  • Stalking can include following the victim, spying, watching, harassing, showing up at the victim's home or work, sending gifts, collecting information, making phone calls, leaving written messages, or appearing at a person's home or workplace. These acts individually are typically legal, but any of these behaviors done continuously results in a stalking crime.
  • Cyberstalking refers to online action or repeated emailing that inflicts substantial emotional distress in the recipient.

Definition of Domestic Violence: Victims

Definitions of domestic violence recognize that victims can include anyone, regardless of socioeconomic background, education level, race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender. Domestic violence was formerly referred to as wife abuse. However, this term was abandoned when the definition of domestic violence was changed to reflect that wives are not the only ones who can fall victim to domestic violence. The definition of domestic violence now recognizes that victims can be:

  • Spouses
  • Sexual/Dating/Intimate partners
  • Family members
  • Children
  • Cohabitants

Many people think that a victim of domestic violence can only obtain a protective order against their spouse. This is actually a myth. Most states allow victims of abusive cohabitant lovers to obtain protective orders (also referred to as temporary restraining orders or emergency protective orders). Some states allow victims of abusive adult relatives, roommates, or even non-cohabitating partners to obtain protective orders. The laws in each state are different, so check the most updated laws in your state.

Dating Violence

Dating violence is another form of domestic violence. The Violence Against Women Act defines dating violence according to the relationship between the abuser and victim. Dating violence is committed by a person in a social, romantic, or intimate relationship with the victim. The existence of such relationship is determined using the following factors:

  • The length of the relationship
  • The type of relationship
  • The partners frequency of interaction

Does the Definition of Domestic Violence Apply to Your Situation? Ask an Attorney

A complete definition of domestic violence encompasses many forms of abuse and negative behavior. Domestic violence is a destructive crime that carries life-altering damage to everyone involved. If you have confusion or questions about how the law can address your domestic violence concerns, speak to an skilled family law attorney located near you.

Next Steps

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