What Is Domestic Violence, Domestic Abuse?

Learn about domestic violence, domestic abuse. Trusted information on domestic violence, domestic abuse definition, examples of domestic violence.

Domestic violence occurs when one partner exerts control over the other while dating, during marriage, or cohabitation. Domestic abuse involves injuring someone, such as a spouse, partner, or other family members within the domestic setting. The injuries caused by domestic violence can be either physical or emotional and the effects of domestic abuse often result in lifelong issues long after the victim has left the abusive environment.

Domestic Violence and Abuse – A Serious, Global Problem

There is no typical victim profile for domestic violence and abuse. All types of domestic violence can occur in every socioeconomic group, educational and religious background, age group, culture, and nation; and it can happen in same-sex relationships as well as traditional heterosexual ones. Even though a typical victim doesn't exist, certain women do have a greater risk of becoming victims of domestic violence and abuse:

  • Women living in poverty
  • Women with physical disabilities
  • Women with mental illness
  • Women without a network of support and few resources

Legal Domestic Violence Definition

Mead's Encyclopedia of Law, 2nd Edition 2008, lists the domestic violence definition this way [paraphrased]:

Any abusive, violent, coercive, forceful, or threatening act or word inflicted by one member of a family or household on another can constitute domestic violence.

Why does this legal dictionary define domestic abuse using the indefinite qualifying phrase, "...can constitute domestic violence", rather than saying "...constitutes domestic violence"?

Unlike many other legal definitions of various other types of crimes, recognizing the difference between angry, hurtful words that emerge in the course of a heated argument and the insidious pattern of using verbal domestic abuse to tear down another's self-perception and strength can prove challenging at first. Cruel words used to weaken, control, and tear down the self-esteem of another in a domestic setting represent a common tactic employed by abusers to gain control of their targets.

The legal definition leaves room for interpretation on a case-by-case basis, giving more latitude to law enforcement authorities and court officials to prosecute and stop the cycle of violence and abuse. In turn, the latitude obtained by using an indefinite qualifying phrase in the definition also allows courts and other authorities to dismiss superfluous charges of domestic violence and abuse brought by one person to retaliate against a partner during a divorce, separation, or other legal battles.

Examples of Domestic Abuse

As you read these examples of domestic abuse, remember that all domestic violence, regardless of abuser's tactics and frequency, has one common underlying thread: the abuser's goal to control.

Domestic Violence Scenario I: Your spouse or partner hits you on the arm or leg – not enough to leave a mark. This has never happened before. Your partner seems truly horrified at his actions and apologizes profusely, begging forgiveness, even weeping at your feet. Seeing your strong partner -- who's usually stoic when faced with other agonies of life -- crying and ridden with shame and guilt triggers a flood of love and mercy in you. You forgive him; certain he'll never do it again. Anyone can make a mistake and it didn't even leave a bruise. Right?

Domestic Violence Scenario II: As is bound to happen, you and your spouse have a spat over an issue (i.e. financial burdens, division of home responsibilities, work schedules). Every couple has these types of disagreements and some of them can get pretty heated. But this time, your partner develops anger that seems to exceed the importance of the argument in both scope and magnitude. You're about to go to your Wednesday night art class. He starts accusing you of having an affair, using vile language to describe you (i.e. whore, slut, piece of trash). He threatens to kick you out of the home and leave you on the street, change the locks, take the kids, etc.

Nothing worthwhile is gained by name calling and flinging accusations (with no unequivocal evidence) during an argument. While everyone can get caught up in the "heat of an argument", there's absolutely no excuse for obscene name-calling and verbal threats in an argument. Ever.

Domestic Abuse Scenario III: You're a lesbian who lives with your partner in an exclusive intimate relationship. In an argument, she threatens to expose your closely guarded sexual orientation to your supervisor at work, your family, or worship group. She goes on to justify her threats by saying that your desire to keep your sexual orientation private proves that you either believe homosexuality is a deviant lifestyle or that you're not truly lesbian.

She describes you in offensive, derogatory terms used for lesbians and their intimate sexual activities. When you point out that this amounts to domestic abuse, she claims that women can't be domestic abusers.

You Do Not Deserve to Endure Domestic Abuse

Perpetrators of domestic abuse have serious mental health issues and, in many instances, a self-perception not based in reality. No mistake, action, or sin makes anyone deserving of domestic violence. Abusers want to control their partners and use repetitive accusations and physical abuse to tear down the victim's self-worth and, thus, their personal power to escape the situation. They often deny that the abuse occurred, or deny that what they did constitutes abuse, leaving the victim doubting the abuse took place.

article references

See Also: Teen Dating Violence

APA Reference
Gluck, S. (2021, December 17). What Is Domestic Violence, Domestic Abuse?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 24 from

Last Updated: December 31, 2021

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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