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What is Domestic Violence?




Information adapted from The Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence publication The Nature and Dynamics of Domestic Violence. For a full version of this publication, please click here.

Domestic violence is a pattern of assaultive or coercive behaviors
that adults or adolescents use against their current or former intimate partners. Domestic violence occurs in intimate relationships where the perpetrator and the victim are currently or previously have been dating, living together, married or divorced. They may or may not have children in common.

Abuse can take many forms. Some types are more subtle than others and might never be seen or felt by anyone other than the person experiencing the abuse. The abuser uses a combination of tactics that work to control the victim. The abuse also usually increases in frequency and severity over time.


PHYSICAL ABUSE: Physical abuse is easier to recognize and understand than other types of abuse. Physical abuse can be indicated when the abuser:
  • Scratches, bites, grabs or spits at the victim;
  • Shakes, shoves, pushes, restrains or throws the victim;
  • Twists, slaps, punches, strangles or burns the victim;
  • Throws objects, that could possibly cause injury, at the victim;
  • Subjects the victim to reckless driving;
  • Locks the victim in or out of the residence;
  • Prohibits the victim from leaving by blocking the exit;
  • Refuses to help when the victim is sick, injured or pregnant;
  • Withholds food as punishment;
  • Abuses the victim at mealtime or at night, disrupting eating and sleeping patterns;
  • Attacks the victim with weapons;
  • Makes threats to cause physical harm and/or injury to the victim.

    SEXUAL ABUSE: Sexual violence and abuse can be extraordinarily difficult for victims to talk about because of the ways in which this type of violence often is perpetrated.
    Sexual abuse can be indicated when the abuser:
  • Is jealously angry and assumes the victim will have sex with anyone;
  • Withholds sex and affection as punishment;
  • Calls the victim insulting sexual names;
  • Pressures the victim to have sex, even when s/he does not want to;
  • Coerces sex by manipulation or threats;
  • Physically forces sex or is sexually violent;
  • Coerces the victim into sexual acts that s/he is uncomfortable with, such as sex with a third party, physically painful sex or verbal degradation during sex;
  • Inflicts injuries that are sex-specific;
  • Denies the victim contraception or protection against sexually transmitted diseases.

    PSYCHOLOGICAL ABUSE: It is the abuser's use of physical and sexual force or threats that gives power to psychologically abusive acts. Psychological abuse becomes an effective weapon in controlling a victim, because the victim knows through experience that the abuser will at times back up the threats or taunts with physical assaults. Psychological abuse can be indicated when the abuser:
  • Breaks promises and/or doesn't follow through on agreements;
  • Verbally attacks and humiliates the victim in private or public;
  • Attacks the victim's vulnerabilities, such as language abilities, educational level, skills as a parent, religious and cultural beliefs and/or physical appearance;
  • Plays mind games, such as denying requests made previously or challenging the victim's sense of reality;
  • Forces the victim to do degrading things;
  • Ignores or minimizes the victim's feelings;
  • Withholds approval or affection as punishment;
  • Regularly threatens to leave or tells the victim to leave;
  • Stalks the victim.

    ECONOMIC ABUSE: Much like psychological abuse, it is the abuser's use of physical and sexual force or threats that gives power to economically abusive acts. Economic abuse can be indicted when the abuser:
  • Controls all the money;
  • Does not let the victim work outside the home or sabotages the victim's attempts to work or go to school;
  • Refuses to work and makes the victim support the family;
  • Ruins the victim's credit rating.

    Remember - - Every victim of domestic violence has a different and unique experience. Even if your partner does not engage in one or more of the behaviors listed above, you may still be experiencing abuse. If you are concerned that you or someone you care about could be in an abusive relationship, please visit our Local Domestic Violence Resources page and contact any domestic violence advocacy agency for help and guidance.