What is Domestic Violence

The Centers for Disease Control defines Domestic Violence (DV) or Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) as a serious, preventable public health problem that affects millions of Americans. The term “intimate partner violence” describes physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, and psychological aggression (including coercive acts) by a current or former intimate partner.

An intimate partner is a person with whom one has a close personal relationship that can be characterized by the following:

  • Emotional connectedness
  • Regular contact
  • Ongoing physical contact and/or sexual behavior
  • Identity as a couple
  • Familiarity and knowledge about each other’s lives

The relationship need not involve all of these dimensions.  Examples of intimate partners include current or former spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends, dating partners, or sexual partners. IPV can occur between heterosexual or same-sex couples and does not require sexual intimacy.

IPV can vary in frequency and severity. It occurs on a continuum, ranging from one episode that might or might not have lasting impact to chronic and severe episodes over a period of years.

The CDC identifies four main types of DV/IPV

  • Physical violence

    Physical violence is the intentional use of physical force with the potential for causing death, disability, injury, or harm. Physical violence includes, but is not limited to, scratching; pushing; shoving; throwing; grabbing; biting; strangulation or neck grabbing; shaking; aggressive hair pulling; slapping; punching; hitting; burning; use of a weapon; and use of restraints or one’s body, size, or strength against another person.  Physical violence also includes coercing other people to commit any of the above acts.

  • Stalking

    Stalking is a pattern of repeated, unwanted attention and contact that produces fear or concern for one’s own safety or the safety of someone else (e.g., family member or friend).  Some examples include repeated, unwanted phone calls, emails, or texts; leaving cards, letters, flowers, or other items when the victim does not want them; watching or following from a distance; spying; approaching or showing up in places when the victim does not want to see them; sneaking into the victim’s home or car; damaging the victim’s personal property; harming or threatening the victim’s pet; and making threats to physically harm the victim.

  • Sexual violence

    Sexual violence is divided into five categories.  Any of these acts constitute sexual violence, whether attempted or completed.  Additionally, all of these acts occur without the victim’s freely given consent, including cases in which the victim is unable to consent due to being too intoxicated (e.g., incapacitation, lack of consciousness, or lack of awareness) through their voluntary or involuntary use of alcohol or drugs. For more information about sexual violence in an intimate partner relationship, please visit the CDC website.

  • Psychological aggression

    Psychological aggression is the use of verbal and non-verbal communication with the intent to harm another person mentally or emotionally and/or to exert control over another person.  Psychological aggression can include expressive aggression (e.g., name-calling, humiliating); coercive control (e.g., limiting access to transportation, money, friends, and family; excessive monitoring of whereabouts); threats of physical or sexual violence; control of reproductive or sexual health (e.g., refusal to use birth control; coerced pregnancy termination); exploitation of victim’s vulnerability (e.g., immigration status, disability); exploitation of perpetrator’s vulnerability; and presenting false information to the victim with the intent of making them doubt their own memory or perception (e.g., mind games).

Warning Signs and Red Flags

It’s not always easy to tell at the beginning of a relationship if it will become abusive.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline recommends watching out for these red flags.

Does your partner:

  • Embarrass you with put-downs?
  • Control what you do, what you wear, who you see or talk to or where you go?
  • Make all of the decisions?
  • Equate jealousy with “love” by accusing you of flirting or cheating on them?
  • Pressure or force you to engage in sexual acts against your will?
  • Destroy your property or threaten to kill your pets?
  • Force you to drop charges?
  • Look at you or act in ways that scare you?
  • Stop you from seeing your friends or family members?
  • Tell you that you’re a bad parent or threaten to take away or hurt your children?
  • Check your call log, text message history, or emails?
  • Control your birth control/contraception?
  • Intimidate you with guns, knives or other weapons?
  • Threaten to commit suicide?
  • Engage in intimidating behaviors such as punching walls, driving dangerously, or other threatening ways?
  • Take your money, make you ask for money or refuse to give you money?
  • Prevent you from working or attending school?
  • Call you multiple times in a row or send threatening text messages?
  • Act like the abuse is no big deal, it’s your fault, or even deny doing it?
  • Shove you, slap you, choke/strangle your neck, or hit you?
  • Threaten to kill you?

If you answered “yes” to even one of these questions,
you may be in an abusive relationship. Get help.

For a detailed, visual diagram of what domestic violence/intimate partner violence can look like, please refer to The Power and Control Wheel as developed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project and adapted for gender inclusivity by SAVE: Stop Abusive and Violent Environments.

See where your relationship may fall on The National Domestic Violence Hotline’s “Relationship Spectrum,” ranging on a scale of Healthy, Unhealthy, and/or Abusive.  Notice the signs of an unhealthy relationship before it evolves into an abusive relationship.  If you find that you are in an unsafe or abusive relationship and need support or guidance, talk to a victim advocate now. Get help.