What is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence – also known as intimate partner violence (IPV) or family violence – is one of the most common and pervasive forms of violence against women (VAW).  Domestic violence experienced by women and girls takes the form of physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, verbal, and financial abuse enacted through violent and controlling behaviours by a (typically) male intimate partner or family member. [1]

According to the United Nations, “home is the most likely place for a woman to be killed.”[2]

Some hard facts about domestic violence:

Signs of an abusive partner or spouse

Some early warning signs or red flags that your partner could be abusive include (but are not limited to)[5]:

  • Has a history of abusive behaviour in prior relationships and cruelty towards others
  • Lack of respect for your feelings and boundaries
  • Lack of trust in you
  • Extreme jealousy
  • Exercising subtle control such as strongly encouraging you to dress the way he prefers you to dress
  • Coercive behavior – pressuring you into actions and situations that make you uncomfortable
  • Isolating you from family and friends
  • Building you up, then breaking you down and repeating this cycle
  • Threatening violence
  • Gaslighting [6]

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Types of Domestic Violence

The ultimate aim of the perpetrator is to control the victim and abusive behaviour takes many forms that include but is not limited to:

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Physical abuse

Physical abuse is the image that comes to mind whenever we think of domestic violence. Physical abuse describes many different types of physical violence, assault and harm. Victims of physical abuse may not show their scars or wounds easily, as their abuser targets areas that are not easily seen.

Forms of physical abuse include (but are not limited to):

  • Physical assault: beating, biting, bruising, hitting, kicking, pinching, poking, punching, pulling hair, pushing, scratching, shoving, slapping, twisting or breaking limbs.
  • Physical control: binding limbs, imprisonment, deliberate dehydration, deliberate starvation, force feeding, sleep deprivation.
  • Assault with weapons (including guns, tools, water, and fire): burning, drowning, scalding, setting alight, shooting, stabbing, torture, whipping.
  • Femicide: drowning, murder (attempted or completed), smothering, strangling.

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Emotional, verbal and psychological abuse

This form of abuse is largely invisible as it leaves no visible physical marks but can be more damaging than physical abuse. It may result in victims/survivors who:

  • Suffer from low self-esteem, believing they are useless and unworthy of love, respect and dignity.
  • Suffer from depression and truly believe they deserve all the abuse they receive. In some cases, they may even believe that they are less than human.
  • Suffer from Stockholm Syndrome and/or is not psychologically able to leave her abuser.

Forms of psychological, emotional, and verbal abuse include (but are not limited to):

  • Belittling the victim’s character, talents, and abilities
  • Insulting and humiliating the victim publicly and privately
  • Screaming, bellowing, and/or damaging property with the intent to intimidate
  • Gaslighting
  • Giving the victim the silent treatment to punish them
  • Guilt-tripping the victim
  • Interrogating the victim about their day and whereabouts
  • Stalking the victim using smartphone apps and other technologies

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Financial or Economic abuse

Financial/economic abuse is when the abuser forces their spouses/partners to give up their jobs and become dependent on them. Financial abuse does not happen in isolation. This abuse is usually coupled with other forms of abuse to keep the victim firmly under the control of the abuser.

This form of economic control and coercion includes (but is not limited to):

  • Giving their victim allowances which they will need to give a strict account for.
  • Denying their victim money needed to buy food and other essentials.
  • Stealing their victim’s money by taking cash from their purse or emptying their bank account.
  • Demanding access to their victim’s bank account.
  • Demanding that the victim opens a joint bank account with him and have her earnings deposited in that account.
  • Sabotaging the victim at work by constantly calling their victim at work, keeping their victim from reporting to work, or damaging their victim’s work projects.


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Sexual abuse

There are 2 common types of sexual abuse in domestic violence cases depending on the relations between the abuser and victim:

Type 1 – Marital Rape [7]

Marital rape is when a husband or male partner coerces his wife/spouse into sex or sexual acts without her consent. This is usually done in order to:

  • Reinforce power, dominance, and control
  • Express anger
  • Retaliate against any behaviour that he disapproves of

The abuser facilitate marital rape using a range of methods including:

  • Threats of harm/violence towards her or their dependents (children, elderly relatives, pets)
  • Physical force including restraining her limbs and movements
  • Verbal intimidation including bellowing and screaming
  • Using rape together with beating to exert maximum injury and terror

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Type 2 – Incest and Child Sexual Abuse [8]

Incest is defined as sexual relations between family members. In terms of gender-based violence, incest can occur in the following forms:

  • Older male family members such as grandfathers, fathers, step-fathers, uncles raping or sexually assaulting younger female family members under their care and authority.
  • Peer to peer incest whereby brothers and cousins raping or sexually assault female family members.

Girls and women who experience incest may:

  • Be unable to trust anyone, as the person they trusted to look after them betrayed them.
  • Engage in high-risk behaviour, such as dangerous sexual activities, drinking, taking drugs, etc.
  • Have low self-esteem and confidence.
  • Suffer feelings of abandonment, extreme embarrassment, and isolation.

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Footnotes and Further Reading

  1. “Understanding and Addressing Violence Against Women: Intimate Partner Violence”, World Health Organisation
  2. “Global Study on Homicide: Gender-related Killing of Women and Girls”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
  3. “Conflict and Violence Assessment Paper: Benefits and Costs of the Conflict and Violence Targets for the Post-2015 Development Agenda”, Anke Hoeffler and James Fearon, The Copenhagen Consensus Centre.
  4. “The Global Rape Epidemic,” Equality Now
  5. “18 Warning Signs That You Are Being Gaslighted”, DomesticShelters.org
  6. “25 Relationship Red Flags”, DomesticShelters.org
  7. “Marital Rape” Brochure, RAINN and the Indiana Coalition Against Sexual Assault
  8. “Children and Teens: Statistics”, RAINN