What Is Domestic Violence?
last updated August 2013
Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive and threatening behaviors that may include physical, emotional, economic and sexual violence as well as intimidation, isolation and coercion. The purpose of domestic violence is to establish and exert power and control over another; men most often use it against their intimate partners, such as current or former spouses, girlfriends, or dating partners. While other forms of violence within the family are also serious, this site will address the unique characteristics of violence against women in their intimate relationships, often referred to as intimate partner violence (IPV).
Domestic violence is behavior that is learned through observation and reinforcement in both the family and society. It is not caused by genetics or illness. Domestic violence is repeated because it works. Domestic violence allows the perpetrator to gain control of the victim through fear and intimidation. Gaining the victim's compliance, even temporarily, reinforces the perpetrator's use of these tactics of control. More importantly, however, the perpetrator's abusive behavior is reinforced by the socially sanctioned belief that men have the right to control women in relationships and the right to use force to ensure that control.[1]
For other definitions of domestic violence, see Part III, Section 4 of the 2010 United Nations Handbook for Legislation on Violence Against Women[1] and the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.
Forms of Domestic Violence
Domestic violence can take a variety of shapes and forms, from emotional abuse to near-fatal physical battering. Both married and unmarried women can experience domestic violence, and the abuse can occur between same-sex partners as well as heterosexual couples. The most commonly recognized types of domestic violence include:
Additional forms of domestic violence, uniquely defined by the type of relationship or distinct characteristics of the offense include:
Not all forms of domestic violence are criminalized and, in fact, drafters of legislation are encouraged to consider limiting intervention to cases involving physical and sexual violence, the threat of such violence, and extreme acts of coercive control from which the victim cannot easily escape. While some countries include psychological and economic abuse in criminal law, doing so can create a risk that violent abusers will manipulate the system to enforce actions against their partner or to justify physical violence as an appropriate response to their partner’s insults. See the Law and Policy section of this website for variations on regional and state laws and model legislation.
Women's Use of Violence in Intimate Relationships
Although women do use violence against intimate partners, women's violence is often reactionary, shaped by gender roles, and manifests itself differently than men's violence.  Claims that men are battered as often as women do not take into account the fact that in a high percentage of cases, women's use of violence is preceded by severe acts of violence by their partners. >>Learn more

[1] Division for the Advancement of Women, Handbook for Legislation on Violence Against Women (2010), accessed August 14, 2013, http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/vaw/v-handbook.htm#handbook.