Forms of Domestic Violence
last updated August 2013

Batterers use a wide range of coercive and abusive behaviors against their victims. Some of the abusive behaviors used by batterers result in physical injuries. Other techniques employed by batterers involve emotionally abusive behaviors. While these behaviors may not result in physical injuries, they are still psychologically damaging to the victim. Batterers employ different abusive behaviors at different times. Even a single incident of physical violence or the threat of such violence may be sufficient to establish power and control over a partner; this power and control is then reinforced and strengthened by non-physical abusive and coercive behaviors. A diagram called the "
Power and Control Wheel," developed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth, identifies the various behaviors that are used by batterers to gain power and control over their victims. The wheel demonstrates the relationship between physical and sexual violence and the tactics of intimidation, coercion, and manipulation that are often used by batterers. The Power and Control Wheel is available in many languages.
Forms of domestic violence can include physical violence, sexual violence, economic control, psychological assault (including threats of violence and physical harm, attacks against property or pets and other acts of intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, and use of the children as a means of control), and emotional abuse.
Physical violence involves the use of physical force against another. Examples include hitting, shoving, grabbing, biting, restraining, shaking, choking, burning, forcing drug/alcohol use, and assault with a weapon, etc. Physical violence may or may not result in an injury that requires medical attention.
Sexual violence involves the violation of an individual’s bodily integrity (sexual assault), including coercing sexual contact, rape, and prostitution, as well as any unwelcome sexual behavior (sexual harassment), including treating someone in a sexually demeaning manner or any other conduct of a sexual nature, whether physical, verbal, or non-verbal. Sexual abuse also includes behavior which limits reproductive rights, such as preventing use of contractive methods and forcing abortion.
Psychological abuse is often characterized as intimidation, threats of harm, and isolation. Examples include instilling fear in an intimate partner through threatening behavior, such as damaging property or abusing pets, constant supervision, or controlling what the victim does and who they talk to. Spiritual abuse may be included as a type of psychological abuse. It involves the misuse of spiritual or religious beliefs to manipulate or exert power and control over an intimate partner (i.e., using scripture to justify abuse or rearing the children in a faith or religious practice the partner has not agreed to).
Emotional abuse involves undermining an individual’s sense of self-worth. Examples of emotional abuse include constant criticism, name-calling, embarrassing, mocking, humiliating, and treating like a servant.
Economic abuse involves making or attempting to make the victim financially dependent on the abuser. Examples of economic abuse include preventing or forbidding an intimate partner from working or gaining and education, controlling the financial resources, and withholding access to economic resources.
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.
Because they occur in intimate relationships, many kinds of abuse, including physical and sexual abuse, are not recognized as violence—by the law or by victims. In many places throughout the world, marital rape is not viewed as sexual assault because a husband is deemed to have a right of sexual access to his wife. In 1992, the CEDAW Committee rejected traditional or customary justifications for domestic violence in General Recommendation No. 19.
Traditional attitudes by which women are regarded as subordinate to men or as having stereotyped roles perpetuate widespread practices involving violence or coercion, such as family violence and abuse, forced marriage, dowry deaths, acid attacks and female circumcision. Such prejudices and practices may justify gender-based violence as a form of protection or control of women. The effect of such violence on the physical and mental integrity of women is to deprive them the equal enjoyment, exercise, and knowledge of human rights and fundamental freedoms.[1]

[1] Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, General Recommendation 19 (11th Sess., 1992), accessed August 14, 2013,