Basics of Abuse

What is the definition of domestic abuse between intimate partners?

Domestic abuse between spouses or intimate partners occurs when one person in the relationship tries to control the other person. The perpetrator uses fear and intimidation. The perpetrator may threaten, or may actually use, physical violence. Domestic abuse that includes inflicting physical harm on someone is called domestic violence.

The vast majority of physical abusers are men. However, women can also be the perpetrators of domestic violence. Domestic abuse knows no age or ethnic boundaries. Domestic abuse occurs in traditional heterosexual relationships as well as in same-sex partnerships. The abuse may occur during a relationship, while the couple is breaking up, or after the relationship has ended.

Domestic abuse can escalate from threats and verbal abuse to actual physical violence. In extreme cases, domestic violence may result in the victim’s death by homicide.


The key elements of domestic abuse are:

  • Intimidation
  • Humiliation
  • Psychological and/or physical injury

Domestic abusers try to control another person. The abuser purposefully uses verbal, nonverbal, or physical means designed to gain control.
In some cultures, control of women by men is accepted as the norm. That is not the case in the United States. Many cultures around the world are moving from the subordination of women to increased equality of women within relationships.


What are the types of domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse can be inflicted with a number of methods. They are:

  • Physical abuse (domestic violence)
  • Verbal or nonverbal abuse (psychological, mental, emotional abuse)
  • Sexual abuse
  • Stalking or cyber-stalking
  • Economic or financial abuse
  • Spiritual abuse


What is physical abuse?

Physical abuse is the use of violence against another person that injures the victim, or puts the victim at risk of being injured. Physical abuse ranges from physical restraint to homicide. When someone talks of domestic violence, they are often referring to physical abuse of a spouse or intimate partner. Physical assault or physical battering is a crime, whether it occurs inside a family or outside the family. The police are empowered to protect a person from physical attack.

Physical abuse includes:

  • Pushing, throwing, kicking, tripping
  • Slapping, grabbing, hitting, punching, beating
  • Choking, shaking, pinching, biting
  • Restraining, confining
  • Breaking bones, bruising
  • Assault with a weapon such as a knife or gun
  • Burning
  • Homicide


What is emotional abuse or verbal abuse?

Mental, psychological, or emotional abuse can be verbal or nonverbal. Verbal or nonverbal abuse of a spouse or intimate partner is a more subtle behavior designed to control a person. While physical abuse can result in bodily injury, the scars from verbal and emotional abuse also run deep. Studies show that verbal or nonverbal abuse can be more emotionally damaging than physical abuse.

Verbal or nonverbal abuse of a spouse or intimate partner may include:

  • Threatening or intimidating to gain compliance.
  • Destruction of the victim’s personal property, or threats to do so.
  • Violence to an object or pet in front of the victim as a way of instilling fear.
  • Yelling or screaming.
  • Name-calling. Constant verbal harassment.
  • Embarrassing or mocking the victim, either alone in the household or in public.
  • Criticizing or diminishing the victim’s accomplishments or goals.
  • Distrusting the victim’s decision-making.
  • Telling the victim that they are worthless on their own, without the abuser.
  • Excessive possessiveness, isolation from friends and family.
  • Compulsive checking-up on the victim’s whereabouts.
  • Saying hurtful things while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Using the substance abuse as an excuse to say the hurtful things.
  • Blaming the victim for how the abuser acts or feels
  • Making the victim remain on the premises after a fight, or leaving them somewhere else after a fight, just to “teach them a lesson.”
  • Making the victim feel that there is no way out of the relationship.


What is sexual abuse or sexual exploitation?

Sexual abuse may be linked to physical abuse; they may occur together, or the sexual abuse may occur after a bout of physical abuse.

Sexual abuse includes:

  • Sexual assault: forcing someone to perform unwanted, unsafe or degrading sexual activity.
  • Sexual harassment: unwelcome sexual advances or ridicule designed to coerce submission.
  • Sexual exploitation: forcing someone against their will to witness or participate in sexual activity (such as viewing pornography, or making a pornographic video.)


What is stalking?

Stalking is harassment of a partner through intense and unwanted monitoring of the partner’s activities in a way that emotionally haunts the victim. Stalking of an intimate partner can take place during the relationship, or after a partner or spouse has left the relationship. The stalker may be trying to get the partner back or may wish to harm their partner as punishment for the breakup.

The majority of stalkers are men stalking women. But stalkers can also be women stalking men, men stalking men, or women stalking women. Stalking can happen physically with the perpetrator appearing at or near the victim’s home, at their workplace, or another destination. Stalking also happens on the Internet (cyber-stalking). Stalking can be on the phone, in person, or online.

Stalkers employ a number of threatening tactics:

  • Repeated phone calls, sometimes with hang-ups
  • Following, tracking (possibly with a global positioning device)
  • Finding the victim through public records, online searching, or paid investigators
  • Surveillance with hidden cameras
  • Sudden appearances where the victim is at home, school, or work
  • Digitally by sending emails, communicating in chat rooms or text messaging
  • Sending unwanted packages, cards, gifts, or letters
  • Monitoring and tracking the victim’s phone calls or computer use
  • Contacting the victim’s friends, family, co-workers, or neighbors
  • Going through the victim’s garbage
  • Threatening to hurt the victim or their family, friends, or pets
  • Damaging the victim’s home, car, or other property

Stalking is unpredictable and should always be considered potentially dangerous. Consider seeking help immediately if someone is:

  • Tracking you
  • Contacting you repeatedly when you do not wish to have contact
  • Attempting to control your behavior
  • Frightening you


What is cyber-stalking?

Cyber-stalking is the use of telecommunication technology to monitor and harass another person. Cyber-stalking is deliberate, persistent, and personal. Cyber-stalkers may be combined digital snooping with physical stalking, or it may be the only method the abuser employs.

Spamming with unsolicited email is different from cyber-stalking. Spam does not focus on the individual. Cyber-stalking does. The cyber-stalker methodically hunts down and then contacts the victim. A cyber-stalker’s message may be disturbing and inappropriate. Like Spam, you cannot stop the cyber-stalking contact with a request. In fact, the more you protest or respond, the more rewarded the cyber-stalker feels. The best response to cyberstalking is not to respond to the contact at all.

Cyber-stalking falls in a gray area of law enforcement. Enforcement of most state and federal stalking laws requires that the victim be threatened directly with an act of violence. Very few law enforcement agencies can act if the threat is only implied. However, you must treat cyber-stalking seriously and protect yourself. Cyber-stalking sometimes advances to real stalking and to physical violence.



If you or anyone you know needs help, please contact the Safe Futures 24/7 Confidential Hotline at (860) 701-6001 or call the Statewide Safe Connect Number (888) 774-2900.