What Are The Types of Domestic Violence?

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The United Nations defines domestic abuse as: “a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.”

Domestic violence is a shockingly common occurrence the world over, with an estimated 10 million people in the United States alone affected on an annual basis. Broken down further, around 1 in 4 women, and 1 in 9 men are victims of domestic violence—a number which is believed to be underreported.

It isn’t far-fetched to claim that every health worker will at some point encounter a domestic abuse victim in their field.

In certain cases, this abuse may be extended to a child, elderly family members, or other relatives. Such incidents are referred to as family violence.

Of the many forms of abuse, physical violence is often viewed as synonymous with domestic violence—its telltale signs offer easy markers of mistreatment. However, while other forms of abuse may not produce bodily harm, this doesn’t make their impact any less damaging.

We’ll be learning about the different forms of domestic violence, as well as ways to identify whether you or a person you know may be experiencing abuse in an intimate relationship or within your family.

Risk Factors For Domestic Abuse

There can never be a justification for abuse. However, to understand this phenomenon, it's important to note that most abusers act in order to gain control over their victims. This desire for control may stem from anger management issues, low self-esteem, jealousy, an inferiority complex, personality disorders, learned behavior, as well as from alcohol or substance abuse.

The development of this dangerous need for control may be encouraged by the following risk factors:

  • Lower education levels
  • Childhood abuse
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Men who view women as inferior
  • Growing up in an abusive environment
  • Females who witness domestic violence as children

An abuser's desire to dominate may be exercised using physical, emotional, sexual, or financial abuse. It may also come in the form of stalking or isolating a victim. 

Types of Domestic Abuse

Let's discuss the most common types of domestic abuse.

Physical Abuse

As we’ve seen, this is one of the most common forms of domestic abuse. This treatment may be meted out in varying degrees of severity. Typical forms of abuse, among others, might include:

  • Grabbing
  • Pushing
  • Slapping
  • Shoving
  • Hitting
  • Stabbing
  • Burning
  • Biting

Other forms of physical abuse can include:

  • Withholding physical needs such as sleep or food
  • Refusing to release necessities (e.g., drugs)
  • Locking a victim out of the house
  • Withholding help where the victim is sick/injured

A very common and sinister form of physical abuse in intimate relationships is rape. Approximately 1.5 million women experience rape within their relationships every year—a staggering statistic.

The reported results of the 2011 National Intimate Partner Sexual Violence Survey found that men and women suffered through an almost equal amount of sexual assault within their relationships. The survey was carried out over a 12-month period, and recorded around 2.4 million cases split nearly in half between the sexes.

Within the elderly population, approximately 2% experience physical assault, 1% live through sexual abuse, while 5% are subjected to neglect annually. Within the younger population, approximately 10% of children are exposed to domestic violence annually.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is a little harder to quantify because of its non-physical qualities. However, it is identifiable from the words and actions a person uses to berate, embarrass, or otherwise tear down the self-esteem of another person.

This abuse specifically targets the emotional and psychological well-being of a person. It can take many forms: an abuser may distort reality through his statements or actions to confuse his victim. This is known as gaslighting.

Emotional violence may be seen as direct threats of physical harm to the victim, or indirect threats to hurt their loved ones. Abusers may even threaten to harm themselves in the manipulation of their victims.

A person may be facing emotional abuse where their requests and needs are constantly ignored. Likewise, where an abuser repeatedly attacks the self-worth and esteem of a person, or uses coercion that degrades or disempowers them, that is emotional abuse.

Emotional abuse is an all-too-common experience many deal with in relationships. One study found 41% of women and 32% of men reporting excessive aggression in their relationships. A further 43% of women and 41% of men gave accounts of coercive control from their partners.

Emotional abuse; however, goes beyond intimate relationships. The spouses, children, and relatives of the elderly have contributed to a 5% emotional abuse rate within the older population.

In children—the terror, isolation, and ill-treatment experienced in early life have been linked with alcoholism in later years.

Financial Abuse

In this case, the abuser wields their influence over the economic resources in the relationship as a means to oppress their victim. This may appear in the form of limiting or denying the victim access to funds. It may also be found where the victim is kept on an allowance, or denied any say in how finances are to be dispersed.

The abuser may also take away their victim’s ability to earn money. This may be pulled off by barring their continuation at work. An abuser may also orchestrate a victim’s loss of employment by sabotaging them at work,. They may go as far as denying the victim access to transportation to work.

A financial abuser may also blow through money earmarked for important household needs—this can be spent on frivolous expenses. The elderly are particularly vulnerable to this form of abuse. They are frequent victims of abusers who use their money without their knowledge or authorization.

Seniors may also have their signatures forged, funds misappropriated from their pensions, or even have a joint signatory abuse access to their account.

Isolation

Isolation is a unique form of domestic abuse in that it can be carried out by an abuser, but may also be resorted to by the victim for a number of reasons.

The abuser primarily wants to maintain control over his victim. One way to do this is to keep them away from family, friends, or colleagues who may attempt to offer advice or protection against their victimizer.

The abuser can center himself in his victim’s life by policing who his victim can or cannot see. This can leave the victim socially isolated, their primary human contact being with their abusive partner.

In some cases, a person who is facing abuse may choose to avoid interactions with family, friends, colleagues and other acquaintances for fear that they notice the bruising, cuts and other injuries sustained in their relationships.

They may also resort to isolating themselves from loved ones to avoid their abuser’s reaction should he learn of a meeting. The victim may also simply choose to avoid their loved ones because of their abuser’s unmasked hatred towards them.

Stalking

This is a severe form of emotional and psychological abuse. Stalking is majorly faced by women, with 4 out of 5 cases of this act being against women.

Explained simply, stalking is the persistent and unwanted pursuit of another person. This pursuit will typically lead the person on the receiving end to fear physical harm or death to themselves, their family, or other loved ones.

Stalking may occur during or after a relationship has ended. It includes terrorizing behavior like watching the victim from a distance, breaking into the victim’s home, reading their mail, following victims through daily activities, violating restraining orders against being in close proximity with the victim, etc.

This form of abuse can be incredibly harmful to the victim, causing sleep difficulties, intense feelings of stress and anxiety, depression, anger, eating disorders, excessive feelings of vulnerability, and more.

How to Identify An Abuse Victim

Domestic abuse wears many faces, some apparent, while others are less obvious. Some of the signs that you or a loved one may be in an abusive relationship include:

  • Obvious or hidden cuts and bruises
  • Behaving apprehensively in the presence of a partner
  • Routinely making excuses for a partner’s behavior in public or towards loved ones
  • Having limited control over finances
  • Meeting fewer times with family members and loved ones
  • Living in constant fear: of saying the wrong thing, of contradicting a partner, or of refusing sex 

An abusive partner is controlling—whether it is through finances, gatekeeping who their partner can or cannot see, making frequent, sometimes unannounced calls or visits to a partner’s place of work to keep tabs. An abuser may also force their partner to participate in unwanted sexual acts.

How to Get Help

Attempting to escape an abusive relationship can be a truly frightening ordeal. However, it is one that doesn't need to be faced alone.

Here are steps to take after making the decision to leave the danger:

  • Map out a plan: This plan will list out the safe places you can escape to, as well as the people who can offer assistance and protection against your abuser. 
  • Retain evidence of abuse: Take pictures of bruises and cuts, threatening text messages and emails, or other signs that show abuse by a partner should be kept safe and hidden when planning your escape.
  • Contact local help centers: Where possible, discreetly reach out to local centers that protect victims of domestic abuse for assistance with your plan to leave. They may also offer guidance for life after escape.
  • Call a helpline: The domestic violence helplines can provide anonymous help to victims of domestic abuse.

If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

In cases of immediate danger, 911 can be reached for help. If you suspect that a loved one is currently living in an abusive relationship, there are different ways to offer support like setting up a safe time to discuss their circumstances, helping with their escape plan, sharing local domestic violence resources and centers with the victim, or calling emergency services to their rescue.

A Word From Verywell

Domestic violence is experienced at epidemic proportions the world over. Whether it is through overt acts of physical violence, or less easy to identify measures like emotional or financial abuse. Violence may also come in the form of stalking or isolating a partner in a relationship.

Domestic violence can have devastating effects on the physical and psychological well-being of a victim. Making the decision to leave an abusive situation can be incredibly difficult, but it is also tremendously brave.

There are multiple services ready to help with making that decision. If you or a loved one require help getting away from an abusive partner—local community centers, helplines, and emergency services can help to safely get you away from the danger, and on the right track to a secure life away from the abuser.

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