Relationships Violence and Abuse What Is Domestic Abuse? By Sanjana Gupta Sanjana Gupta Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness. Learn about our editorial process Updated on June 29, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Yolanda Renteria, LPC Medically reviewed by Yolanda Renteria, LPC Yolanda Renteria, LPC, is a licensed therapist, somatic practitioner, national certified counselor, adjunct faculty professor, speaker specializing in the treatment of trauma and intergenerational trauma. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Boy_Anupong / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents What Is Domestic Abuse? Types Signs Causes Impact Supporting Someone What Is Domestic Abuse? Domestic abuse, also known as domestic violence or family abuse, is a pattern of behavior that is used to hurt, terrorize, manipulate, or gain control over a family member. Domestic abuse may be perpetrated by any member of the household, such as an intimate partner, parent, child, sibling, relative, or staff member. When domestic abuse is perpetrated by an intimate partner, it is referred to as intimate partner violence. When a child is a victim of domestic abuse, it is referred to as child abuse. People from marginalized groups are at greater risk of experiencing abuse. However, it’s important to recognize that anyone can be a victim of abuse, regardless of their age, race, gender, sexual orientation, class, or faith. Domestic abuse and intimate partner violence are serious public health issues globally. In fact, it is believed that domestic abuse is the most prevalent but least reported crime in the United States. This article explores the types, causes, signs, and impact of domestic abuse, as well as some ways to support someone who has been abused. 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. If you are in immediate danger, call 911. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database. Types of Domestic Abuse Domestic abuse can take many forms. These are some of the different types of domestic abuse: Physical abuse, which is when someone harms the other person’s body, causing them to experience pain or suffer physical injuries. Physical abuse includes slapping, beating, hitting, kicking, punching, pinching, biting, choking, pushing, grabbing, shaking, or burning another person. Sexual abuse, which includes any form of touching or sexual contact without the other person’s explicit consent. Sexual abuse also includes any form of sexual contact between an adult and a person below the age of 18. Emotional or psychological abuse, which includes yelling, cursing, name-calling, bullying, coercing, humiliating, gaslighting, harassing, infantilizing, threatening, frightening, isolating, manipulating, or otherwise controlling another person. Emotional/psychological abuse can be just as harmful as sexual or physical abuse. Neglect, which involves failing to provide a child or a dependent adult with necessities such as food, water, clothing, shelter, medical care, or supervision. Neglect can also be emotional, which involves failing to provide love, care, and emotional support to a family member. Financial abuse, which involves taking control of an individual's finances by controlling their income, restricting their ability to work, or accumulating debts in their name. Cultural identity abuse, which involves using aspects of a person's cultural identity to cause pain. This might involve threatening to out a person as LGBTQ+, using racial or ethnic slurs, or not permitting the person to practice traditions and customs of their faith. Technological abuse, which involves using technology as a means to threaten, stalk, harass, and abuse the other person. Examples of this form of abuse include using tracking devices to monitor someone's movements or online activities and demanding to have access to the person's social media or email accounts. Immigration abuse, which involves inflicting harm on a person by using their immigration status to threaten or restrict aspects of their life. Examples of this might involve threatening the individual's family members, destroying or hiding their immigration papers, and threatening to have them deported. Behind the Keyboard: Spotting Digital Dating Abuse Signs of Domestic Abuse It’s important to recognize domestic abuse because the victims are our friends, family members, coworkers, and neighbors. These are some of the signs that someone is experiencing domestic abuse: Being upset or agitatedBeing withdrawn or unresponsiveExhibiting signs of fear or nervousness around certain peopleDisplaying sudden changes in behavior or unusual behaviorsHaving injuries such as cuts, bruises, black eyes, or broken bonesHaving bruises, bleeding, torn clothes, or bloodstains around genital areasBeing dehydrated, malnourished, or unkemptLiving in unsafe or unsanitary conditionsWearing long-sleeved clothing or sunglasses to cover up bruisingHaving unusual eating or sleeping habitsBeing extremely meek and apologeticLosing interest in daily activitiesIsolating from friends and family Signs That Indicate a Relationship Could Turn Violent Causes of Domestic Abuse Research suggests that there are a number of different factors that contribute to the prevalence of domestic violence: Cultural factors: Historically, many patriarchal cultures have permitted the beating and chastising of women and children, who are viewed as a man’s property. Additionally, the concept of a woman’s sexuality is often tied to the family’s honor. Therefore, any actions or behaviors by a woman that are perceived as acts of dishonor toward the family are met with judgment and abuse. Legal factors: Law enforcement agencies tend to treat domestic abuse as a private family matter and sometimes hesitate to intervene or get involved. Acts of domestic abuse are often treated with more leniency than crimes committed by strangers. In fact, sexual abuse by intimate partners is not even recognized as a crime in many cultures. Economic factors: Lack of economic resources is often associated with domestic abuse. Environmental factors: People who have grown up in abusive environments and witnessed or experienced abuse as children may be more likely to perpetrate domestic abuse as adults. This is referred to as the intergenerational cycle of abuse. Social factors: Society still tends to blame victims for being abused, which can make it difficult for them to come forward and report their abusers. Victims are often scrutinized minutely, and any imperfections are held against them. Substance use: Excessive use of substances such as alcohol and drugs can lead to domestic abuse. Why Do People Blame the Victim? Impact of Domestic Abuse Being abused can cause a person to: Think they did something to deserve the abuse Believe they are unwanted and unworthy of love or respect Feel guilty or ashamed Feel helpless and powerless Feel used, controlled, or manipulated Be terrified of doing something that will upset their abuser Behave differently in order to avoid upsetting their abuser Have difficulty sleeping, concentrating, or participating in activities they once enjoyed Develop mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety Develop physical health conditions such as heart disease, digestive issues, muscle and bone conditions, fertility problems, and nervous system disorders Feel responsible for regulating the emotions and behaviors of their abuser Feel hypervigilant and like they are constantly walking on eggshells Not feel good enough or capable to make it on their own Constantly doubt their perception and their decisions Experiencing domestic abuse can cause physical and mental health issues that persist long after the abuse stops. Supporting Someone Who Has Been Abused These are some ways to support someone who has been abused: Listen to the person and believe themHonor where they are in their process and don't push your personal viewsOffer assistance and let them know they’re not aloneHelp them note down all the details they can rememberRemind them that they’re not to blame for anything that has happened to themEncourage them to seek professional support, either through a confidential hotline or via other medical or mental healthcare providersEncourage them to speak up about the abuse and report their abuser to the authorities, because keeping it secret only protects their abuserRespect whatever choice they make and let them know you'll be there for them regardless of what they decide Best Domestic Violence Support Groups A Word From Verywell Domestic abuse can take many different shapes and forms. It can be extremely traumatic to experience, leaving behind physical wounds, emotional scars, and health issues. It can affect every aspect of the person’s life and make it difficult for them to function. Recovery takes time, but speaking up about the abuse, leaving an abusive situation, and seeking treatment are important steps that can help. 13 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. United Nations. What is domestic abuse? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventing intimate partner violence. Li S, Zhao F, Yu G. Childhood maltreatment and intimate partner violence victimization: A meta-analysis. Child Abuse Negl. 2019;88:212-224. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2018.11.012 City Government of Annapolis, Maryland. Myths about domestic violence. Nemours Foundation. Abuse. Women Against Abuse. Types of abuse. Department of Human Services. Domestic violence crisis and prevention. Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. Types and signs of abuse. Yakubovich AR, Stöckl H, Murray J, Melendez-Torres GJ, Steinert JI, Glavin CEY, Humphreys DK. Risk and protective factors for intimate partner violence against women: Systematic review and meta-analyses of prospective-longitudinal studies. Am J Public Health. 2018;108(7):e1-e11. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2018.304428 Greene CA, Haisley L, Wallace C, Ford JD. Intergenerational effects of childhood maltreatment: A systematic review of the parenting practices of adult survivors of childhood abuse, neglect, and violence. Clin Psychol Rev. 2020;80:101891. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2020.101891 U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Emotional and verbal abuse. Malik M, Munir N, Ghani MU, Ahmad N. Domestic violence and its relationship with depression, anxiety, and quality of life. Pak J Med Sci. 2021;37(1):191-194. doi:10.12669/pjms.37.1.2893 Cleveland Clinic. How to heal from emotional abuse. By Sanjana Gupta Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for Relationships Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.