Breaking the Silence: Domestic Violence is More Than Physical Abuse

By Emily Garrett

On average in the U.S., nearly 20 people are physically abused by an intimate partner per day, equating to more than 10 million people per year. This epidemic is pervasive on global, national, and local scales, and occurs within a variety of relationship types (marriage, friendship, family, etc.).

Domestic violence (DV) is an intentional means of trying to assert power and control over another person, which is not isolated to physical abuse. DV can take on many forms including verbal abuse, nonverbal abuse (psychological abuse, mental abuse, or emotional abuse), sexual abuse, stalking (online and in person), economic abuse, or spiritual abuse. Since abusive behaviors and acts of violence are not isolated occurrences, it’s important to understand these different forms of violence because they often intersect with one another. Domestic violence is experienced differently within every relationship, and often looks different for those with marginalized identities. LBGTQIA+, immigrant, and religious communities are only some of the groups that will experience domestic violence through a unique perspective, and it is important to be aware of these intersections or else critical stories and experiences are excluded from the conversation around domestic violence.

Here are some important definitions to know for Domestic Violence Awareness Month:

Physical abuse is the use of physical force and violence against another person, which often either injures that person or puts them at risk of being injured. Physical assault is a crime and includes pushing, throwing, kicking, grabbing, hitting, beating, choking, restraining, and other forms of violent physical interaction.

While there are countless forms of emotional, mental and psychological abuse, some indicators of power-based violence include: issuing threats, using intimidation to force compliance, destroying personal property or possessions, instilling fear of further violence, yelling or screaming, name-calling, harassing, embarrassing or mocking (in public or in private), or being possessive of the other person. The nature of verbal or nonverbal abuse can cause someone to feel that they have no way of leaving the relationship, creating an unhealthy and unsafe environment. This can cause residual effects on future relationships for survivors as well as potentially lead to self-harm. Additionally, it has been proven that being on the receiving end of verbal and nonverbal domestic violence results in higher levels of depression and suicidal behavior.

Financial abuse is another type of domestic violence used to intimidate or control someone. Abusers will access their partner’s bank accounts, steal or break their valuables, or take part of their partner’s income without permission. Alternatively, abusers will attempt to make their partner feel financially dependent by withholding funds, limiting their economic and financial freedom. Financial abuse can also manifest as identity theft or destruction of credit, putting a person’s financial independence is at risk and forcing them into a significant amount of debt as a result of their abuser’s actions.

Sexual abuse, exploitation or harassment is a broad category including sexual assault, which is the act of forcing someone to participating in unwanted, unsafe, or degrading sexual activity without their consent. However, sexual abuse extends beyond assault and also includes sexual harassment and exploitation. Harassment and exploitation include, but are not limited to, actions such as forcing someone to look at pornography or participate in filming their own sexual activities.

Stalking is a series of repeated behaviors by someone else that make a person feel uneasy, afraid, or in danger. This can present itself in the form of someone continually contacting, following, sending things to, or threatening someone, often after the abuser has been told to stop. Stalking can occur before, during, or after a relationship has ended. In cases of stalking after a relationship, an abuser could be trying to get the relationship back or attempting to punish the other person.

Because stalking can occur over the phone, in person, or online, an abuser can relegate someone to a constant state of fear and unrest because of the lack of knowledge about where their stalker is. For example, sharing locations over a phone app or online can result in an invasion of privacy and cause someone to feel like they are constantly being watched by their abuser, even if they originally shared their location willingly. In cases like this, where an abuser utilizes the internet, email, social media, and/or other forms of technology to stalk another person, the actions are referred to as cyberstalking. Other examples of cyberstalking include, but are not limited to, obtaining someone’s online passwords, hacking into their social media accounts, and harassing them or people associated with them through direct messages online.

For more information and resources related to domestic violence, check out the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s comprehensive list of national resources.

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