Types of Domestic Abuse

Abusers or perpetrators use a wide variety of abusive tactics. There are five general categories of abusive tactics:

  • Physical Abuse
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Emotional Abuse
  • Financial Abuse
  • Identity Abuse

The categories of abuse are defined below and examples of each are given. The categories are not exclusive. Some abusive tactics may fit into more than one category. A threat of physical harm, for example, could be seen as emotional abuse and as physical abuse. The categories are just a handy way to think about abuse.

Physical Abuse

Physical violence is partner abuse when it is intended to enhance the power and control of the abuser over the partner. If the partner is fearful of the abuser, if the partner modifies his behavior in response to the assault or potential assault, or if the partner intentionally maintains a particular routine of behaviors in an effort to avoid violence – despite his preference not to do so – then this is partner abuse.

Physical abuse can be defined as the threat of harm or any forceful physical behavior that intentionally or accidentally causes bodily harm or property destruction, including the following:

  • Hitting, beating, choking, pushing, slapping, kicking, pulling hair, biting, punching, backhanding, arm twisting, shoving, kicking or burning
  • Holding the partner down or preventing the partner from leaving
  • Throwing and/or threatening with objects
  • Locking the partner out of the home
  • Refusal to get the partner help or medical attention
  • Forced use of substances (e.g. alcohol and drugs
  • Depriving the partner of medication
  • Denying or interfering with the partner meeting his basic physical needs (e.g. eating and sleeping)
  • Smashing, damaging, stealing or selling the partner’s possessions
  • Threatening to use or the use of a weapon against the partner (e.g. hammer, knife, gun, etc.)
  • Driving recklessly
  • Punching walls or doors
  • Stalking

Physical abuse also can be used against children and pets, as well as the partner’s friends and family.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is any forced or coerced sexual act or behavior motivated to acquire power and control over the partner. It is not only forced sexual contact but also contact that demeans or humiliates the partner and instigates feelings of shame or vulnerability – particularly in regards to the body, sexual performance or sexuality.

Common examples are:

  • Unwanted touching
  • Demeaning remarks about the partner’s body or appearance
  • Minimization of the partner’s sexual needs
  • Berating the partner about his sexual history
  • Demeaning remarks about the partner being too femme or butch
  • Forcing sex or sexual actions on the partner without consent
  • Using force or roughness that is not consensual, including forced sex (rape)
  • Rape with an object
  • Refusing to comply with the partner’s request for safe sex
  • Coercing the partner into sex with others
  • Purposefully and repeatedly crossing the partner’s sexual boundaries
  • Violating an agreement for monogamy by having sex with others
  • Exposing the partner to sexually transmitted diseases
  • Treating the partner as a sex object
  • Criticizing sexual performance or desirability
  • Withholding sex as a punishment
  • Unwanted sadistic sexual acts

Some forms of sexual abuse are crimes.

Emotional/Psychological Abuse

Emotional abuse is any use of words, voice, action or lack of action meant to control, hurt or demean another person. Emotional abuse typically includes ridicule, intimidation or coercion. Verbal abuse usually is included in this category. This type of abuse is more difficult to define and to identify than physical abuse. At some time in their relationship almost all couples say or even shout things they later regret. Emotional abuse, however, is repeated hurtful exchanges with disregard for the partner’s feelings aimed at gaining power and/or exerting control over the partner. For example, telling the partner over and over again that “no one else would have you” or repeatedly calling the partner “stupid” or “worthless”.

Emotional abuse is present in almost all relationships where physical abuse occurs, and it can have serious and long-term consequences for the partner – eroding self-esteem and confidence, as well as instilling feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

Behaviors include:

  • Verbal threats
  • Demeaning the partner in front of friends, family or strangers
  • Name-calling and use of abusive language
  • Constant criticism or humiliation
  • Disproportionate anger or yelling to intimidate
  • Irrational blaming of the partner
  • Withholding affection, approval or appreciation as a punishment
  • Obsessive jealousy and accusations of unfaithfulness
  • Instilling in the partner the belief that “nothing he does will ever be good enough”
  • Use of intimate knowledge (e.g. the partner has herpes) to generate vulnerability
  • Abusing or threatening to abuse the partner’s children is included here when the intent is to emotionally harm the partner through the children
  • Abusing or threatening to abuse pets is included here, again when the intent is to emotionally harm the partner through the pets
  • Being irresponsible with money
  • Using insults, sarcasm or sneering
  • Laughing at the partner
  • The abuser harming or threatening to harm himself/herself
  • A special form of emotional abuse is called “crazy making”; examples of this technique are:
  • Lying in order to confuse
  • Blaming the partner for the abuse
  • Telling tales and false stories or playing mind games
  • Telling the partner he doesn’t know what he is talking about
  • Manipulating the partner with words, ideas or lies
  • Denying that statements or promises were made or that behaviors occurred, and telling the partner it’s all in his mind

A frequent condition of abuse is seeking to socially isolate the partner. The abuser cuts off their partner from contact with other people, such as family, friends and children, by creating a social deprivation that leads the partner to be more reliant, or dependent, on the abuser. Social isolation also prevents the partner from seeking support from others or successfully leaving the relationship. Behaviors commonly used to impose social isolation include:

  • Blaming the partner’s friends or family for the couple’s “relationship” problems
  • Monitoring phone calls, mail or visits
  • Demanding an account of the partner’s daily activities
  • Insulting, threatening or assaulting the partner’s friends or family; driving them away
  • Forcing the partner to choose between the relationship and loved ones
  • Creating public scenes or disturbances when the partner is out with others
  • Stalking the partner and other forms of surveillance

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse is the use or misuse, without the partner’s freely given consent, of the financial or other monetary resources of the partner or of the partnership.

Common examples of financial abuse include:

  • Forbidding the partner to work
  • Jeopardizing the partner’s employment by such tactics as excessive calls to work; creating conflict with co-workers, supervisor or clients; creating scenes with co-workers; forcing the partner to miss work through threats, injuries or coerced substance use
  • Refusing to work, yet contributing to expenses
  • Controlling shared resources, including bank accounts and common property
  • Demanding the partner sign over paychecks or denying access to liquid assets, like mutual funds
  • Demanding the partner account for all the money he spends
  • Coercing the partner to pay for all expenses, including rent, food and utilities
  • Stealing the partner’s property, such as valuables or assets
  • Destroying or threatening to destroy the partner’s property as a means of affecting his financial situation
  • Using the partner’s identity to charge expenditures to partner
  • Taking credit cards, money or checkbook
  • Forging the partner’s signature on financial documents

Identity Abuse

Identity abuse is using personal characteristics to demean, manipulate and control the partner. Some of these tactics overlap with other forms of abuse, particularly emotional abuse. This category is comprised of the social “isms”, including racism, sexism, ageism, able-ism, beauty-ism, as well as homophobia

Examples are:

  • Outing or threatening to out the partner to such people as family, boss, or neighbors
  • Using the partner’s own homophobia to demean him or make him fearful
  • Asserting that the partner will never have another relationship because he is too ugly or too old
  • Blaming the abuse on the partner’s identity (gay, bisexuality, transgender) or behavior (non-monogamy, wish to practice or not practice S&M, etc.) or justifying the abuse based on any of these factors.
  • Using racial epithets and negative stereotypes
  • Exploiting the partner’s internalized racism
  • Accusing the partner of being racist
  • Ridiculing the partner’s physical challenges or exploiting them
  • Ridiculing the partner’s gender identity: appearance, dress, voice quality, grooming, etc.
  • Threatening to ‘out’ partner as Transgender
  • Domestic Violence