Domestic Violence 101: Types of Abuse

It may come as a surprise to many that Domestic Abuse (DV) is not just physical violence against a spouse. There are a range of behaviors that constitute domestic violence. The fact that our society paints a picture of domestic abuse as only physical makes it difficult to recognize the early signs that a partner will become abusive and makes it hard to tell if you are in an abusive relationship. DV is all about power and control over an individual and is not limited to just one of these categories. Here are six areas that constitute domestic violence, and only two of them have to do with any physical violence.

  • Verbal Abuse: This includes any language used to possess power and control over an individual such as (but not limited to):
    • Name calling
    • Making demeaning comments
    • Humiliating
    • Belittling
    • Cussing
    • Threatening
    • Making them feel inferior

Verbal abuse is harder to spot, because many individuals don’t see this as a form of abuse. They may make excuses for the abuser, such as “he didn’t mean it” or “he was just angry.” The fact is that this type of abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse in terms of an individual’s mental health, and should not be taken lightly.

  • Emotional Abuse: Much like verbal abuse, this is anything that a partner says or does to gain power and control such as (but not limited to):
    • Controlling her
    • Isolating her from her friends/family
    • Gaslighting (making her feel crazy)
    • Using children or friends as leverage against her
    • Being overly jealous or possessive

Emotional abuse, much like verbal, can have a very significant effect on a person’s mental health. This often causes them to lose their identity and can make them feel like they do not have a choice but to stay in the relationship.

  • Sexual Abuse: Has to do with using sex as a form of manipulation to gain power and control over an individual and includes (but is not limited to):
    • Forcing sex
    • Touching genitals without permission
    • Forcing partner to have sex with another person
    • Making degrading sexual comments
    • Forcing partner to commit sexual acts

Sexual abuse has a very serious effect on an individual’s sense of safety, power, control, trust, and self-esteem. Many individuals who have experience sexual assault feel a loss of these categories.

  • Financial Abuse: Controlling finances as a way to exert power and control over an individual such as (but not limited to):
    • Spending money that is not theirs
    • Keeping an eye on partners spending money, and controlling usage
    • Not allowing partner to have a job
    • Preventing partner from access to bank accounts or information regarding bank accounts
    • Maxing out credit cards/overspending

Financial abuse is a huge part of why many individuals in DV relationships feel they cannot leave their partner. If they have children with the partner it is even more of a reason not to leave. They feel they do not have any other means of income and cannot support themselves or their children without the abuser.

  • Neglect: consists of failing to provide necessary needs such as (but not limited to):
    • Not providing food
    • Not providing shelter
    • Leaving for long periods of time and not communicating while absent
    • Not providing safety
    • Not holding up financial responsibilities

Neglect is often not seen as a form of DV because people assume DV is only from the partner actively harming the individual. Neglect can be very difficult to deal with, especially if the individual has children to provide for as well. This aspect of DV should not be overlooked.

  • Physical Abuse: This includes any physical violence towards and individual such as (but not limited to):
  • Hitting
  • Pushing
  • Choking
  • Slapping
  • Restraining
  • Dragging
  • Suffocating

Physical abuse is the easiest to recognize, but that doesn’t mean it is easy to overcome.

All of these areas show how an abuser manipulates to gain power and control over their victim. It is important as a support system for victims of DV that we do not blame them for the situation they are in. Saying things like, “why don’t you just leave?” are not helpful in this complex situation. Being there for a victim and letting them know you will help them in any way you can is the best thing you can do.

YWCA McLean County Stepping Stones serves as the only rape crisis center in McLean County. Stepping Stones provides 24-hour assistance for sexual assault and sexual abuse victims and their families. This free, confidential service also serves as the central sexual assault resource for McLean County. Services include 24-hour hotline, medical and legal advocacy, counseling, prevention education, and volunteer advocacy training. 


Hello! I’m Audrey Aeilts, a Senior Psychology major at Illinois State University, minoring in Women and Gender Studies. I am currently a Stepping Stones Counseling Intern at YWCA McLean County, and I hope to attend graduate school for clinical/counseling psychology and become a licensed clinical professional counselor. I love Lady GaGa and my favorite move is A Walk to Remember

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