Identifying Domestic Violence

In its 29th year, Domestic Violence Awareness Month continues to connect those who work to stop domestic violence, address its damaging effects, and shed light on survivors’ stories. We’re doing our part by defining and identifying the different types of domestic violence as well as the cycle of violence that often takes place as defined in our books.

In this post, the terms domestic violence and intimate partner violence are used interchangeably and will often be referred to as intimate partner violence.

Intimate partner violence, as defined in our Intimate Partner Violence textbook, is a pattern of coercive behaviors, including repeated battering and injury, psychological abuse, sexual assault, progressive isolation, deprivation, and intimidation. This type of coercive behavior allows the abuser to establish and maintain control over the victim with whom he or she has a relationship.

There are many different types of violence, including physical, verbal, emotional, economic and sexual victimization and involves intimidation, threats, and isolation. According to Saltzman’s Typology of IPV, there are are four primary types of intimate partner violence which include 1) physical violence, 2) sexual violence, 3) threats of physical or sexual violence, and 4) psychological/emotional violence.

Physical violence can include scratching, pushing, shoving, throwing, grabbing, biting, chocking, shaking, slapping, punching, burning, use of weapons, and use of restraints. Physical violence is intentionally done by the abuser.

There are three different categories that define sexual violence. The first is the use of physical force to make a person engage in a sexual act against his/her will. The second is an attempted or completed sex act involving a person who is unable to understand the nature or condition of the act, has declined participation, or has communicated unwillingness to engage in the sexual act. Abusive sexual contact is the last category of sexual violence.

Threats of physical or sexual violence includes the use of words, gestures, or weapons to communicate the intent to cause death, disability, injury, or physical harm.

Acts, threats of acts, or coercive tactics define psychological/emotional violence. Coercive tactics can include humiliation of the victim, controlling what the victim can and cannot do, withholding information from the victim, isolating the victim from friends and family, and denying the victim access to money or other basic resources. Stalking can sometimes be included as a fifth category or behavior.

In addition to the different types of domestic violence, there is also a pattern in which violence takes place, known as the cycle of violence theory. The theory includes three stages used to conceptualize how violence can occur. These stages are tension building, explosion, and honeymoon (contrition). In the stage of tension building, the abuser may use verbal threats as a means of control. The explosion state is when the violence occurs. After violence has occured, the abuser will undergo the honeymoon (contrition) stage to reconcile and make promises to stop. However, the cycle typically continues and the honeymoon stage may disappear.

Part of ending domestic violence is being equipped with the right knowledge and understanding how to recognize the difference between a healthy and unhealthy relationship. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call the national hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). If you are someone who helps identify, diagnose, or treat domestic violence or abuse, please consider our books as an educational resource: Violence Against Women, Intimate Partner Violence.


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