Domestic violence can take many forms, from emotional to physical abuse, reproductive coercion and more. With such a wide variety of behaviors classified as domestic violence, it can be easy to misunderstand what this type of abuse really is. We often see different types of violence mislabeled as domestic violence. For example, if a couple has a fight that turns physical, it may be called domestic violence, when it is really situational violence. Understanding the difference between domestic violence and other types of violence is critical — both for helping victims and to understand what needs to change in our culture so that we can end it.
When we talk about domestic violence, we are referring to more than a single incident, or even a handful of incidents. The most important feature of domestic violence is a pattern of abuse. It may be different types of abuse — physical, sexual, emotional or psychological — but it forms a pattern where one partner is attempting to maintain power and control over the other. Each and every act of violence is part of systematic pattern of power and control by one intimate partner against the other. Domestic violence does not look the same in every relationship, as every relationship is different. But in most abusive relationships, abusers do many different things to maintain power and control over their partners. This can range from coercion, intimidation, emotional abuse and put-downs to threats, isolation, economic abuse and reproductive coercion. The key feature of domestic violence is that these abuse tactics form a pattern of one partner attempting to gain or keep power and control over the other.
Importantly, victims of domestic violence face very specific consequences due to the nature of this type of abuse. They are more likely to suffer severe physical and psychological effects from the abuse. This may include anything from broken bones and knife wounds to long-term effects such as headaches, fibromyalgia and cardiovascular disease. Domestic violence victims may also suffer from anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and post-traumatic stress disorder. They also face a high likelihood of being killed by their abuser: 2 out of 3 female homicide victims are killed by either a family member or an intimate partner. In Pennsylvania, 141 people died due to domestic violence (97 victims + 44 perpetrators) in 2014. This grim reality is part of why it is so critical to recognize domestic violence as a distinct type of abuse — so that we can reduce or eliminate these injuries and deaths.
Not all violence or abuse is domestic violence. The distinguishing feature of domestic violence is that it forms a pattern of abuse where one partner is attempting to maintain power and control over the other. Victims of domestic violence are more likely to suffer long-term physical or psychological illness — or to be killed by their abuser. When talking about violence, it is important to distinguish between domestic violence and other types of abuse, as the impact on the victims is very different. We encourage you to learn more about domestic violence and other types of abuse, so that you can join us in the fight to end all types of violence. You can also get involved by volunteering for our organization, or donating to support our mission. No type of violence is acceptable — and we must speak out against all forms of violence in order to end it!