What Is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is an escalating pattern of abuse where one partner in an intimate relationship controls the other through force, intimidation, or the threat of violence. Domestic violence has no boundaries. It affects all ages, both sexes, all cultures, all religions, all professions, and people from all income levels.

Understanding Abuse

Domestic violence is about power and control and includes many different types of abuse. It is more than just the bruises and broken bones often associated with physical abuse. Domestic violence can also include sexual, psychological or emotional, and financial abuse.

Types of Abuse

It is not always easy to identify domestic violence. The following list does not encompass all types or tactics of abuse but provides a variety of examples. Also, it is not necessary for a person to identify with all, or even several of the examples in order to be in an unsafe situation. Recognizing abuse is the first step to getting help.

  • Physical abuse occurs when one person uses physical force or the threat of physical force to intimidate, injure or endanger another person. There is a wide range of behaviors that fall into the category of physical abuse, including: pushing, hitting, kicking, grabbing, choking, throwing things, reckless driving, abandoning you in a dangerous place, and assault with a weapon.
  • Sexual abuse can be defined as any situation in which you are forced to participate in unwanted, unsafe, or degrading sexual activity. Forced sex, even by a spouse or intimate partner with whom you also have consensual sex, is an act of aggression and violence.
  • Psychological or emotional abuse can be verbal or nonverbal. Emotional abuse includes verbal abuse such as yelling, name-calling, blaming, and shaming; and nonverbal abuse may include behavior such as isolation, intimidation, and controlling. Emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse.
  • Financial abuse is another way an abusive partner may try to gain control over you. Financial abuse can take many forms including:
    • Denying you access to funds
    • Tracking every penny you spent
    • Putting all bills in your name
    • Demanding your paycheck
    • Interfering with your work or not letting you work
    • Taking your car keys or preventing you from using your car

There are many signs that you may be in an abusive relationship. Some may seem subtle, some may not seem obvious. There are warning signs that can help you identify an abusive relationship before things get out of control. Answer the questions below. The more “yes” answers, the more likely it is that you’re in an abusive relationship.

Do you

  1. Feel afraid of your partner?
  2. Avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?
  3. Feel that you can’t do anything right for your partner?
  4. Believe that you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?
  5. Feel emotionally numb or helpless?

Does your partner

  1. Humiliate, criticize, or yell at you?
  2. Hit, punch, slap, kick, or bite you or the children?
  3. Criticize you for little things?
  4. Act excessively jealous and possessive?
  5. Control where you go or what you do?
  6. Keep you from seeing your friends or family?
  7. Limit your access to money, the phone, or the car?
  8. Constantly check up on you?
  9. Hurt you, or threaten to hurt or kill you?
  10. Threaten to take your children away or harm them?
  11. Threaten to commit suicide if you leave?
  12. Force you to have sex?
  13. Destroy your belongings or sentimental items?
  14. Threaten to “out” you at work or to family or friends?

Source:   National Crime Prevention Council

What You Can Do

Remember, you have many options. Explore our web site to learn more about domestic violence. If you need help or would like to speak with someone about domestic violence, confidential help is available 24 hours a day by calling our crisis line at 859-623-4095. If you’re afraid for your safety, call 9-1-1 immediately!

Domestic violence may seem unpredictable; however, it does in fact follow a typical pattern no matter when it occurs or who is involved. The pattern, or cycle, repeats and can happen many times during a relationship. Each phase may last a different length of time and over time the level of violence may increase. It is important to remember that not all domestic violence relationships fit the cycle nor are everyone’s experiences the same.


Cycle of Violence Diagram

In an abusive or violent relationship, power and control are repeatedly misused against a partner. The Power & Control Wheel displays examples of tactics an abuser may use to gain control over a partner:


Power and Control Wheel

Leaving an abusive relationship can be very difficult and there may be many reasons why a person stays. Some of the reasons a person might stay include:


Abusers often repeatedly threaten they will hurt the victim, their children, a pet, a family member, friend or themselves. Abusers may even threaten to kill the victim or themselves if their partner leaves. A person may stay in the relationship because they are afraid of what the abuser will do if they leave.

Low Self-Esteem

When an abuser calls their partner names, puts them down and plays mind games it can make the victim feel bad about themselves. Many times a person who is being abused believes that the abuse is their fault or that they deserve the abuse.


Victims may depend on their abuser for financial support. They may not leave because they are afraid they will not have enough money to support themselves – a fear that often gets worse if they have children.


It is very common for a person to stay with an abusive partner because they do not want to “break up” their family and are afraid that it might be hard on their children if they leave. They may be afraid that the abuser will take the children away or that they might hurt the children if they are not there to protect them.

Hope for Change

Abusers often promise that they will change and that the abuse will not happen again. Many victims want to believe this is true, and they hope that the abuse will end and things will get better.

Religious Beliefs

An abuser may quote religious text to justify abuse or convince the victim that divorce is a sin. A victim may be told they are responsible for keeping the family together and may fear being cast out from their community if they separate or divorce their partner.

Immigration Issues

An abuser may choose not to file the papers necessary to legalize their partner’s immigration status, withdraw already filed papers, destroy important papers, or threaten to report them to Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). If English is not their first language, an abuser might isolate a victim from people who speak their language, prevent them from learning English, and not allow them to have access to information. If the person being victimized does not speak English, they may not have access to resources in their first language or know where to find them to get help.

Pressure from Family and Friends

Friends and family of a victim may not be supportive. Victims may not be believed, told that the abuse is their fault or that all relationships have bad times and they should try harder. Family and friends may also get angry because the victim stays with the abuser or has left and gone back. Plus, family and friends may be scared about their own safety – what will happen if the victim stays at my home, etc.

Doesn’t Know Help is Available

Many abusers isolate their victims from their friends and family in order to gain more control. By the time the victim decides they want to leave, they may feel like they have no one to turn to and nowhere to go. Victims might not know what help is available to them in their community.

Myth: Domestic violence affects only a small percentage of the population.
Fact: One in four women has experienced intimate partner violence in her lifetime (women account for 85% of the victims of intimate partner violence, men for approximately 15%). Estimates range to up to 3 million women who are physically abused by their husband or boyfriend per year. On average, more than three women and one man are murdered by their partner in this country every day.

Myth: Abusers use violence because they get so angry that they are out of control.
Fact: Abusers who violate their partners do not usually violate other people with whom they associate. If domestic violence reflected solely a mental illness, or inability to control oneself, then it is highly unlikely that the same target would be singled out time after time. Abusers tend not to behave in public as they do at home. For example, most abusers do not abuse their boss when they become angry in the workplace, but will abuse their spouse when they get home. Violence is not an uncontrollable act.

Myth: Domestic violence occurs only in low-income, uneducated, and minority populations.
Fact: Intimate partner violence occurs among all types of families, regardless of income, profession, region, ethnicity, educational level or race. That low-income people are over-represented in calls to police, shelters and social services may be due to a lack of other resources at their disposal.

Myth: Drugs and alcohol causes domestic violence.
Fact: While there is a correlation between drug and alcohol use and perpetration of domestic violence, batterers tend to use drugs and alcohol as an excuse for loss of control and for violence itself.

Myth: Domestic violence incidents are isolated occurrences.
Fact: Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive behavior aimed at gaining and then maintaining power and control over an intimate partner. The pattern is often described as a cycle, and because with each episode, the seriousness of abuse escalates, the pattern can also be well-described as a spiral. Domestic violence progresses from tension building, escalates to abuse, proceeds to honeymoon, then back to the buildup of tension.

Myth: The victim can always leave.
Fact: The period after a survivor leaves or expresses their intention to leave is the most lethal for them. Seventy-five percent of the homicides and serious assaults occur during this time. This is a powerful deterrent to leaving. Often a person who leaves is tracked by their abuser and threatened with harm if they do not return. The nature of domestic violence encourages conditions that keep a person economically dependent and socially isolated.

Domestic violence affects every member of a family. Children who witness incidents of domestic violence between their parents are at the greatest risk for becoming victims of violence themselves during teenage and young adult romantic relationships. Children who live in violent homes may experience some of the following feelings:

  • Powerless because they can’t stop the violence.
  • Confused because it doesn’t make sense.
  • Angry because it shouldn’t be happening.
  • Guilty because they think they’ve done something wrong.
  • Afraid because they may be hurt, they may lose someone they love, others may find out.
  • Alone because they think it’s happening only to them.

Children may react immediately to the violence they witness; however, some will have a delayed response. Children who grow up in an abusive home are more likely to have cognitive delays in school and are more likely to drop out and they are more likely to experience emotional problems.

It is important to help your children find ways to stay safe and get help if violence is happening at home. Safety plan with them by:

  • Teaching them not to get in the middle of a fight, even if they want to help.
  • Teaching them how to get to safety, to call 9-1-1, to give your address and phone number to the police.
  • Teaching them who to call for help.
  • Giving school officials a copy of your court order; tell them not to release your children to anyone without talking to you first; use a password so they can be sure it is you on the phone; give them a photo of the abuser.