by Suzannah Gilman
When a woman hasn’t been the victim of physical abuse by her partner, odds are she doesn’t think she’s a victim of domestic violence (DV). But the common misconception that a woman has to be beaten or she’s not a victim of domestic violence is not true. Physical abuse is only one type of DV. Other types of DV, or domestic abuse, are psychological abuse, emotional abuse, economic abuse, and sexual abuse. Maybe if we dropped the term “domestic violence” and used “domestic abuse” instead, the misunderstanding wouldn’t be so common. Other women don’t think of themselves as being victims of DV because they have internalized the abuse. That means they have consciously or subconsciously adopted the belief and have accepted that the abusive behavior is normal, so they don’t think they are being abused.
The United States Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women defines domestic violence as “a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.” DV includes actions by an abuser toward someone he dates or dated, lives with or has lived with, is married to, has or had an intimate relationship with, or has a child with. Though I am looking at domestic violence through the lens of a male abusing a female, DV can occur between two people of any sexual orientation or gender, and there are male victims of DV.
As an attorney, I represented victims of DV under a grant from the Office on Violence Against Women. When women spoke to me across my desk in preparation for a court appearance to secure an injunction for protection, commonly called a restraining order, those who suffered physical abuse often detailed other types of DV that many of them didn’t think of as abuse. But a woman doesn’t have to be physically abused to obtain a restraining order, and I represented many such women as well. A victim is commonly subjected to several if not all of these types of abuse.
This post is an overview of types of abusive behavior that are domestic violence. If you are a victim or think you may be a victim and don’t have the time, patience, or emotional energy to read it, click on the Power and Control Wheel for a condensed explanation of the behaviors of an abuser.
Each type of abuse consists of one, all, or any number of the behaviors described below.
Humiliating the victim, controlling what she can or can’t do, withholding information from her, deliberately making her feel diminished or embarrassed, isolating her from friends or family, demeaning her in public, stalking her, convincing her she is crazy, and undermining her confidence and/or sense of self worth. Source
Calling the victim names and putting her down, yelling and screaming at her, embarrassing her in public, keeping her from seeing friends or family, telling her what to do and wear, damaging her property, using online communities or cell phones to control, intimidate or humiliate her, blaming her actions for his abusive behavior, accusing her of cheating and being jealous of her outside relationships, stalking her, threatening to commit suicide to keep her from leaving him, threatening to harm her, her pet, or people she cares about, threatening to expose her secrets such as sexual activity or immigration status, starting rumors about her, and threatening to have her children taken away. Source
Keeping the victim from getting a job, harassing her at work, making her quit her job, trying to get her fired or getting her fired, acquiring debt in her name without her consent, forcing her to acquire debt in her name, refinancing a home or car loan without her consent, controlling when and how she can access cash or credit cards, forcing her to give him money or credit cards, and controlling her bank account or theirs and her access to it. Source
Unwanted kissing or touching, unwanted rough or violent sexual activity, rape or attempted rape, refusing to use a condom, refusing to let the victim use birth control, sexual contact while the victim is drugged or drunk or unconscious and unable to consent, threatening her into unwanted sexual activity, and using sexual insults toward her. Source
Scratching, punching, biting, strangling, or kicking the victim, throwing something at her, pulling her hair, pushing or pulling her, grabbing her clothing, using a weapon against her, smacking her bottom, forcing her to have sex or perform a sexual act, grabbing her face to make her look at him, grabbing her to prevent her from leaving, or forcing her to go somewhere. Source
A woman who does not suffer visible injuries
sometimes does not receive the support she deserves
when she decides to leave her abuser.
Abuse Stories in the News
When Nigella Lawson, the well-known British journalist and TV chef, was photographed with her husband grabbing her throat while dining outdoors at a restaurant, the public outcry was huge. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in immediately thinking, If he does that to her in public, what does he do in private? The incident spurred an acrimonious divorce. I’d expect nothing less than a very difficult divorce when a domestic abuser is involved. But Lawson did divorce him to get free. Many women don’t divorce their abusers, and many others endure the abuse for years, sometimes decades, before having the wherewithal to leave an abuser.
But the types of abuse that aren’t visible, such as emotional abuse, can be far more harmful and enduring. Some survive those abuses intact. Mariah Carey said in 2009, a dozen years after her divorce from Tommy Mottola, Chairman CEO of Sony Music, who signed her to Sony and then ran her career, that he emotionally abused her and that he completely controlled her. (Mottola brags about his abuse of Carey in his 2013 memoir, Hitmaker. He is proud of the abuse and says it was part of what caused her success.) Carey, too, was strong enough to get out of an abusive relationship and thrive.
In my experience, a woman who does not suffer visible injuries sometimes does not receive the support she deserves when she decides to leave her abuser. In those cases, there are those who tell her she’s being unreasonable or too sensitive, that she shouldn’t break up her family, that sticking it out with her partner is part of marriage, and that she’s not really being abused. None of that is true. But when a woman is a victim of physical abuse, immediate support springs up from all over—and Nigella Lawson’s experience is a prime example.
Another common misconception about DV is that
it only affects women who are economically disadvantaged.
Domestic Violence Can Affect Anyone
I used Nigella Lawson and Mariah Carey as examples because of another common misconception about DV: That it’s a social issue for those who are economically disadvantaged. The truth is, wealthy women, educated women, and privileged women are also victims. DV knows no boundaries. Maybe the misconception exists because the better off a woman is, the less likely she is to come forward and admit that she’s a victim, and the more likely she is to cover it up. Many don’t want the shame and embarrassment, which no woman wants, but an advantaged woman might feel the need to protect her image for reasons that an economically-disadvantaged woman might not.
The Power and Control Wheel
The Power and Control Wheel is used in DV education because it tells so much in so few words. If the wheel is the only thing a reader of this posts reads, I’ll still be satisfied. By looking at the wheel for only a couple of minutes, an abused woman—or someone who knows her well—can identify the types of abuse she suffers. And many women identify for the first time or begin to identify, because understanding DV is a process, that what they endure is abuse, not just a man behaving badly toward them.
How to Get Help if You Are a Victim of Abuse
IF YOU ARE IN IMMEDIATE DANGER, CALL 911.
It is recommended that you protect yourself by clearing your browser history so your abuser does not learn that you are becoming educated about domestic violence because woman is most in danger when she is leaving her abuser or when he is afraid she will leave him. If your abuser is computer savvy, he still could find out which websites you’ve visited. If you think he might be savvy enough to find out, use a public computer at your local library or get help right away.
You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline anonymously 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) and speak with a victims’ advocate. As with computers, use someone else’s phone to ensure your safety. You can also chat with a victims advocate through their website.
Other Places You Can Get Immediate Help:
Your state coalition against domestic violence, which you can find here. State Coalition Search
Or your local domestic violence shelter, which you can find here. Domestic Shelter Search
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence is an excellent resource for: