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Domestic Violence – Definition

Domestic Violence – Definition

Understanding domestic violence helps us support and protect our children. Domestic violence is a terrorist act which:

The abuser is always responsible for the violence and should be held accountable.

There is no excuse for these violent acts and the victim is never responsible for the abuser’s behavior.

Involves repetitive behavior including different types of abuse such as:

  • Physical Abuse
  • Psychological Abuse
  • Sexual assault / Abuse
  • Emotional Abuse
  • Economic and Financial Abuse
  • Stalking / Cyberstalking Abuse

Is an abusive behavior that in most cases has been learned by the abuser/batterer

Uses children to intimidate, humiliate or frighten victims as a systematic way of Maintaining power and control over them;

Is seen throughout the world in every community

Occurs within any age, racial, socioeconomic, educational, occupational and religious group;

Occurs within an family setting and/or an intimate relationship;

Is a criminal offense where actual or threatened physical or sexual force is used;

Differentially affects men and women: women experience more violence over a lifetime, more severe forms of violence and more serious injuries than do male victims;

Results in a behavior by the victim that is focused on ensuring survival that may seem unreasonable and even bizarre to a friend or outside person. Some behaviours for remaining in the abusive relationship are: Minimizing or denying the violence

Taking responsibility for the violence

Protecting the perpetrator

Using alcohol or drugs

Self-defense, seeking help

They still love them

They are terrified of the consequences

The abuser may threaten to harm or even kill his partner or the children if they leave

May worry about losing their children – or they may feel that it is best for the children if they stay and try to make their relationship work.

May not end once the victims leave the batterer/abuser; the is a possible risk of increased violence through stalking to the victim and children at the time of separation from the abuser;

Is caused by the perpetrator and not by the victim or the relationship.

Domestic violence is a form of local terrorism that has been experienced throughout history with no end in sight. The victim of domestic abuse or domestic violence may be a man or a woman. Domestic abuse occurs in traditional heterosexual marriages, as well as in same-sex partnerships. The abuse may occur during a relationship, while the couple is breaking up, or after the relationship has ended.   Also known as domestic abuse, spousal abuse, child abuse or intimate partner violence (IPV), domestic violence can be broadly defined as a pattern of abusive behaviors by one or both partners in an intimate relationship such as marriage, dating, family, friends or cohabitation. Domestic violence can be perpetrated by other family members (for example extended family).   In some cases, older children – teenagers or young adults – are violent or abusive towards their mothers or other family members.

The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women – defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women. This definition refers to the gender-based roots of violence, recognizing that “violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men.” It broadens the definition of violence by including both the physical and psychological harm done towards women, and it includes acts in both private and public life. The Declaration defines violence against women as encompassing, but not limited to, three areas: violence occurring in the family, within the general community, and violence perpetrated or condoned by the State.

The abuser is always responsible for the violence and should be held accountable. There is no excuse for domestic violence and the victim is never responsible for the abuser’s behavior.

Family or household members include:

  • Spouses / former spouses / person(s) in a dating relationship (women or men)
  • Adults related by blood or marriage (in-laws, aunts, uncles)
  • Brothers / sisters (step, in-laws, niece, nephew)
  • Children from present relationship (biological)
  • Children from past/other relationships (step children, adopted, foster)
  • Elderly (grandparents, great-grandparents)

Domestic violence also has an enormous effect on the children living in households where one of their parents/carers is abusing the other. This is one of the most invisible forms of violence because the crime is perpetrated most often by a father, stepfather, grandfather, brother, uncle, or another male relative in a position of trust.  The rights of the child are usually sacrificed in order to protect the name of the family and that of the adult perpetrator. A high proportion of these children are themselves being abused – either physically or sexually – by the same perpetrator.

All forms of domestic violence come from the abuser’s desire for power and control over an intimate partner or other family member(s). This abusive behaviour is repetitive and life-threatening; it tends to worsen over time and destroys the lives of women and children. Any woman can experience domestic violence regardless of race, ethnic or religious group, class, disability or lifestyle; violence can also take place in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender relationships.

Domestic violence takes many forms:

  • Physical Abuse; or fear of Physical Harm
  • Sexual Assault / Abuse
  • Economic and Financial Abuse
  • Psychological Abuse
  • Emotional Abuse

Abusers are generally very needy and controlling; the abuse escalates when they feel they may lose their partner, or when the relationship ends.  Even a single incident of physical violence or the threat of such violence may be sufficient to establish power and control over a partner; this power and control is then reinforced and strengthened by non-physical abusive and coercive behaviors. Emotional and verbal abuse frequently shifts to more overt threats or physical abuse, particularly in times of stress.  It is a common cause of injury. Victims may suffer physical injuries such as bruises or broken bones; they may suffer emotionally from depression, anxiety or social isolation; they may succumb to death.

Domestic abuse is not a result of losing control; domestic abuse is intentionally trying to control another person. The abuser is purposefully using verbal, nonverbal, or physical means to gain control over the other person. Each of these abusive tactics; physical, psychological, financial, and emotional all come from the abuser’s desire to control and have power over their intimate partner or other family member(s). Domestic abuse often escalates from threats and verbal abuse to physical violence. Domestic violence may even end up in murder.

Domestic violence is repetitive and life-threatening, tends to worsen over time and destroys the lives of women and children. It is most commonly experienced by women, and perpetrated by men, particularly when there is a pattern of repeated and serious physical assaults when it includes rape or sexual assault, or results in injury or death. Men can also experience violence from their partners (both within gay and straight relationships). The abusers use a wide range of coercive and abusive behaviors against their victim(s). Some of the cruel measures these abusive people used result in a wide variety of injuries; physical, emotional and/or psychological. The abuser employs different abusive behaviors at different times. Abusive relationships get worse over time.

Abusers use a variety of tactics to manipulate you and exert their power and control over their victims:

  • Denial, Blame and Jealousy
  • Disrespect
  • Domination
  • Humiliation
  • Intimidation
  • Isolation
  • Threats, Coercion and Pressure Tactics
  • Using Children

The abusers will often make excuses for their behavior as well as blaming their victim(s) for all their abusive attacks. They also manage to convince their victim(s) that all the abuse is justifiable and the fault of the victim. Blaming their behavior on someone else, on the relationship, their childhood, their ill health, or their alcohol or drug addiction is one way in which many abusers try to avoid personal responsibility for their behavior. It is important that any intervention to address domestic violence prioritizes the safety of victims/survivors and holds the perpetrators accountable

One question that is often asked is: “Why didn’t you leave?” or alternatively “Why did you stay so long?” If you haven’t been in this situation yourself, leaving may seem the obvious answer; but there are all sorts of reasons why women stay with their abusers. Some of the reasons women stay with their abusers is because they still love them or because they are terrified of the consequences: the abuser may threaten to harm or even kill his partner or the children if they leave. Women may worry about losing their children or they may feel that it is best for the children if they stay and try to make their relationship work.

Domestic violence and abuse can happen to anyone but the problem is often overlooked, excused, or denied.  No-one deserves to be abused, and you don’t have to put up with it. There are a number of things you can do if you are experiencing violence and abuse from a partner or ex-partner. However none of these will be easy and none provides a complete or immediate end to the abuse. Noticing and acknowledging the warning signs and symptoms of domestic violence and abuse is an important step in preventing and stopping the abuse and the first step to ending it. No one should live in fear of the person they love. If you recognize yourself or someone you know in an abusive relationship don’t hesitate to reach out and call for help. There is help available.

Factors That Perpetuate Domestic Violence


  • Acceptability of violence as a means to resolve conflict
  • Belief in the inherent superiority of males
  • Cultural definitions of appropriate sex roles
  • Customs of marriage (bride price/dowry)
  • Expectations of roles within relationships
  • Gender-specific socialization
  • Notion of the family as the private sphere and under male control
  • Values that give men proprietary rights over women and girls


  • Discriminatory laws regarding inheritance, property rights, use of communal lands, and maintenance after divorce or widowhood
  • Limited access to cash and credit
  • Limited access to education and training for women
  • Limited access to employment in formal and informal sectors
  • Women’s economic dependence on men


  • Insensitive treatment of women and girls by police and judiciary
  • Laws regarding divorce, child custody, maintenance and inheritance
  • Legal definitions of rape and domestic abuse
  • Lesser legal status of women either by written law and/or by practice
  • Low levels of legal literacy among women


  • Domestic violence not taken seriously
  • Limited organization of women as a political force Limited participation of women in organized political system
  • Notions of family being private and beyond control of the state
  • Risk of challenge to status quo/religious laws
  • Under-representation of women in power, politics, the media and in the legal and medical professions

(Source: Heise. 1994)

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