Learn About Abuse

Types of Abuse

There are many different forms of abuse that take place within the context of intimate relationships.

• Emotional abuse
• Verbal abuse
• Physical abuse
• Sexual abuse
• Financial abuse
• Digital abuse

Generalizations and Overlap

Though the divisions between the types of abuse are usually fluid, some generalizations may be made. With power and control as the goal, perpetrators often use the basic elements of fear, intimidation, and humiliation to carry out the abuse. Many times, actual physical violence is preceded by threats and other physical displays.

It is important to note that while many behaviors of domestic abuse are illegal and thus punishable by law as a crime, many are not considered illegal. Though some abusive behaviors are “legal,” they are all destructive and harmful, if not reprehensible and immoral. Moreover, many of these behaviors exist on a spectrum and can lead either directly or indirectly over time to rape, homicide, and even suicide. Because the aim of abuse is to gain or maintain power and control over another person, abusive behaviors are coercive by nature. Abusers will try to get their partner to do what they want using a variety of tactics.

The Reality of Emotional Abuse

When people think of “domestic violence,” they often picture battered women who have been physically assaulted, however, not all abusive relationships involve physical violence, nor are all victims of abuse women. Many men and women suffer from emotional abuse which is no less destructive. Unfortunately, emotional abuse is often minimized or overlooked, sometimes even by the person being abused. While many feel that physical abuse is worse than emotional abuse as it can result in broken bones, disfigurement, and physical pain, emotional abuse is very real and causes significant trauma. In fact, emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse—sometimes even more so.

Some overlap exists between the different forms of abuse. Using words to sexually insult someone, for example, falls into the categories of sexual abuse, verbal abuse, and emotional abuse. The following lists are not exhaustive.

Emotional Abuse: Actions used to hurt, scare, humiliate, intimidate, isolate, and/or control.

• Displaying constant irritability
• Criticizing constantly
• Manipulation
• Silent treatment
• Constantly making and breaking promises
• Using children
• Harming pets
• Accusations of cheating
• Isolating victim from friends and family
• Blaming the victim
• Denying that events happened
• Depriving sleep
• Destroying property
• Making victim feels stupid, worthless, lazy
• Emotional blackmail
• Cheating or flirting with others

Verbal Abuse: Words used to hurt, demean, scare, humiliate, intimidate, criticize, and/or control.

• Name-calling
• Threatening
• Screaming
• Cursing
• Put-downs
• Insults

Physical Abuse: Actions used to harm physically, cause bodily injury, and/or control.
• Punching
• Slapping
• Hair-pulling
• Scratching
• Pushing
• Strangling
• Burning
• Biting
• Spitting
• Throwing things

Sexual Abuse: Actions used to control someone’s body, sexuality, and reproduction.

• Unwanted touching or kissing
• Forced sex when victim is unwilling, drunk, high, or unconscious
• Verbal sexual insults
• Restricting access to birth control
• Treating victim as a sexual object
• Not respecting sexual limits
• Rape

Financial Abuse: Actions used to control someone’s money or access to money.

• Taking paychecks
• Restricting access to bank account or bank cards
• Forbidding employment
• Running up the bills victim must pay
• Refusing to pay medical costs
• Identity theft
• Giving partner an “allowance”
• On-the-job harassment

Digital Abuse: Actions using electronic technology such as a cell phone or computer to harass, stalk, humiliate, scare, intimidate, and/or control. Digital abuse often takes place through texts, phone calls, and various social media.

• Spreading rumors
• Monitoring location or communications
• Incessant phone calls, texts, or posts
• Posting or distributing embarrassing photos
• Demanding passwords
• Using spyware or GPS trackers
• Inciting others to abuse
• Stalking