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Ending Gender Based Violence: Different Types of Domestic Abuse



The definition of "domestic" varies depending on the jurisdiction and the specific law in question. In general, the term "domestic" refers to a relationship between two people who live together or have lived together in the past, or who have a close familial relationship.


In the United States, domestic violence is defined as abusive behavior between intimate partners such as spouses, former spouses, dating partners, or people who have a child together. Some state laws may also include other family members, such as parents, children, or siblings under the definition of domestic violence. In some jurisdictions, the definition of domestic violence may also include abuse between roommates and same-sex couples in their definition of domestic violence.


Domestic abuse can take many forms. Here are some of the most common types:


Physical abuse: This type of abuse involves the use of physical force against the victim. It can include hitting, slapping, punching, kicking, choking, shoving, pushing, pulling, biting, or any other type of physical harm. It can also involve blocking the victim’s path when they are trying to leave the room, holding someone by their arms, and can even include making marks on their body. Anytime a person is repeatedly physically hurt by someone that they live with can be considered domestic abuse.


Sexual abuse: This type of abuse involves any sexual act or behavior that is forced upon the victim without their consent or awareness. It can include rape, sexual assault, or any other form of unwanted sexual activity. Abuse includes pressuring someone to have sex when they do not want to. A victim sometimes consents to having sex for fear of what could happen if they say no, fear of retaliation, or fear of violence if they say no. Feeling pressured to consent to sex only so that the abuser does not get mad or offended is sexual abuse. Forcing or pressuring someone to have sex, watch pornography or use drugs/ alcohol to induce sex, is also sexual abuse. Engaging in violent sex or forcing someone to engage in unwanted sexual behavior (for example to watch pornography, engage in prostitution, have sex with someone else, have anal sex, etc.) is sexual abuse. Walking around in the nude, forcing someone else to see them nude when they are uncomfortable, is sexual abuse. Watching pornography or masturbating in any place that is not private and makes someone else uncomfortable, is sexual abuse.

Psychological or emotional abuse: This type of abuse involves any behavior that is designed to control, manipulate, or belittle the victim. It can include verbal abuse (insults and name calling), threats, intimidation, isolation, and other forms of emotional harm. It also includes telling the victim that they cannot accomplish their goals, that they are not capable, do not have any rights as immigrants, and /or do not have knowledge or competence to pursue their goals. Being unfaithful and/or accusing someone of being unfaithful is psychological abuse.


Financial abuse: This type of abuse involves controlling the victim's finances or preventing them from having access to money or resources. It can include stealing money, preventing the victim from working or otherwise controlling their financial situation. Withdrawing financial support that was promised is also financial abuse. For many immigrants, financial abuse includes demanding money from them, use of violence or psychological abuse when that money is not given. Preventing someone from working, refusing to pay child support, forcing someone to ask /beg for money, keeping their bank cards or preventing someone from having access to their bank account or money, withholding information about their own income, making major financial decisions without someone’s input or knowledge, denying someone from basic needs such as food, housing, clothing, transportation, education or medical care, preventing someone from having their own money for their own use, controlling all finances, are all examples of financial abuse.


Intimidation: This includes throwing or breaking things around the house, punching walls/ doors, screaming and yelling, pounding fists, blocking someone’s way out, hurting pet(s), snatching someone's phone, stealing/ destroying property, giving angry stares and looks, saying things to instill fear, driving recklessly (with or without you in the car) are forms of intimidation.


Threats: Threats to harm someone or kill someone, even if they are mad, are still real threats. Even if someone does not believe that they are capable, threats should always be considered real threats no matter what tone the person uses. They could seem like they are joking but a threat is still to be taken seriously. Telling others that they are going to kill someone else or harm someone else, using or threatening to use a weapon (gun, knife, other objects) are serious threats.


Someone may talk about wanting to obtain a gun, someone may have a gun and they let the gun out in the open or pretend to clean it, someone may talk about knowing how to operate a gun or having acquaintances who have guns; these are examples of threatening behavior. Owning a gun requires responsible gun ownership behavior. A responsible gun owner keeps the gun unloaded in a locked cabinet with the bullets in a separate locked cabinet. This is the proper way to store a gun. Any other way to have a gun that is not locked and secured can be interpreted as threatening behavior.

Threatening to kill/ harm themselves, to kill/ harm pet(s), to take children away, to destroy property, to hit or throw something are all serious threats and is abusive behavior. Threats to report someone to the police, immigration, or any other authority so that they are deported is serious abusive behavior. Threats to lie to the police so that the person without legal status is deported is serious abusive behavior.


Stalking: Following, making harassing phone calls, sending harassing emails/ texts/ social media, creating disturbances at someone’s work or school, listening to phone conversations, opening mail/ reading mail/ emails, violating privacy/ going through someone’s phone, installing GPS tracking devices or apps, spying, monitoring where someone goes, with whom, and what they are doing; these are all examples of stalking and abusive behavior. Calling someone an excessive amount of times when they do not answer, is harassment and abusive. Demanding to know where someone is at all times is stalking.

Isolation: Keeping someone away from family or friends, ignoring, giving someone the “silent treatment”, frequently hanging up, scaring or threatening friends and family so they stop coming around, bad mouthing friends/ family, criticizing, judging; are all forms of isolation and are abusive behaviors. Prohibiting someone from going to work/ school, the gym, out with friends, etc.; are abusive behaviors. Not allowing friends/ family to visit is isolating.


Coercion: Coercion is the act of using force, threats, or intimidation to make someone do something against their will. It involves using power or authority to control or manipulate another person's behavior or decisions. Controlling children, telling someone how to dress or act, controlling in a way that interferes with work, education, or other activities, forcing or pressuring someone to do something illegal, pressuring someone to drop charges or order of protection, to not file a police report, or telling someone they will not sign their immigration documents; are examples of coercion and are abusive behaviors.


Digital Abuse: Using technology to control, manipulate, or harass someone. It can include monitoring someone's online activity, sending threatening messages, calling multiple times, or using social media to embarrass or humiliate someone are all examples of abusive behavior.


Minimizing, Denying, and Blaming: Making light of the abuse, saying the person being abused is exaggerating or overreacting, saying it is the victim’s fault, saying abuse did not happen, blaming someone or something else, and taking no responsibility for the abuse are examples of abusive behavior.


Using Children: Telling the children that someone is a bad parent, that the abuse is their fault, telling children that they do not have to listen to the abused parent or follow their rules; are all examples of abusive behavior and using children to coerce or manipulate. Telling someone that their children will be taken away by social services if they make a police report or are undocumented, is an abusive behavior. Telling someone they can legally take their children away, that they will never see their children again, or using visitation time to threaten someone are abusive behaviors. Someone may threaten to call child services on a person who is undocumented as a way to instill fear. Note that making a false report to child services is a crime and illegal.


Effects of Violence in Children: Children who witness domestic violence can have a range of reactions both in the short and long term. They may have fear and be scared for themselves, their parents, or other family members. Children may develop anxiety or become overly cautious especially in situations that remind them of the abuse they witnessed. Witnessing domestic violence can cause children to feel sad or hopeless, and may lead to symptoms of depression. Children may act out or engage in disruptive behavior, both at home and at school. Children may experience physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, or difficulty sleeping as a result of the stress and trauma they have experienced. Children may blame themselves for the abuse they witnessed or feel guilty for not being able to stop it. This is why therapy or counseling is very important because the self-blame and guilt may lead to psychological problems in the future if not addressed. Remember that every child reacts differently to witnessing domestic violence and some may not show any visible signs of distress. However, it's very important to provide support and resources for children who have witnessed domestic violence to help them cope with the trauma and build resilience.


Asking these questions could be a way to assess how domestic violence has affected a child: Have the children watched the partners be violent? What was their reaction? Have the children seen anyone’s injuries such as bruises or bleeding? Do the children ask questions or make comments about the abuse/violence or why it happens? Do the children seem afraid or scared of the abuser? Do the children seem mad, angry, rebellious, afraid, nervous or sad? Are the children isolating themselves? Is the child no longer eating or sleeping? Or overeating/oversleeping? If yes, the child may need support to process the traumatic event.


It's important to note that these types of abuse can often occur together or on their own. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, it's important to seek help and support as soon as possible.


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