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What is Abuse?

Abuse is a repetitive pattern of behaviors used to maintain power and control over an intimate partner.

Intimate relationships do not start out with abuse. It is established over time in subtle ways -- beginning with insults or a shove and escalating to more frequent and severe acts. Abuse can take many forms: 

  • Physical - Any use of force that causes pain or injury, such as hitting, kicking or slapping.
  • Sexual - Abuse can include sexual harassment, sexual assault or manipulating a person into having sex by using guilt or threats.
  • Emotional and/or verbal - Constant criticism, threatening to hurt loved ones or harassment at school or in the workplace
  • Economic - Controlling a person’s income or financial assistance, misusing one’s credit or making it difficult for a person get or maintain a job 
  • Psychological - Minimizing or blaming a person for the abuse, intimidation and/or threats or destroying property 

Domestic violence is the most commonly used term for this kind of violence, but it is also known as intimate partner violence, family violence or battering. These definitions vary between states, countries and organizations, but they are all based in the same premise—the abuse of power and control in familial, co-habiting or intimate relationships. 


about Family Violence

While domestic violence and child abuse are often addressed separately, an ever-growing amount of evidence points to all forms of family violence being firmly entwined with one another. Families often suffer from both domestic violence and child abuse or neglect.

Family violence cuts across all economic and education levels, all age groups, ethnicities and other social and community characteristics. Women and children are most often the victims of family violence. Your neighbor, your office mate, even your friend may be in an abusive relationship. Your child’s friend or classmate may be the victim of a violent parent.

People who abuse their partners also frequently abuse the children in their homes. Children who live in violent homes may also be the victims of violence that is not directed at them simply by being a bystander or by trying to help a parent who is being abused. In other cases, victims of partner violence may deal with their situation by abusing drugs or alcohol, increasing the likelihood that they might also mistreat or neglect the children, or they may overreact harshly to their children's behavior. It is clear that only by addressing both domestic violence and child abuse concurrently can we hope to break the cycle of family violence.

If not addressed properly, family violence can continue for generations: Children who experience domestic violence between their parents or are victims of abuse or neglect themselves are at least twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults. Children who have experienced violence early in their lives are also at greater risk for being violent towards peers and other family members. Violence is a learned behavior. Children will apply what they see and learn at home to relationships they have later in life and they will carry violent behavior out onto the street. Thereby, violence in the home is directly connected to community violence. If we can break that cycle of violence in the home, it benefits all of us.

The effects of family violence on the victims can be devastating, and those effects take their toll on entire communities. Family violence may lead to increases in substance abuse and violence in the neighborhood. It impacts job turnover and productivity; decreases school performance; and contributes to the high costs of law enforcement, the justice system, health and human services, and mental health and substance abuse treatment.

Learn more about the history of family violence prevention.

Sources: Joyful Heart Foundation; National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence (NCDSV); California Partnership to End Domestic Violence; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention