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What Is Domestic Abuse?

What Is Domestic Abuse?

Domestic abuse typically refers to violence between two intimate partners.  Where child abuse can be somewhat difficult to define, it is relatively easy for courts to define abusive treatment of another adult.  

Legal definition

It may sound crazy today, but in the not-so-distant past husbands were allowed to physically discipline their wives.  Today, such actions are very clearly illegal, but there are some differences in how states treat violence against children compared to adults.  In Texas, for example, the law bans “family violence,” which is any act against a family member or household member that “is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault or that is a threat.”  In California, the state calls it “domestic violence.”  It is defined as abuse (including bodily injury, sexual assault, and threats) perpetrated against a spouse, former spouse, cohabitant or former cohabitant, or a person with whom the perpetrator has a child.   

Types of abusive acts

  • Domestic abuse: often takes the form of physical violence.  This is the easiest to recognize, as it often includes a clear injury like a black eye.  
  • Sexual abuse: is another broad area of abuse that includes far more than rape.  It includes any type of unwanted touching.  
  • Financial abuse: where one partner is cut off from joint resources, is also sometimes considered a separate type of abuse.  
  • Emotional or psychological abuse: are somewhat of catchall terms that cover humiliation, intimidation, threats, and the like.  

Note that not all of these acts are necessarily covered by every state’s law.  Some laws focus more narrowly on violence and some courts are skeptical of getting involved in claims of emotional abuse against an adult because it can be very hard to prove these harms.  

Domestic abuse statistics

According to studies collected by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a woman is beaten or assaulted every nine seconds in the United States.  Overall, one in three women has been abused and one in five has been severely abused.  One in seven women has also been stalked.  Domestic abuse is most common among women age 18 to 24, and it is often correlated with depression and suicidal behavior.  Abuse is often talked about as being perpetrated by men against women, and indeed statistics show that to be most common, but it occurs in every type of relationship.  

Options for responding to domestic abuse

In an emergency situation, any victim should call the police.  States and localities vary on how they will react to such a call.  Some states have mandatory reporting or mandatory response requirements that will require the police to take some action, like removing the alleged abuse from the house.  States have a range of available aid as well.  Abuse victims may be able to obtain a restraining order that will keep their abuser away from them.  Abuse is also a fault ground for divorce in many states, making it easier for the abuse victim to get a divorce and hold onto the assets he or she will need to survive.  


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