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Domestic violence
Classification and external resources
File:Purple ribbon.svg
A purple ribbon to promote awareness of domestic violence
eMedicine article/805546
MeSH D017579

Domestic violence (also domestic abuse, spousal abuse, intimate partner violence, battering or family violence) is a pattern of behavior which involves violence or other abuse by one person in a domestic context against another, such as in marriage or cohabitation. Intimate partner violence is domestic violence by a spouse or partner in an intimate relationship against the other spouse or partner. Domestic violence can take place in heterosexual or same-sex relationships. Domestic violence can take a number of forms including physical, emotional, verbal, economic and sexual abuse, which can range from subtle, coercive forms to marital rape and to violent physical abuse that results in disfigurement or death.

Globally, a wife or female partner is more commonly the victim of domestic violence, though the victim can also be the male partner, or both partners may engage in abusive or violent behavior, or the victim may act in self-defense or retaliation. Whereas women in the developed world who experience domestic violence are openly encouraged to report it to the authorities, it has been argued that domestic violence against men is most often unreported because of social pressure against such reporting, with those that do facing social stigma regarding their perceived lack of machismo and other denigrations of their masculinity.[1][2]

Domestic violence often occurs because the abuser believes that abuse is justified and acceptable, and may produce intergenerational cycles of abuse that condone violence. Awareness, perception, definition and documentation of domestic violence differs widely from country to country. There may be a cycle of abuse during which tensions rise and an act of violence is committed, followed by a period of reconciliation and calm. Victims of domestic violence may be trapped in domestic violent situations through isolation, power and control, insufficient financial resources, fear, shame or to protect children. As a result of abuse, victims may experience physical disabilities, chronic health problems, mental illness, limited finances, and poor ability to create healthy relationships. Victims may experience post-traumatic stress disorder. Children who live in a household with violence show dysregulated aggression from an early age that may later contribute to continuing the legacy of abuse when they reach adulthood.[3] Domestic violence often happens in the context of forced and child marriage.[4]


These terms are listed in order of increasing scope.

Intimate partner violence

The term intimate partner violence (IPV) is often used synonymously with domestic abuse or domestic violence,[5] but it usually refers to abuse occurring within a couple relation (marriage, cohabitation, though they do not have to live together for it to be considered domestic abuse).

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines intimate partner violence as:

"... any behaviour within an intimate relationship that causes physical, psychological or sexual harm to those in the relationship".[6]

To these forms of abuse, the WHO adds controlling behaviours as a form of abuse.[7] Intimate partner violence has been observed in heterosexual and same-sex relationships,[8] and in the former instance by men against women and by women against men.[9]

Domestic violence

Traditionally, domestic violence (DV) was mostly associated with physical violence. For instance, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition, domestic violence is: "the inflicting of physical injury by one family or household member on another; also: a repeated / habitual pattern of such behavior."[10][nb 1] Domestic violence is now more broadly defined, often but not always including "all acts of physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence"[14] that may be committed by a person who is a family member or a person that has been an intimate partner or spouse, irrespective of whether they lived together.[14][15][16]

In 1993, The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women identified domestic violence as one of three contexts in which violence against women occurs, describing it as:[17]

"Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, non-spousal violence and violence related to exploitation".

Family violence

Family violence is a broader term, often used to include child abuse, elder abuse, and other violent acts between family members.[5]

Child abuse is defined by the WHO as:[18]

"Child maltreatment, sometimes referred to as child abuse and neglect, includes all forms of physical and emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, and exploitation that results in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, development or dignity. Within this broad definition, five subtypes can be distinguished – physical abuse; sexual abuse; neglect and negligent treatment; emotional abuse; and exploitation."

Elder abuse is, according to the WHO: "a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person".[19]



File:Acid attack victim.jpg

An acid attack victim in Cambodia

Domestic violence can take many forms, including physical aggression or assault (hitting, kicking, biting, shoving, restraining, slapping, throwing objects, battery), or threats thereof; sexual abuse; controlling or domineering; intimidation; stalking; passive/covert abuse (e.g., neglect); and economic deprivation.[20][21] It can also mean endangerment, criminal coercion, kidnapping, unlawful imprisonment, trespassing, and harassment.[22]


Physical abuse is abuse involving contact intended to cause pain, injury, or other physical suffering or bodily harm. It includes hitting, slapping, punching, choking, pushing, throwing objects, burning and other types of contact that result in physical injury to the victim.[23][24] The victim may be abused by several perpetrators: for instance the victim may be held down by a person so that someone else can assault the victim. The victim may be locked in a room or tied down.[24]

Acid attacks, also seen in domestic violence, occur when acid is thrown in anger or vengeance at the victims, usually at their faces, burning them, and damaging skin tissue, often exposing and sometimes dissolving the bones.[25][26] This can result in long-term blindness and permanent scarring of the face and body.[27][28][29]

Denying the victim needed medical care, depriving them of sleep or other necessary functions, forcing the victim to engage in drug or alcohol use against their will, or creating any physical harm are forms of physical abuse.[23] It can also include inflicting physical injury onto other targets, such as children or pets, in order to cause emotional harm to the victim.[30]

In recent years, strangulation in the context of DV has received significant attention. It is now recognized as one of the most lethal forms of DV; yet, because of the lack of external injuries, and the lack of social awareness and medical training in regard to it, strangulation has often been a rather hidden problem.[31] As a result, in recent years, many US states have enacted specific laws against strangulation.[32]

Both women and men have been killed as the result of domestic violence. IPV homicide, however, makes up a greater proportion of all female homicides than it does male homicides. For instance, in the United Kingdom, 37 percent of murdered women were killed by an intimate partner and for men, 6 percent were killed by an intimate partner. From 40 to 70 percent of the women murdered in Canada, Australia, South Africa, Israel and the United States were killed by an intimate partner.[33] The World Health Organization (WHO) states that globally, about 38% of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner.[34]

In the Middle East and other parts of the world, planned domestic homicides, or honor killings, are carried out due to the belief of the perpetrators that the victim has brought dishonor upon the family or community.[35][36] According to Human Rights Watch, honor killings are generally performed against women for "refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of a sexual assault, seeking a divorce—even from an abusive husband—or (allegedly) committing adultery," or exhibiting behavior perceived to have dishonored the family.[37] In some parts of the world, where there is a strong social expectation for a woman to be a virgin prior to marriage, a bride may be subjected to extreme violence, including an honor killing,[38] if she is deemed not to be a virgin on her wedding night due to the absence of blood.[nb 2]

Bride burning or dowry killing is a form of domestic violence in which a newly married woman is killed at home by her husband or husband's family due to their dissatisfaction over the dowry provided by her family. The act is often a result of demands for more or prolonged dowry after the marriage.[54] Dowry violence is most common in South Asia, especially in India. In 2011, the National Crime Records Bureau reported 8,618 dowry deaths in India, but unofficial figures estimate that there are at least three times more dowry deaths.[55]

Ritual scarification of children is practiced among various societies. Some view this practice as child abuse: for instance UNICEF considers ritual scarification of children as a "harmful traditional practice".[56]

The dynamics of physical abuse in a relationship are often complex. Physical violence often occurs after a period of months or even years of other forms of abuse, such as threats, intimidation and controlling behaviors such as restrictions of the other person's self-determination, through isolation, manipulation and placing of limits on personal choices and freedoms.[57]


Percentage of women who say they have been subjected to sexual assault or attempted sexual assault by an intimate male partner (late 1990s)[58]
Country Percentage
Switzerland 12%
Germany 15%
USA 15%
Canada 15%
Nicaragua 22%
UK 23%
Zimbabwe 25%
India 28%
File:FGM prevalence UNICEF 2013.svg

FGM is concentrated in 29 countries with wide variations in prevalence.[59] FGM is included in the WHO definition of sexual violence[60][61]

Sexual violence, or sexual abuse, is defined by World Health Organization as any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed, against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim. It also includes obligatory inspections for virginity and female genital mutilation.[60] Aside from initiation of the sexual act through physical force, sexual abuse occurs if a person is unable to understand the nature or condition of the act, unable to decline participation, or unable to communicate unwillingness to engage in the sexual act. This could be because of underage immaturity, illness, disability, or the influence of alcohol or other drugs, or due to intimidation or pressure.[62]

In many cultures, victims of rape are considered to have brought 'dishonour' or 'disgrace' to their families and face severe violence, including honor killings, from their families and relatives.[63] This is especially the case if the victim becomes pregnant.[64]

Female genital mutilation is defined by the WHO as "all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons." This procedure has been performed on more than 125 million females alive today, and it is concentrated in 29 countries in Africa and Middle East.[65]

Sexual abuse in the family can take the form of incest between an adult and a child, which is a form of child sexual abuse.[66] In some cultures, there are ritualized forms of child sexual abuse that often take place with the knowledge and consent of the family of the child, where the child is induced to engage in sexual acts with adults, whether or not in exchange for money or goods: for instance in Malawi, some parents arrange for an older man, often called "hyena", to have sex with their daughters.[67][68] The Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse[69] is the first international treaty that addresses child sexual abuse that occurs within the home or family.[70]

Reproductive coercion (also called "coerced reproduction") are threats or acts of violence against a partner's reproductive rights, health and decision-making; and includes a collection of behaviors intended to pressure or coerce a partner into becoming a parent or ending a pregnancy.[71] Reproductive coercion is associated with forced sex, fear or inability of negotiating condom and contraceptive use, fear of violence after refusing sex, and abusive partner interference with access to healthcare.[72][73] In some cultures, marriage imposes a social obligation on women to bear children. In northern Ghana, for example, payment of bride price signifies a woman's requirement to bear children, and women using birth control face substantial threats of violence and reprisals.[74]

The WHO includes "‘customary’ forms of sexual violence, such as forced marriage or cohabitation and wife inheritance" within its definition of sexual violence, as well as forced pregnancy.[61][75] Wife inheritance, or levirate marriage, is a type of marriage in which the brother of a deceased man is obliged to marry his brother's widow, and the widow is obliged to marry her deceased husband's brother.

Sexual violence also occurs between spouses or partners. Marital rape is non-consensual sexual intercourse or penetration perpetrated by a person against his or her spouse. Marital rape may be experienced through patterns of physical abuse, force, or demeaning sexual behavior by the perpetrator. It is under-reported, under-prosecuted, and is still legal in many countries, partly because of a myth that sex between married partners, whether consensual or not, cannot be rape.[76] For centuries non-consensual sex in marriage was not considered a crime[77] because it has been held historically that by marriage a woman gave irrevocable consent for her husband to have sex with her any time he demanded it.[78] Feminists worked systematically since the 1960s to criminalize marital rape.[79]

In 2006, a study by the United Nations found that marital rape is a prosecutable offense in at least 104 countries[80] Once widely condoned or ignored by law and society, marital rape is now repudiated by international conventions and increasingly criminalized. The countries which choose to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, the first legally binding instrument in Europe in the field of violence against women,[81] are bound by its provisions to ensure that non-consensual sexual acts committed against a spouse or partner are illegal.[82] The convention came into force in August 2014.[83]

Where marital rape is legal, or otherwise not prosecuted in practice, women are instructed before marriage that sex with the husband is their absolute duty, that they do not have the right to ever refuse it,[84] and that it is considered the right of the husband to take it by force, if "necessary".[85] In Lebanon, for instance, while discussing a proposed law that would criminalize marital rape, Sheik Ahmad Al-Kurdi, a judge in the Sunni religious court, said that the law "could lead to the imprisonment of the man where in reality he is exercising the least of his marital rights."[86]


Emotional abuse (also called psychological abuse or mental abuse) can include verbal abuse and is defined as any behavior that threatens, intimidates, undermines the victim’s self-worth or self-esteem, or controls the victim’s freedom.[87] According to the Istanbul Convention, psychological violence is "the intentional conduct of seriously impairing a person’s psychological integrity through coercion or threats".[88]

Emotional abuse can include threatening the victim with injury or harm, telling the victim that they will be killed if they ever leave the relationship, isolating them from others, and public humiliation. Controlling behavior includes monitoring the victim's movements, or restricting their access to financial resources, employment, education or medical care.[7] Constant criticism, devaluing statements, and name-calling are emotionally abuse behaviors.[89] It may also include conflicting actions or statements which are designed to confuse and create insecurity in the victim. These behaviors also lead the victims to question themselves, causing them to believe that they are making up the abuse or that the abuse is their fault.[30] Perpetrators may alienate a child from a parent or extended family member by teaching or forcing them to harshly criticize another person.[89] Stalking is a common form of psychological intimidation, and is most often perpetrated by former or current partners.[90]

People who are being emotionally abused may feel that their significant other has nearly total control over them.[91] Isolation damages the victim's sense of internal strength, leaving them feeling helpless and unable to escape from the situation.[89] Victims often suffer from depression, which puts them at increased risk for suicide, eating disorders, and drug and alcohol abuse.[91]


Verbal abuse is a form of emotionally abusive behavior involving the use of language, which can involve threats,[92] name-calling, blaming, ridicule, disrespect, and criticism. Less obviously aggressive forms of verbal abuse include statements that may seem benign on the surface that are thinly veiled attempts to humiliate, falsely accuse, or manipulate others to submit to undesirable behavior, make others feel unwanted and unloved, threaten others economically, or isolate victims from support systems.[93]


Economic abuse is a form of abuse when one intimate partner has control over the other partner's access to economic resources.[94] Economic abuse may involve preventing a spouse from resource acquisition, limiting the amount of resources to use by the victim, or by exploiting economic resources of the victim.[94][95] The motive behind preventing a spouse from acquiring resources is to diminish victim's capacity to support his/herself, thus forcing him/her to depend on the perpetrator financially, which includes preventing the victim from obtaining education, finding employment, maintaining or advancing their careers, and acquiring assets.[94][95][96] Forcing or pressuring a family member to sign documents, to sell things, or to change a will are forms of economic abuse.[24]

In addition, the abuser may also put the victim on an allowance, closely monitor how the victim spends money, spend victim's money without his/her consent and creating debt, or completely spend victim's savings to limit available resources[94][95][96] When an allowance is broken or there is a disagreement about the justification for any money spent, the abuser may punish the victim with physical, sexual or emotional abuse.[97]

In parts of the world where women depend on husbands in order to survive (due to lack of opportunities for female employment and lack of state welfare) economic abuse can have very severe consequences. Abusive relations have been associated with malnutrition among both mothers and children. In India, for example, the withholding of food is a documented form of family abuse.[98]

Family violence extensions

Parental abuse of children (child abuse)

Child abuse is the physical, sexual or emotional maltreatment or neglect of a child or children.[99] In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department for Children and Families (DCF) define child maltreatment as any act or series of acts of commission or omission by a parent or other caregiver that results in harm, potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child.[100] Child abuse can occur in a child's home, or in the organizations, schools or communities the child interacts with. There are four major categories of child abuse: neglect, physical abuse, psychological or emotional abuse, and sexual abuse.

Parental abuse by children

Abuse of parents by their children is a common but under reported and under researched subject. Parents are quite often subject to levels of childhood aggression in excess of normal childhood aggressive outbursts, typically in the form of verbal or physical abuse. Parents feel a sense of shame and humiliation to have that problem, so they rarely seek help and there is usually little or no help available anyway.[101][102]

Elder abuse

Elder abuse is "a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person."[103] This definition has been adopted by the World Health Organization from a definition put forward by Action on Elder Abuse in the UK. Laws protecting the elderly from abuse are similar to, and related to, laws protecting dependent adults from abuse.

The core element to the harm of elder abuse is the "expectation of trust" of the older person toward their abuser. Thus, it includes harms by people the older person knows or with whom they have a relationship, such as a spouse, partner or family member, a friend or neighbor, or people that the older person relies on for services. Many forms of elder abuse are recognized as types of domestic violence or family violence.

Template:AnchorGender aspects


The relationship between gender and domestic violence is a controversial topic. There continues to be debate about the rates at which each gender is subjected to domestic violence. Reasons for mixed findings include the limitations of existing survey tools (e.g., conflict tactics scale) to measure all relevant aspects of domestic violence and the use of disparate samples in studies.[104] A problem in conducting studies that seek to describe violence in terms of gender is the amount of silence, fear and shame that results from abuse within families and relationships.[105] Because there are different viewpoints about what constitutes domestic abuse, it is difficult to compile study results. In addition, people who have experienced subtle forms of abuse or have lived through patterns of abuse over many years begin to see it as normal.[106]

Gender differences in reporting violence have been cited as another explanation for mixed results.[104] A 2010 review article entitled "Are Men the More Belligerent Sex?" in Scientific American indicated that domestic violence is the only type of violence women are more likely to commit than men, though women are more likely to be injured "largely because men are stronger on average than women".[107] A 2011 review article by IPV researcher Ko Ling Chan found evidence of gender-specific reporting patterns: men tended to under-report their own perpetration of domestic violence while women were more likely to under-report their victimization. Factors which according to the reviewed studies can lead women to under-report their partner's violence include financial or familial dependence on the abusive partner, the tendency to excuse or normalize the partner's violence with the reasoning that their partner really loves them, and self-blaming. By contrast, men who under-report their own violence may be influenced by the fear and avoidance of legal consequences, the tendency to blame their partner, and a narrative focus on their needs and emotions during reporting. Furthermore, cultural factors can influence men's under-reporting of their own violence. In cultures where machismo is prevalent and where men are considered the head of households in control of their family, wife battering may be not perceived as a serious behavior that needs to be reported.[104]

Some authors have criticized the gender-based approach of domestic violence, which heavily focuses on women as victims of domestic violence. A 2013 review, which acknowledges that its definition of domestic violence is not the mainstream view, defining partner abuse broadly to include emotional abuse, any kind of hitting, and who hits first, examined studies from five continents and the correlation between a country's level of gender inequality and rates of domestic violence; the authors stated that if one looks at who is physically harmed and how seriously, who expresses more fear, who has psychological problems following abuse, domestic violence is significantly gendered and women suffer the most; however, going by their broader paradigm, "partner abuse can no longer be conceived as merely a gender problem, but also (and perhaps primarily) as a human and relational problem, and should be framed as such by everyone concerned."[108] In an effort to shift consciousness about the connections between gender and abuse, many organizations have made an effort to use gender-neutral terms when referring to perpetratorship and victimhood. For instance, broader terms like family violence are used rather than violence against women.[109]

Violence against women

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Campaign against domestic violence in Uganda

Wife beating was made illegal in all states of the United States by 1920.[110][111] Although the exact rates are widely disputed, especially within the United States, there is a large body of cross-cultural evidence that women are subjected to domestic violence significantly more often than men.[112][113][114] In addition, there is broad consensus that women are more often subjected to severe forms of abuse and are more likely to be injured by an abusive partner.[113][114] The situation can be exacerbated if the woman is economically or socially dependent on the offender.[15]

The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993) states that "violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which has led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women, and that violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men".[115][116]

The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women classifies violence against women into three categories: that occurring in the family (DV), that occurring within the general community, and that perpetrated or condoned by the State.[17]

The Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women defines violence against women as "any act or conduct, based on gender, which causes death or physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, whether in the public or the private sphere". Similarly with the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, it classifies VAW into three categories; one of which being DV - defined as VAW which takes place "within the family or domestic unit or within any other interpersonal relationship, whether or not the perpetrator shares or has shared the same residence with the woman".[117]

The Maputo Protocol has a broader definition, it defines VAW as: "all acts perpetrated against women which cause or could cause them physical, sexual, psychological, and economic harm, including the threat to take such acts; or to undertake the imposition of arbitrary restrictions on or deprivation of fundamental freedoms in private or public life in peace time and during situations of armed conflicts or of war".[118]

Violence against women is increasingly considered not only a human rights violation, but also a form of discrimination against women. The Istanbul Convention states: "“violence against women” is understood as a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination against women (...)". (Article 3 – Definitions).[88] In the landmark case of Opuz v Turkey, the European Court of Human Rights held for the first time that gender-based domestic violence is a form of discrimination under the European Convention.[119][120]

Femicide is usually defined as the gender-based killing of women by men, although the exact definitions vary. Femicides often occur in the context of DV, such as honor killings or dowry killings. For statistical purposes, femicide is often defined as any killing of a woman. The top countries by rate of femicide are El Salvador, Jamaica, Guatemala, South Africa and Russia (data from 2004–09).[121] However, in El Salvador and Colombia, which have a very high rate of femicide, only three per cent of all femicides are committed by a current or former intimate partner, while in Cyprus, France, and Portugal former and current partners are responsible for more than 80% of all cases of femicide.[121]


During pregnancy a woman may begin to be abused or long-standing abuse may change in severity, which may have negative health affects to the mother and fetus.[122] Pregnancy can also lead to a hiatus of domestic violence when the abuser does not want to harm the unborn child. The risk of domestic violence for women who have been pregnant is greatest immediately after childbirth.[123]

In Russia, pregnancy of the victim is an aggravation, while pregnancy of the offender is a mitigation.[124]

Violence against men

File:Kalighat Painting Calcutta 19th Century - Woman Strinking Man With Broom.jpg

Kalighat painting, "Woman Striking Man With Broom," Calcutta, India, 1875

Domestic violence against men is abuse against men or boys in an intimate heterosexual or homosexual relationship. It can include physical, emotional and sexual forms of abuse. Signs of abuse may be difficult to anticipate initially in a relationship and may begin as the relationship grows increasingly controlling. An abusive relationship may involve mutual violence[125] or require a man to leave with his children if his wife or partner is abusive to their children.[126]

Determining how many instances of domestic violence actually involve male victims is difficult. Male domestic violence victims may be reluctant to get help for various reasons.[127] Some studies have shown that women who assaulted their male partners were more likely to avoid arrest even when the male victim contacts police.[128] Another study examined the differences in how male and female batterers were treated by the criminal justice system. The study concluded that female intimate violence perpetrators are frequently viewed by law enforcement and the criminal justice system as victims rather than the actual offenders of violence against men.[129] A 2014 study of intimate partner violence by the British Psychological Society concluded that women are more likely to be physically aggressive in domestic scenarios than men.[130]

Same-sex relationships

Historically, domestic violence has been seen as a heterosexual family issue and little interest has been directed at violence in same-sex relationships,[131] but domestic violence can occur in same-sex relationships as well. The Encyclopedia of Victimology and Crime Prevention states, "For several methodological reasons – nonrandom sampling procedures and self-selection factors, among others – it is not possible to assess the extent of same-sex domestic violence. Studies on abuse between gay male or lesbian partners usually rely on small convenience samples such as lesbian or gay male members of an association."[132]

Some sources state that gay and lesbian couples experience domestic violence at the same frequency as heterosexual couples,[133] while other sources state domestic violence among gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals might be higher than among heterosexual individuals, that gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals are less likely to report domestic violence that has occurred in their intimate relationships than heterosexual couples are, or that lesbian couples experience domestic violence less than heterosexual couples do.[134] By contrast, some researchers commonly assume that lesbian couples experience domestic violence at the same rate as heterosexual couples, and have been more cautious when reporting domestic violence among gay male couples.[132]

A 1999 analysis of nineteen studies of partner abuse concluded that "[r]esearch suggests that lesbians and gay men are just as likely to abuse their partners as heterosexual men."[135] In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the 2010 results of their National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey and report that 44% of lesbian women, 61% of bisexual women, and 35% of heterosexual women experienced domestic violence in their lifetime.[136] This same report states that 26% of gay men, 37% of bisexual men, and 29% of heterosexual men experienced domestic violence in their lifetime.[136] A 2013 study showed that 40.4% of self-identified lesbians and 56.9% of bisexual women have reported being victims of partner violence.[137] In 2014, national surveys indicated that anywhere from 25-50% of gay and bisexual males have experienced physical violence from a partner.[138]

Gay and lesbian relationships have been identified as a risk factor for abuse in certain populations.[21] LGBT people in some parts of the world have very little legal protection from DV, because engaging in homosexual acts is itself prohibited by the "sodomy laws" of those jurisdictions (as of 2014, same-sex sexual acts are punishable by imprisonment in 70 countries and by death in other 5 countries)[139] and these legal prohibitions prevent LGBT victims of DV from reporting the abuse to authorities.[140] In the face of the 2003 Supreme Court decision, 13 US states have refused to remove sodomy laws from legislation as of 2013.[137]

People in same-sex relationships face special obstacles in dealing with the issues that some researchers have labeled "the double closet". A 1997 Canadian study by Mark W. Lehman suggests similarities include frequency (approximately one in every four couples); manifestations (emotional, physical, financial, etc.); co-existent situations (unemployment, substance abuse, low self-esteem); victims' reactions (fear, feelings of helplessness, hypervigilance); and reasons for staying (love, can work it out, things will change, denial).[141] Studies conducted by Emory University in 2014 identified 24 trigger for partner violence through web-based surveys, ranging from drugs and alcohol to safe-sex discussions.[138] A general theme of power and control seems to underlie abuse in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships.[137]

At the same time, significant differences, unique issues, and deceptive myths are typically present.[141] Lehman, regarding his 1997 survey, points to added discrimination and fears that gay and lesbian individuals may face. This includes potential dismissal by police and some social services, a lack of support from peers, fear of attracting negative stigma toward the gay community, the impact of HIV/AIDS status in keeping partners together (due to health care insurance/access, or guilt), threat of outing, and encountering supportive services that are targeted, or structured for the needs of heterosexual women, and may not meet the needs of gay men or lesbians. This service structure can make LGBTQ victims feel even more isolated and misunderstood than they may already because of their minority status.[142] Lehman, however, stated that "due to the limited number of returned responses and non-random sampling methodology the findings of this work are not generalizable beyond the sample" of 32 initial respondents and final 10 who completed the more in-depth survey.[141] Particularly, sexual stressors and HIV/AIDS status have emerged as significant differences in same-sex partner violence.[138]

Cycle of abuse

File:Cycle of Abuse.png

The four phases of the Cycle of Abuse

Lenore E. Walker presented the model of a Cycle of abuse which consists of four phases. First, there is a buildup to abuse when tension rises until a domestic violence incident ensues. During the reconciliation stage, the abuser may be kind and loving and then there is a period of calm. When the situation is calm, the abused person may be hopeful that the situation will change. Then, tensions begin to build, and the cycle starts again.[143]

Intimate partner violence types


Intimate partner violence includes violence against women, violence against men and situations where there may be mutual acts of violence.

Michael P. Johnson argues that there are four major types of intimate partner violence, a finding supported by subsequent research.[144][145][146] Distinctions are made among the types of violence, motives of perpetrators, and the social and cultural context based upon patterns across numerous incidents and motives of the perpetrator.[144] Types of violence identified by Johnson:

  • Common couple violence (CCV) is not connected to general control behavior, but arises in a single argument where one or both partners physically lash out at the other.[144]
  • Intimate terrorism (IT) may also involve emotional and psychological abuse. Intimate terrorism is one element in a general pattern of control by one partner over the other. Intimate terrorism is more likely to escalate over time, not as likely to be mutual, and more likely to involve serious injury.[144] IT batterers include two types: "Generally-violent-antisocial" and "dysphoric-borderline". The first type includes people with general psychopathic and violent tendencies. The second type are people who are emotionally dependent on the relationship.[9][147] Support for this typology has been found in subsequent evaluations.[148][149]
  • Violent resistance (VR), sometimes thought of as self-defense, is violence perpetrated by victims against their abusive partners.[144]
  • Mutual violent control (MVC) is rare type of intimate partner violence occurring when both partners act in a violent manner, battling for control.[144]


Others, such as the US Centers for Disease Control, divide domestic violence into two types: reciprocal, in which both partners are violent, and non-reciprocal violence, in which one partner is violent.[150][151]

Influences and factors

Social views

File:Woman walking in Afghanistan.jpg

Woman wearing burqa in Afghanistan. A survey in Afghanistan showed that a majority of women agree that a husband is justified to beat his wife if she wears inappropriate clothes.[152]

The social views on domestic violence vary from person to person, and from region to region, but in many places outside the West, the concept in very poorly understood. This is because in most of these countries, the relation between the husband and wife is not considered one of equals, but instead one in which the wife must submit herself to the husband. This is codified in the laws of some countries – for example, in Yemen, marriage regulations state that a wife must obey her husband and must not leave home without his permission.[153]

According to Violence against Women in Families and Relationships: "Globally, wife-beating is seen as justified in some circumstances by a majority of the population in various countries, most commonly in situations of actual or suspected infidelity by wives or their "disobedience" toward a husband or partner." [154] These violent acts against a wife are often not considered a form of abuse by society (both men and women) but are considered to have been provoked by the behavior of the wife, who is seen as being at fault. While beatings of wives are often a response to "inappropriate" behaviors, in many places extreme acts such as honor killings are approved by a high section of the society. In one survey, 33.4% of teenagers in Jordan's capital city, Amman, approved of honor killings. This survey was carried in the capital of Jordan, which is much more liberal than other parts of the country; the researchers said that "We would expect that in the more rural and traditional parts of Jordan, support for honour killings would be even higher".[155]

In a 2012 news story, The Washington Post reported, "The Reuters TrustLaw group named India one of the worst countries in the world for women this year, partly because domestic violence there is often seen as deserved. A 2012 report by UNICEF found that 57 percent of Indian boys and 53 percent of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 think wife-beating is justified."[156]

In conservative cultures, a wife dressing in attire deemed insufficiently modest can suffer serious violence at the hands of her husband or relatives, with such violent responses seen as appropriate by most of the society: in a survey, 62.8% of women in Afghanistan said that a husband is justified in beating his wife if she wears inappropriate clothes.[152]

According to Antonia Parvanova, one of the difficulties of dealing legally with the issue of DV is that men in many male dominated societies do not understand that inflicting violence against their wives is against the law. She said, referring to a case that occurred in Bulgaria, "A husband was tried for severely beating his wife and when the judge asked him if he understood what he did and if he's sorry, the husband said “But she's my wife”. He doesn't even understand that he has no right to beat her."[157]

UNFPA writes that:[158] "In some developing countries, practices that subjugate and harm women - such as wife-beating, killings in the name of honour, female genital mutilation/cutting and dowry deaths - are condoned as being part of the natural order of things".

Strong views among the population in certain societies that reconciliation is more appropriate than punishment in cases of domestic violence are also another cause of legal impunity; a study found that 64% of public officials in Colombia said that if it were in their hands to solve a case of intimate partner violence, the action they would take would be to encourage the parties to reconcile.[159]


There is controversy regarding the influence of religion on domestic violence. According to Domestic Violence Cross Cultural Perspective: "No religion sanctions violence against women", but there are some religious scriptures that have been "taken out of context" to support discrimination against women within a community.[160][nb 3]

Judaism, Christianity and Islam have traditionally supported male-dominant households and "socially sanctioned violence against women has been persistent since ancient times."[165][166] The Catholic Church has been criticized for opposing divorce, and therefore trapping victims of violence in abusive marriages.[167]

At the same time, religious leaders can play an important role in preventing and treating domestic violence, when they provide abusers with guidance and treatment option information, and offer their support to those who have been subject to abuse.[160]

Views on the influence of religion on domestic violence differ. While some authors, such as Phyllis Chesler, argue that Islam is connected to violence against women, especially in the form of honor killings,[168] others, such as Tahira Shahid Khan, a professor specializing in women's issues at the Aga Khan University in Pakistan, argue that it is the domination of men and inferior status of women in society that lead to these acts, not the religion itself.[169][170] Public (such as through the media) and political discourse debating the relation between Islam, immigration, and violence against women is highly controversial in many Western countries.[171]

Custom and tradition

Local customs and traditions are often responsible for maintaining certain forms of DV. Such customs and traditions include son preference (the desire of a family to have a boy and not a girl, which is strongly prevalent in parts of Asia), which can lead to abuse and neglect of girl children by disappointed family members; child and forced marriages; dowry; the hierarchic caste system which stigmatizes "lower castes" and "untouchables", leading to discrimination and restricted opportunities of the females and thus making them more vulnerable to abuse; strict dress codes for women that may be enforced through violence by family members; strong requirement of female virginity before the wedding and violence related to non-conforming women and girls; taboos about menstruation leading to females being isolated and shunned during the time of menstruation; female genital mutilation (FGM); ideologies of marital 'conjugal rights' to sex which justify marital rape; the importance given to 'family honor'.[172][173][174]

According to a 2003 report by Human Rights Watch, "Customs such as the payment of “bride price” (payment made by a man to the family of a woman he wishes to marry), whereby a man essentially purchases his wife’s sexual favors and reproductive capacity, underscore men’s socially sanctioned entitlement to dictate the terms of sex, and to use force to do so."[175]

In recent years, there has been progress in the area of addressing customary practices that endanger women, with laws being enacted in several countries. The Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children is an NGO which works on changing social values, raising consciousness, and enacting laws against harmful traditions which affect the health of women and children in Africa. Laws were also enacted in some countries; for example the 2004 Criminal Code of Ethiopia has a chapter on harmful traditional practices – Chapter III – Crimes Committed against life, person and health through harmful traditional practices.[176] In addition, the Council of Europe adopted a convention which addresses domestic violence and violence against women, and calls for the states which ratify it to create and fully adjudicate laws against acts of violence previously condoned by traditional, culture, custom, in the name of honor, or to correct was is deemed unacceptable behavior.[177] The United Nations created the Handbook on effective police responses to violence against women to provide guidelines to address and manage violence through the creation of effective laws, law enforcement policies and practices and community activities to break down societal norms that condone violence, criminalize it and create effect support systems for survivors of violence.[178]

In cultures where the police and legal authoritorities have a reputation of corruption and abusive practices, victims of DV are often reluctant to turn to formal help.[179]

Relation to forced and child marriage

File:Shafilea Ahmed.jpg

Shafilea Ahmed (14 July 1986 – 11 September 2003) was a 17-year-old British Pakistani girl who was murdered by her parents, in an honor killing. The trigger for the killing, as established by the authorities, was her refusal of an arranged marriage.[180]

A forced marriage is a marriage where one or both participants are married without their freely given consent.[181] In many parts of the world, it is often difficult to draw a line between 'forced' and 'consensual' marriage: in many cultures (especially in South Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa), marriages are prearranged, often as soon a girl is born; the idea of a girl going against the wishes of her family and choosing herself her own future husband is not socially accepted – there is no need to use threats or violence to force the marriage, the future bride will submit because she simply has no other choice. As in the case of child marriage, the customs of dowry and bride price contribute to this phenomenon.[182] A child marriage is a marriage where one or both parties are younger than 18.[183]

Forced and child marriages are associated with a high rate of domestic violence.[4][183] These types of marriages are related to violence both in regard to the spousal violence perpetrated inside marriage, and in regard to the violence related to the customs and traditions of these marriage: violence and trafficking related to the payment of dowry and bride price, honor killings for refusing the marriage.[184][185][186]


File:AIDS and HIV prevalence.svg

Estimated prevalence in % of HIV among young adults (15–49) per country as of 2011.[187]

  No data

The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that women in abusive relations are at significantly higher risk of HIV/AIDS. WHO states that women in violent relations have difficulty negotiating safer sex with their partners, are often forced to have sex, and find it difficult to ask for appropriate testing when they think they may be infected with HIV.[188] A decade of cross-sectional research from Rwanda, Tanzania, South Africa, and India, has consistently found women who have experienced partner violence to be more likely to be infected with HIV.[189] The WHO stated that:[188]

There is a compelling case to end intimate partner violence both in its own right as well as to reduce women and girls vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. The evidence on the linkages between violence against women and HIV/AIDS highlights that there are direct and indirect mechanisms by which the two interact.

Same-sex relationships are similarly affected by HIV/AIDS status in domestic violence. Research by Heintz and Melendez found that same-sex individuals may have difficulty breaching the topic of safe-sex for reasons such as "decreased perception of control over sex, fear of violence, and unequal power distributions..."[190] Of those who reported violence in the study, about 50% reported forced sexual experiences, of which only half reported the use of safe sex measures. Barriers to safer-sex included fear of abuse, and deception in safe-sex practices. Heintz and Melendez's research ultimately concluded that sexual assault/abuse in same-sex relationships provides a major concern for HIV/AIDS infection as it decreases instances of safe-sex. Furthermore, these incidents create additional fear and stigma surrounding safe-sex conversations and knowing ones STD status.[190]


Lack of adequate legislation which criminalizes domestic violence, or, alternatively legislation which prohibits consensual behaviors, may hinder the progress in regard to reducing the incidence of DV. Amnesty International’s Secretary General has stated that: "It is unbelievable that in the twenty-first century some countries are condoning child marriage and marital rape while others are outlawing abortion, sex outside marriage and same-sex sexual activity – even punishable by death."[191] According to WHO, "one of the most common forms of violence against women is that performed by a husband or male partner." The WHO notes that such violence is often ignored because often "legal systems and cultural norms do not treat as a crime, but rather as a "private" family matter, or a normal part of life."[6] The criminalization of adultery has been cited as inciting violence against women, as these prohibitions are often meant, in law or in practice, to control women's and not men's behavior; and are used to rationalize acts of violence against women.[192][193] According to High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay: "Some have argued, and continue to argue, that family violence is placed outside the conceptual framework of international human rights. However, under international laws and standards, there is a clear State responsibility to uphold women’s rights and ensure freedom from discrimination, which includes the responsibility to prevent, protect and provide redress – regardless of sex, and regardless of a person’s status in the family."[194]

Ability to leave an abusive relation

The ability of victims of DV to leave the violent relation is crucial for preventing further abuse. In traditional communities, divorced women often feel rejected and ostracized. In order to avoid this stigma, many women prefer to remain in the marriage and endure the abuse.[195] Discriminatory marriage and divorce laws can also play a role in the proliferation of DV.[196][197] According to Rashida Manjoo, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women: "[...] in many countries a woman’s access to property hinges on her relationship to a man. When she separates from her husband or when he dies, she risks losing her home, land, household goods and other property. Failure to ensure equal property rights upon separation or divorce discourages women from leaving violent marriages, as women may be forced to choose between violence at home and destitution in the street."[198] The legal inability to obtain a divorce (due to complicated grounds for divorce in countries which do not accept no fault divorce) is also a factor in the proliferation of DV.[199] In some cultures where marriages are arranged between families, a woman who attempts a separation or divorce without the consent of her husband and extended family/relatives may risk being subjected to 'honor' based violence.[200][201] The custom of bride price also makes leaving a marriage more difficult: if the wife wants to leave, the husband may demand back the bride price from her family (who often cannot or does not want to pay it back).[202][203][204]

Individual versus family unit rights

The way the individual rights of a family member versus the rights of the family as a unit are balanced vary significantly in different societies. This may influence the degree to which a government may be willing to investigate family incidents.[205] In some cultures, individual members of the family are expected to sacrifice almost completely their own interests in favor of the interests of the family as a whole. What is viewed as an undue expression of personal autonomy is condemned as unacceptable. In these cultures the family predominates over the individual, and where this interacts with cultures of honor, individualistic choice that may damage the family reputation in the community may result in extreme punishment, such as honor killings.[201]

Immigration policies

In some countries, the immigration policy is tied to whether the person desiring citizenship is married to his/her sponsor. This can lead to persons being trapped in violent relations - such persons may risk deportation if they attempt to separate (they may be accused of having entered into a sham marriage).[206][207][208] Often the women come from cultures where they will suffer disgrace from their families if they abandon their marriage and return home, and so they prefer to stay married, therefore reamaing locked in a cycle of abuse.[209]

Alcohol abuse

Alcohol consumption[210] and mental illness[211] can be co-morbid with abuse.


The causes of domestic violence are not made clear through research, but there are several factors that can result in violence. One of the most important is a belief that abuse, whether physical or verbal, is acceptable. Related to that, growing up in a violent home or living within a culture that accepts domestic violence are factors. Other factors are substance abuse, unemployment, psychological problems, poor coping skills, isolation, and excessive dependence on the abuser.[212]

Intergenerational cycle of violence

A common aspect among abusers is that they witnessed abuse in their childhood, in other words they were participants in a chain of intergenerational cycles of domestic violence.[213] That does not mean, conversely, that if a child witnesses or is subject to violence that they will become abusers.[212] Understanding and breaking the intergenerational abuse patterns may do more to reduce domestic violence than other remedies for managing the abuse.[213]

Responses that focus on children suggest that experiences throughout life influence an individuals' propensity to engage in family violence (either as a victim or as a perpetrator). Researchers supporting this theory suggest it is useful to think of three sources of domestic violence: childhood socialization, previous experiences in couple relationships during adolescence, and levels of strain in a person's current life. People who observe their parents abusing each other, or who were themselves abused may incorporate abuse into their behaviour within relationships that they establish as adults.[214]

Biological and psychological

These factors include genetics and brain dysfunction and are studied by neuroscience.[215] Psychological theories focus on personality traits and mental characteristics of the offender. Personality traits include sudden bursts of anger, poor impulse control, and poor self-esteem. Various theories suggest that psychopathology and other personality disorders are factors, and that abuse experienced as a child leads some people to be more violent as adults. Correlation has been found between juvenile delinquency and domestic violence in adulthood.[216] Studies have found high incidence of psychopathy among abusers.[217][218][219] For instance, some research suggests that about 80% of both court-referred and self-referred men in these domestic violence studies exhibited diagnosable psychopathology, typically personality disorders. "The estimate of personality disorders in the general population would be more in the 15–20% range [...] As violence becomes more severe and chronic in the relationship, the likelihood of psychopathology in these men approaches 100%."[211] Dutton has suggested a psychological profile of men who abuse their wives, arguing that they have borderline personalities that are developed early in life.[220][221]

However, these psychological theories are disputed: Gelles suggests that psychological theories are limited, and points out that other researchers have found that only 10% (or less) fit this psychological profile. He argues that social factors are important, while personality traits, mental illness, or psychopathy are lesser factors.[222][223][224]

Psychiatric disorders are sometimes associated with domestic violence, such as borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, drug abuse, and alcoholism.[21] It is estimated that at least one-third of all abusers have some type of mental illness.[225]

Many cases of domestic violence arise from the jealousy felt by one partner that they suspect their partner of being unfaithful or is planning to leave the relationship. Besides jealousy, the other partner may feel insulted by the rejection, which impacts on their self-esteem. An evolutionary psychological explanation of such cases of domestic violence against a woman is that they represent male attempts to control female reproduction and ensure sexual exclusivity through violence or the threat of violence.[226][227] Though often jealousy is used as an excuse for the abusers behavior, most often it is just an excuse in order to exert more control over their partner and a blaming technique in order to isolate the victim further from friends and family. Violence related to extramarital relations is seen as justified in certain parts of the world. For instance, a survey in Diyarbakir, Turkey, found that, when asked the appropriate punishment for a woman who has committed adultery, 37% of respondents said she should be killed, while 21% said her nose or ears should be cut off.[228]

Similar feelings may at times be generated in a situation where one partner is doing better than the other, for example, when the woman is more successful than the husband.[226][227]


Behavioral theories draw on the work of behavior analysts. Applied behavior analysis uses the basic principles of learning theory to change behavior. Behavioral theories of domestic violence focus on the use of functional assessment with the goal of reducing episodes of violence to zero rates.[229] This program leads to behavior therapy. Often by identifying the antecedents and consequences of violent action, the abusers can be taught self control.[230] Recently more focus has been placed on prevention and a behavioral prevention theory.[229]

Social theories


Social theories look at external factors in the offender's environment, such as family structure, stress, social learning, and includes rational choice theories.[231]

Social learning theory suggests that people learn from observing and modeling after others' behavior. With positive reinforcement, the behavior continues. If one observes violent behavior, one is more likely to imitate it. If there are no negative consequences (e. g. victim accepts the violence, with submission), then the behavior will likely continue.[232][233][234]

Resource theory was suggested by William Goode (1971).[235] Women who are most dependent on the spouse for economic well being (e.g. homemakers/housewives, women with handicaps, the unemployed), and are the primary caregiver to their children, fear the increased financial burden if they leave their marriage. Dependency means that they have fewer options and few resources to help them cope with or change their spouse's behavior.[236]

Couples that share power equally experience lower incidence of conflict, and when conflict does arise, are less likely to resort to violence. If one spouse desires control and power in the relationship, the spouse may resort to abuse.[237] This may include coercion and threats, intimidation, emotional abuse, economic abuse, isolation, making light of the situation and blaming the spouse, using children (threatening to take them away), and behaving as "master of the castle".[238][239]

Social stress

Stress may be increased when a person is living in a family situation, with increased pressures. Social stresses, due to inadequate finances or other such problems in a family may further increase tensions.[240] Violence is not always caused by stress, but may be one way that some people respond to stress.[241][242] Families and couples in poverty may be more likely to experience domestic violence, due to increased stress and conflicts about finances and other aspects.[243] Some speculate that poverty may hinder a man's ability to live up to his idea of "successful manhood", thus he fears losing honor and respect. Theory suggests that when he is unable to economically support his wife, and maintain control, he may turn to misogyny, substance abuse, and crime as ways to express masculinity.[243]

Same-sex relationships may experience similar social stressors. Additionally, violence in same-sex relationships has been linked to internalized homophobia, which contributed to low self-esteem and anger in both perpetrator and victim.[244] Internalized homophobia also appears to be a barrier in victims seeking help. Similarly, heterosexism can play a key role in domestic violence in the LGBT community. As a social ideology that implies "heterosexuality is normative, morally superior, and better than [homosexuality],"[244] heterosexism can hinder services and lead to an unhealthy self-image in sexual minorities. Heterosexism in legal and medical institutions can be seen in instances of discrimination, biases, and insensitivity toward sexual orientation. For example, as of 2006, seven states explicitly denied LGBT individuals the ability to apply for protective orders,[244] proliferating ideas of LGBT subjugation, which is tied to feelings of anger and powerlessness.

Power and control

File:(2) Cycle of abuse, power & control issues in domestic abuse situations.gif

Cycle of abuse, power & control issues in domestic abuse situations (double click to enlarge)

Power and control in abusive relationships is the way that abusers exert physical, sexual and other forms of abuse to gain control within relationships.[245]

A causalist view of domestic violence is that it is a strategy to gain or maintain power and control over the victim. This view is in alignment with Bancroft's "cost-benefit" theory that abuse rewards the perpetrator in ways other than, or in addition to, simply exercising power over his or her target(s). He cites evidence in support of his argument that, in most cases, abusers are quite capable of exercising control over themselves, but choose not to do so for various reasons.[246]

Sometimes, one person seeks complete power and control over their partner and uses different ways to achieve this, including resorting to physical violence. The perpetrator attempts to control all aspects of the victim's life, such as their social, personal, professional and financial decisions.[24]

Questions of power and control are integral to the widely utilized Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project. They developed a "Power and Control Wheel" to illustrate this: it has power and control at the center, surrounded by spokes (techniques used), the titles of which include: coercion and threats, intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, minimizing, denying and blaming, using children, economic abuse, and privilege.[247]

Critics of this model argue that it ignores research linking domestic violence to substance abuse and psychological problems.[248] Some modern research into the patterns in DV has found that women are more likely to be physically abusive towards their partner in relationships in which only one partner is violent,[150][151] which draws the effectiveness of using concepts like male privilege to treat domestic violence into question. Some modern research into predictors of injury from domestic violence suggests that the strongest predictor of injury by domestic violence is participation in reciprocal domestic violence.[249]



On children


3.3 million children witness domestic violence each year in the US. There has been an increase in acknowledgment that a child who is exposed to domestic abuse during their upbringing will suffer developmental and psychological damage.[250] During the mid 1990s, the Adverse Childhood Experiences study (ACE) found that children who were exposed to domestic violence and other forms of abuse had a higher risk of developing mental and physical health problems.[251] Because of the awareness of domestic violence that some children have to face, it also generally impacts how the child develops emotionally, socially, behaviorally as well as cognitively.[252]

Some emotional and behavioral problems that can result due to domestic violence include increased aggressiveness, anxiety, and changes in how a child socializes with friends, family, and authorities.[250] Depression, emotional insecurity, and mental health disorders can follow due to traumatic experiences.[253] Problems with attitude and cognition in schools can start developing, along with a lack of skills such as problem-solving.[250] Correlation has been found between the experience of abuse and neglect in childhood and perpetrating domestic violence and sexual abuse in adulthood.[254]

Additionally, in some cases the abuser will purposely abuse the mother or father[255] in front of the child to cause a ripple effect, hurting two victims simultaneously.[255] Children may intervene when they witness severe violence against a parent, which can place a child at greater risk for injury or death.[256] It has been found that children who witness mother-assault are more likely to exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).[257] Consequences to these children are likely to be more severe if their assaulted mother develops post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and does not seek treatment due to her difficulty in assisting her child with processing his or her own experience of witnessing the domestic violence.[258]

Family violence prevention in Australia and other countries has begun to focus on breaking intergenerational cycles; exposing children to family violence is child abuse.[259] Some of the effects of Family Violence on children are highlighted in the Queensland Government and SunnyKids awareness raising campaign.[260]



The Ottawa Women’s Monument, in Minto Park, downtown Ottawa, Canada, to the women murdered as a result of domestic violence; dedicated in 1992.

Bruises, broken bones, head injuries, lacerations, and internal bleeding are some of the acute effects of a domestic violence incident that require medical attention and hospitalization.[261] Some chronic health conditions that have been linked to victims of domestic violence are arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic pain, pelvic pain, ulcers, and migraines.[262] Victims who are pregnant during a domestic violence relationship experience greater risk of miscarriage, pre-term labor, and injury to or death of the fetus.[261]


Among victims who are still living with their perpetrators high amounts of stress, fear, and anxiety are commonly reported. Depression is also common, as victims are made to feel guilty for ‘provoking’ the abuse and are frequently subjected to intense criticism. It is reported that 60% of victims meet the diagnostic criteria for depression, either during or after termination of the relationship, and have a greatly increased risk of suicide. Women who are battered either emotionally or physically often are also depressed because of a feeling of worthlessness. These feelings often persist long-term and it is suggested that many receive therapy for it because of the heightened risk of suicide and other traumatic symptoms.[263]

In addition to depression, victims of domestic violence also commonly experience long-term anxiety and panic, and are likely to meet the diagnostic criteria for Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder. The most commonly referenced psychological effect of domestic violence is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD (as experienced by victims) is characterized by flashbacks, intrusive images, exaggerated startle response, nightmares, and avoidance of triggers that are associated with the abuse.[264] These symptoms are generally experienced for a long span of time after the victim has left the dangerous situation. Many researchers state that PTSD is possibly the best diagnosis for those suffering from psychological effects of domestic violence, as it accounts for the variety of symptoms commonly experienced by victims of trauma.[citation needed]


Once victims leave their perpetrator, they can be stunned with the reality of the extent to which the abuse has taken away their autonomy. Due to economic abuse and isolation, the victim usually has very little money of their own and few people on whom they can rely when seeking help. This has been shown to be one of the greatest obstacles facing victims of DV, and the strongest factor that can discourage them from leaving their perpetrators.[265]

In addition to lacking financial resources, victims of DV often lack specialized skills, education, and training that are necessary to find gainful employment, and also may have several children to support. In 2003, thirty-six major US cities cited DV as one of the primary causes of homelessness in their areas.[266] It has also been reported that one out of every three homeless women are homeless due to having left a DV relationship. If a victim is able to secure rental housing, it is likely that her apartment complex will have "zero tolerance" policies for crime; these policies can cause them to face eviction even if they are the victim (not the perpetrator) of violence.[266] While the number of shelters and community resources available to DV victims has grown tremendously, these agencies often have few employees and hundreds of victims seeking assistance which causes many victims to remain without the assistance they need.[265]


Domestic violence can trigger many different responses in victims, all of which are very relevant for any professional working with a victim. Major consequences of domestic violence victimization include psychological/mental health issues and chronic physical health problems.[267] Some long-term effects on a child who comes from an abusive household, or have been abused themselves, are guilt, anger, depression/anxiety, shyness, nightmares, disruptiveness, irritability, and problems getting along with others. Although they may have not been the ones being abused, it still affects them because they had to experience and witness their loved ones being abused, which takes a toll on them as well.

Domestic violence also teaches poor family structure. A child who grows up being abused thinks of that as a way a family functions, and has a high risk to grow up and repeat the cycle because that is all they know. Some other long-term effects include, but are not limited to, poor health, low self-esteem, difficulty sleeping, drug and alcohol abuse risk, isolation, suicidal thoughts, and extreme loneliness and fear. A victim’s overwhelming lack of resources can also lead to homelessness and poverty. A person who has suffered abuse is at risk for a lot of negative consequences that can put them on a destructive path for their future.[268][269]

Daily activities

Women and children experiencing domestic violence undergo occupational apartheid; they are typically denied access to desired occupations.[270] Abusive partners may limit occupations and create an occupationally-void environment which reinforces feelings of low self-worth and poor self-efficacy in ability to satisfactorily perform everyday tasks.[270] Survivors of domestic violence may experience a decline in the skills needed to carry out routine daily activities necessary to live independently in the community. This population often demonstrates difficulties in the areas of home maintenance, education, caregiving, and leisure participation.[271][272] In addition, work is impacted by functional losses, ability to maintain necessary employment skills, and ability to function within the work place. Oftentimes the victims are very isolated from other relationships as well such as having few to no friends, this is another method of control for the abuser.[273]

On responders

An analysis in the US showed that 106 of the 771 officer killings between 1996 and 2009 occurred during domestic violence interventions.[274] Of these, 51% were defined as unprovoked or as ambushes, taking place before officers had made contact with suspects. Another 40% occurred after contact and the remainder took place during tactical situations (those involving hostages and attempts to overcome barricades).[274]

Due to the gravity and intensity of hearing victims’ stories of abuse, professionals (social workers, police, counselors, therapists, advocates, medical professionals) are at risk themselves for secondary or vicarious trauma (VT), which causes the responder to experience trauma symptoms similar to the original victim after hearing about the victim’s experiences with abuse.[275] Research has demonstrated that professionals who experience vicarious trauma show signs of exaggerated startle response, hypervigilance, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts although they have not experienced a trauma personally and do not qualify for a clinical diagnosis of PTSD.[275]

Researchers concluded that although clinicians have professional training and are equipped with the necessary clinical skills to assist victims of domestic violence, they may still be personally affected by the emotional impact of hearing about a victim’s traumatic experiences. Iliffe et al. found that there are several common initial responses that are found in clinicians who work with victims: loss of confidence in their ability to help the client, taking personal responsibility for ensuring the client’s safety, and remaining supportive of the client’s autonomy if they make the decision to return to their perpetrator.[275]

It has also been shown that clinicians who work with a large number of victims may alter their former perceptions of the world, and begin to doubt the basic goodness of others. Iliffe et al. found that clinicians who work with victims tend to feel less secure in the world, become "acutely aware" of power and control issues both in society and in their own personal relationships, have difficulty trusting others, and experience an increased awareness of gender-based power differences in society.[275]

The best way for a clinician to avoid developing VT is to engage in good self-care practices. These can include exercise, relaxation techniques, debriefing with colleagues, and seeking support from supervisors.[275] Additionally, it is recommended that clinicians make the positive and rewarding aspects of working with domestic violence victims the primary focus of thought and energy, such as being part of the healing process or helping society as a whole. Clinicians should also continually evaluate their empathic responses to victims, in order to avoid feelings of being drawn into the trauma that the victim experienced. It is recommended that clinicians practice good boundaries, and find a balance in expressing empathic responses to the victim while still maintaining personal detachment from their traumatic experiences.[275]

Vicarious trauma can lead directly to burnout, which is defined as "emotional exhaustion resulting from excessive demands on energy, strength, and personal resources in the work setting".[276] The physical warning signs of burnout include headaches, fatigue, lowered immune function, and irritability.[277] A clinician experiencing burnout may begin to lose interest in the welfare of clients, be unable to empathize or feel compassion for clients, and may even begin to feel aversion toward the client.[276]

If the clinician experiencing burnout is working with victims of domestic violence, the clinician risks causing further great harm through re-victimization of the client. It should be noted, however, that vicarious trauma does not always directly lead to burnout and that burnout can occur in clinicians who work with any difficult population – not only those who work with domestic violence victims.[citation needed]


Management of domestic violence may take place through medical services, law enforcement, counseling, and other forms of prevention and intervention. Participants in domestic violence may require medical treatment, such as examination by a family physician, other primary care provider,[278] or emergency room physicians.[279]

Law enforcement may be called in response to intimate partner violence.[280][281]

Counseling is another means of managing the effects of domestic violence. For the victim of abuse, counseling may include an assessment of the presence,[282] extent and types of abuse.[282] A lethality assessment is a tool that can assist in determining the best course of treatment for a client, as well as helping the client to recognize dangerous behaviors and more subtle abuse in their relationship.[283] In a study of victims of attempted domestic violence-related homicide, only about one-half of the participants recognized that their perpetrator was capable of killing them, as many domestic violence victims minimize the true seriousness of their situation.[284] Another important component is safety planning, which allows the victim to plan for dangerous situations they may encounter, and is effective regardless of their decision on whether remain with their perpetrator.[30]

Counseling may be used by offenders to minimize the risk of future domestic violence.[285][286]

Prevention and intervention includes ways to prevent domestic violence by offering safe shelter, crisis intervention, advocacy, and education and prevention programs. Community screening for domestic violence can be more systematic in cases of animal abuse, healthcare settings, emergency departments, behavioral health settings and court systems. Tools are being developed to facilitate domestic violence screening such as mobile apps.[287][288] The Duluth Model or Domestic Abuse Intervention Project is a program developed to reduce domestic violence against women,[289] which is the first multi-disciplinary program designed to address the issue of domestic violence by coordinating the actions of a variety of agencies dealing with domestic conflict.[290]


New research illustrates that there are strong associations between exposure to domestic violence and abuse in all their forms and higher rates of many chronic conditions. The strongest evidence comes from the Adverse Childhood Experiences study which shows correlations between exposure to abuse or neglect and higher rates in adulthood of chronic conditions, high risk health behaviors and shortened life span.[291] Evidence of the association between physical health and violence against women has been accumulating since the early 1990s.[292]

Studies have indicated that it is important to consider the effect of domestic violence and its psychophysiologic sequelae on women who are mothers of infants and young children. Several studies have shown that maternal interpersonal violence-related posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can, despite traumatized mother's best efforts, interfere with their child's response to the domestic violence and other traumatic events.[293][294] Thus, practitioners and service agencies addressing the needs of domestic violence victims should assess the victim-as-parent and evaluate the safety and well-being of children in the home.[citation needed]

More recently work by such researchers as Corso[295] have begun to quantify the economic impact of exposure to violence and abuse. A recent publication, Hidden Costs in Health Care: The Economic Impact of Violence and Abuse, [296] makes the case that such exposure represents a serious and costly public health issue that should be addressed by the health care system.[citation needed]


File:Map3.1NEW Womens Physical Security 2011 compressed.jpg

A map of the world showing countries by level of women's physical security, 2011

Domestic violence occurs across the world, in various cultures,[297] and affects people of all economic statuses.[11] According to one study, the percentage of women who have reported being physically abused by an intimate partner vary from 69% to 10% depending on the country.[298]

Laws on domestic violence vary by country. While it is generally outlawed in the Western world, this is not the case in many developing countries. For instance, in 2010, the United Arab Emirates's Supreme Court ruled that a man has the right to physically discipline his wife and children as long as he does not leave physical marks.[299] The social acceptability of domestic violence also differs by country. While in most developed countries domestic violence is considered unacceptable by most people, in many regions of the world the views are different: according to a UNICEF survey, the percentage of women aged 15–49 who think that a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife under certain circumstances is, for example: 90% in Afghanistan and Jordan, 87% in Mali, 86% in Guinea and Timor-Leste, 81% in Laos, 80% in Central African Republic.[300] Refusing to submit to a husband's wishes is a common reason given for justification of violence in developing countries:[301] for instance 62.4% of women in Tajikistan justify wife beating if the wife goes out without telling the husband; 68% if she argues with him; 47.9% if she refuses to have sex with him.[302]

Traditionally, in most cultures, men had a legal right to use violence to "discipline" their wives. Although in the US and many European countries this right was removed from them in the late 19th/early 20th century, before the 1970s criminal arrests were very rare (occurring only in cases of extreme violence), and it was only in the 1990s that rigorous enforcement of laws against domestic violence became standard policy in Western countries.[303][304]


An illustration from JJ Grandville's Cent Proverbes (1845) captioned "Qui aime bien châtie bien" (Who loves well, punishes well).

File:Corporal punishment in Europe.svg

Legality of corporal punishment of children in Europe. The views on child corporal punishment vary around the world. In most countries parental corporal punishment is not considered a form of DV (if it is not excessive), but some countries (mostly Western) have made any form of child corporal punishment illegal.[305]

  Corporal punishment prohibited in schools and the home
  Corporal punishment prohibited in schools only

Prior to the mid-1800s, most legal systems viewed wife beating as a valid exercise of a husband's authority over his wife.[306][307] One exception, however, was the 1641 Body of Liberties of the Massachusetts Bay colonists, which declared that a married woman should be "free from bodilie correction or stripes by her husband."[308]

Political agitation during the 19th century led to changes in both popular opinion and legislation regarding domestic violence within the United Kingdom, the United States and other countries.[309][310] In 1850, Tennessee became the first state in the United States to explicitly outlaw wife beating.[311][312] Other states soon followed.[307][313] In 1878, the UK Matrimonial Causes Act made it possible for women in the UK to seek legal separation from an abusive husband.[314] By the end of the 1870s, most courts in the United States had rejected a claimed right of husbands to physically discipline their wives.[315] By the early 20th century, it was common for police to intervene in cases of domestic violence in the United States, but arrests remained rare.[316]

Attention to domestic violence began to be drawn in the 1970s by the women's movement, particularly within the contexts of feminism and women's rights. The first known use of the expression "domestic violence" in a modern context, meaning "spouse abuse, violence in the home" was in an address to the Parliament of the United Kingdom in 1973. A few months later the world's first domestic violence services federation (Women's Aid) was set up to provide practical and emotional support as part of a range of services to women and children experiencing violence in England.[317][318] Studies in the 1990s showed that men may also be victims of domestic violence.[319][nb 4]

In most legal systems around the world, the issue of DV has been addressed only from the 1990s onwards; indeed, before the late-20th century, in most countries there was very little protection, in law or in practice, against DV. [320] In 1993, the UN published Strategies for Confronting Domestic Violence - A Resource Manual. This publication urged countries around the world to treat DV as a criminal act, stated that the right to a private family life does not include the right to abuse family members, and acknowledged that, at the time of its writing, most legal systems considered DV to be largely outside the scope of the law, describing the situation at that time as follows:[321] "Physical discipline of children is allowed and, indeed, encouraged in many legal systems and a large number of countries allow moderate physical chastisement of a wife or, if they do not do so now, have done so within the last 100 years. Again, most legal systems fail to criminalize circumstances where a wife is forced to have sexual relations with her husband against her will. [...] Indeed, in the case of violence against wives, there is a widespread belief that women provoke, can tolerate or even enjoy a certain level of violence from their spouses."

In recent decades there has been a call for the end of legal impunity for domestic violence, an impunity often based on the idea that such acts are 'private'.[6][194] The Istanbul Convention is the first legally-binding instrument in Europe dealing with domestic violence and violence against women.[81] The convention seeks to put an end to the toleration, in law or in practice, of VAW and DV. In its explanatory report it acknowledges the long tradition of European countries of ignoring, de jure or de facto, these forms of violence. At para 219, it states: "There are many examples from past practice in Council of Europe member states that show that exceptions to the prosecution of such cases were made, either in law or in practice, if victim and perpetrator were, for example, married to each other or had been in a relationship. The most prominent example is rape within marriage, which for a long time had not been recognised as rape because of the relationship between victim and perpetrator."[322]

There has been increased attention given to specific forms of domestic violence, such as honor killings, dowry deaths, and forced marriages. India has, in recent decades, made efforts to curtail dowry violence: the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA) was enacted in 2005, following years of advocacy and activism by the women's organizations.[323] Crimes of passion in Latin America, a region which has a history of treating such killings in an extremely lenient way, have also come to international attention. In 2002, Widney Brown, advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, argued that there are similarities between the dynamics of crimes of passion and honor killings, stating that: "crimes of passion have a similar dynamic [to honor killings] in that the women are killed by male family members and the crimes are perceived as excusable or understandable".[324]

Until quite recently, children had very few rights in regard to protection from violence by their parents, and still continue to do so in many parts of the world. Historically, fathers had virtually unlimited rights in regard to their children and how they chose to discipline them. In many cultures, such as in Ancient Rome, a father could legally kill his children; many cultures have also allowed fathers to sell their children into slavery. Child sacrifice was also a common practice.[325] Today, corporal punishment of children by their parents remains legal in most countries, but in Western countries that still allow the practice there are strict limits on what is permitted. The first country to outlaw parental corporal punishment was Sweden (parents' right to spank their own children was first removed in 1966,[326] and it was explicitly prohibited by law from July 1979. As of 2014, parental corporal punishment is banned in 43 countries.[305]

See also


  1. Terms such wife abuse, wife beating, and battering are descriptive terms that have lost popularity recently for several reasons:
    • There is acknowledgment that many victims are not actually married to the abuser, but rather cohabiting or in other arrangements.[11]
    • Abuse can take other forms than physical abuse. Other forms of abuse may be constantly occurring, while physical abuse happens occasionally. These other forms of abuse, that are not physical, also have the potential to lead to mental illness, self-harm, and even attempts at suicide.[12][13]
    • Males as well as females may be victims of domestic violence, and females as well as males can be the perpetrators.[citation needed]
    • All forms of domestic abuse can occur in same sex partnerships.[citation needed]
  2. Note that it is possible for a woman to not bleed the first time she has sex.[39]Sex outside marriage is illegal in many countries, including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan,[40] Afghanistan,[41][42][43] Iran,[43] Kuwait,[44] Maldives,[45] Morocco,[46] Oman,[47] Mauritania,[48] United Arab Emirates,[49][50] Qatar,[51] Sudan,[52] Yemen.[53]
  3. For instance, there are several passages in the Bible which are subject to debate in regard to gender relations, such as Ephesians 5:22–33 (wives subordination to their husbands) or 1 Corinthians 7:3–5, sometimes interpreted by some religious figures as to render the concept of marital rape impossible.[161][162] In Islam, many interpretations of Surah, An-Nisa, 34 in the Qur'an find that a husband hitting a wife is allowed.[163] Taj Hashmi states in the book Popular Islam and Misogyny: A Case Study of Bangladesh:
    [T]hanks to the subjective interpretations of the Quran (almost exclusively by men), the preponderance of the misogynic mullahs and the regressive Shariah law in most "Muslim" countries, Islam is synonymously known as a promoter of misogyny in its worst form. Although there is no way of defending the so-called "great" traditions of Islam as libertarian and egalitarian with regard to women, we may draw a line between the Quranic texts and the corpus of avowedly misogynic writing and spoken words by the mullah having very little or no relevance to the Quran.[164]
  4. Gelles 1980, 1989; McNeely and Mann 1990; Shupe, Stacey, and Hazelwood 1987; Straus 1973; Straus, Gelles, and Steinmetz 1980; Steinmetz 1977/1978.


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Further reading

World Health Organization

Intimate partner violence

External links

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