Definition of Domestic Violence
Domestic violence refers to violent acts committed by a family or household member against another, such as child abuse or the mistreatment of one’s spouse. Domestic violence can refer to physical harm inflicted on a member of a household or family, by another member of the same household or family. The catch-all term domestic violence can generally apply to any partners -- married or unmarried, straight or gay, living together or simply dating.
Domestic violence (sometimes called "spousal abuse") usually involves repetitive physical and psychological abuse, and a "cycle of violence". Specific crimes charged vary based on 1) severity of the victim's injuries, 2) whether a minor was present, and 3) whether a protective or restraining order was violated.
Anyone can become a domestic violence offender or victim. While rape and murder can be forms of domestic violence, most often domestic violence consists of lesser forms of physical abuse such as slapping and pushing. Stalking can also be a form of domestic violence.
Is Domestic Violence a Specific Crime?
Many states define domestic violence as a distinct crime. As a result, a suspect who strikes a significant other may be charged with domestic violence instead of (or in addition to) other crimes such as assault and battery. Recognizing that domestic abusers take advantage of their victims' trust and confidence, after a conviction for domestic violence prosecutors often push for sentences that are harsher than those that might be sought for assault-type crimes involving two strangers. Those sentences typically include special protections for past (and potential) targets of domestic abuse.
Forms of Domestic Violence
Many forms of abuse are included in the definition of domestic violence:
- Physical abuse can include hitting, biting, slapping, battering, shoving, punching (any type of violent behavior inflicted on the victim).
- Sexual abuse occurs when the abuser coerces or attempts to coerce the victim into having sexual contact or sexual behavior without the victims consent.
- Emotional abuse involves invalidating or deflating the victim's sense of self-worth and/or self-esteem.
- Economic abuse takes place when the abuser makes or tries to make the victim financially reliant.