Definition & forms

Definition of domestic violence

Domestic violence also referred to as domestic abuse is a form of gender-based violence. It occurs when one intimate partner or family member or ex-partner or spouse uses an abusive pattern of behaviour (physical violence, coercion, threats, intimidation, rule making and emotional, sexual and economic abuse) to gain and maintain power and control over the other person.

Domestic abuse can occur in a marital relationships or live-in relationships and in homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual relationships. It crosses cultural, religious, ethnic, socio-economic and national barriers.

Even though both men and women can be abused, studies have proved that women and children represent the majority of the victims. Violence occurs at any stage of a relationship. All women, irrespective of social class, ethnicity, age, nationality, religion, culture and education can experience domestic violence. Children are traumatised by the violence in their homes. While some are assaulted physically, all witness constant acts of violence which cause fear, anxiety and great distress. Post-traumatic stress disorder syndrome can last a lifetime!

Domestic violence mostly occurs behind closed doors and in the private sphere of the family, far from the gaze of others. Furthermore, there is no 'typical' abuser. Hence, it is difficult and sometimes even impossible to identify and correctly profile an abuser without victims-survivors providing statements. The most charming, lovely and charming partner in public can, in the home, be violent and abusive.

Women also can be violent, but their actions account for a small percentage of domestic violence. More often, women retaliate to defend and protect themselves.

Forms of domestic violence

  • Physical abuse such as slapping, beating, arm twisting, throwing acid and other inflammatory liquids, strangling, burning, choking, kicking, threats with an object or weapon, and murder
  • Sexual abuse refers to coerced sex through threats, intimidation or physical force such as forced sexual acts or forced sex with others or introduction of vegetables and other foreign objects into sexual parts of the victims anatomy
  • Psychological and emotional abuse includes behaviour that is intended to intimidate and persecute. It can take the form of threats of abandonment, verbal abuse or forcing out of the home, confinement to the home, 'spying', threats to take away children, isolation, ignoring the partner or lack of affection and care, verbal aggression or constant humiliation and acts of omission
  • Economic abuse such as the denial of funds, refusal to contribute financially, denial of food and basic needs, retention of salary, economic coercion and controlling access to health care, employment and social services
  • Spiritual abuse: occurs when one person uses religious or spiritual beliefs and practices to threaten, dominate, manipulate and control another person with the intention to keep the latter under their power. It includes deeds or words that demean, humiliate or shame the faith of a person, the use of intimidation to subjugate someone to spiritual authority denying his/her right to disagree, unreasonable control of a person's basic right to make a choice on spiritual matters and prevention from practicing spiritual ceremonies.

However, although violence against women has been categorised separately, the various forms of violence are not mutually exclusive and many women often, if not daily, endure various types of violence and in many cases all of the above.