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What is domestic violence?

Produced by an AmeriCorps Project of Western Massachusetts Legal Services; updated and revised by Jeff Wolf, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Last updated October, 2009

Sometimes I feel my partner is abusing me, but he has never hit me. What is domestic violence anyway?

Abuse does not have to be physically violent in order to be domestic violence. When one person in a relationship tries to control and overpower the other person, that is domestic violence. There are many kinds of domestic violence. This is a list of some kinds of domestic violence:

  • Physical abuse: pushing, shoving, hitting, biting, kicking, throwing things at a person, using a weapon, forced sex or touching, rape, choking;
  • Isolation: keeping you from seeing people; controlling who you see and talk to; wanting to control where you are all the time;
  • Emotional abuse: calling you names; putting you down; playing mind games; humiliating you in public;
  • Economic abuse: taking your money; making you ask for money; controlling all the money;
  • Sexual abuse: treating you like a sex object; forcing you to have sex or do sexual things when you don't want to;
  • Using children: using parenting time or visitation as a way to harass you; pumping the children for information about you; insulting you in front of the children;
  • Threats: saying he will take the children; telling you that you will never see the children again; threatening to hurt you; threatening to report you to welfare or DSS; threatening to hurt your family; threatening to hurt himself;
  • Insisting on being in charge: treating you like a servant; making the big decisions;
  • Intimidation: using looks; hurting pets; destroying your property.

The "Equality Wheel" and the "Power and Control Wheel" prepared by the Duluth (Minnesota) Abuse Intervention Project give more examples of abusive and non-abusive behavior. The examples on these wheels might help you think about your situation.

I feel so alone. Are many women in this situation?

Domestic violence is one of the most serious public health threats to women in the United States today. Thousands of women are beaten by their partner or ex-partner every year. In 2007, over 35,000 restraining order complaints were filed in Massachusetts courts. Most of these complaints were filed by women. See Custody.

Is domestic violence a crime?

Some forms of domestic violence are crimes. For example, physical violence and forced sex are crimes. It is also a crime if your partner threatens to use physical force against you or your children. Other forms of domestic violence may also be crimes. See 209A Protective Orders.

I am afraid my children are being abused. What are the different kinds of child abuse?

Some types of child abuse are:

  • making a child witness domestic violence
  • sexually assaulting a child and
  • is physically assaulting a child.

Is it a crime to abuse children?

Yes, it can be. Some forms of child abuse are crimes. See 209A Protective Orders.

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