What Is Domestic Violence & What Does It Look Like?

Read Part 2 and Part 3 of our series on domestic violence.

Domestic violence takes on many names: wife beating, battering, family violence, and domestic abuse (to name a few). However, Dawn Bradley, author of The Domestic Violence Sourcebook, suggests domestic violence be understood to include any abuse by someone onto another with whom they have an "intimate relationship." Although equally tragic, her definition does not pertain to child abuse, elder abuse, and sibling abuse. Many cases of domestic violence are clearly physical, but there is usually some form of mental or emotional assault going on as well. Psychologist and author Susan Forward, Ph.D., describes abuse as “… any behavior that is intended to control and subjugate another human being through the use of fear, humiliation, and verbal or physical assaults… it is the systematic persecution of one's partner by another” (Forward).

Bradley and other experts believe emotional abuse may have longer lasting effects on the person than physical assault. Emotional abuse can manifest itself in many ways, but one example is the continual degrading or wearing down of one’s partner through frequent insults and criticism. This results in the victim eventually believing these criticisms and starting to think of oneself as lesser. After all, if the only thing someone heard every day was how worthless, ugly, stupid, etc, they are, it would be extremely difficult to continually think otherwise.

In addition to the ability to wear down one’s self-image, Bradly suggests emotional abuse is commonly used to break down one’s perception of their situation and choices until one truly believes they are helpless and unable to better their situation. Dr. Forward, as referenced above, also states, “Once a woman accepts an attack on her self-worth and permits herself to be demeaned, she has opened the door for future assault” (Forward).

How Domestic Violence Manifests

With a brief introduction to what domestic violence is and how damaging it can be here are some real-life examples of how these different forms may manifest:

Physical violence: Slapping, hitting, kicking, burning, punching, choking, shoving, beating, throwing things, locking out, restraining, and other acts designed to injure, hurt, endanger, or cause physical pain (Bradley).

Emotional abuse: Consistently doing or saying things to shame, insult, ridicule, embarrass, demean, belittle, or mentally hurt another person. This can include any derogatory names like fat, lazy, stupid, bitch, jackass, ugly, failure, worthless, a bad father or mother, or unwanted. It can also involve withholding money, attention, or forbidding someone to see their family or friends. It also includes not allowing someone to not make their own decisions, keep their property, or forcing one to do something they don’t want to do. Lastly, it can include refusing to help one in need, or ridicule one’s religion, race, heritage, or class (Bradley).

Sexual abuse: Forcing sex when one doesn’t want to, forcing sexual acts which one doesn’t like or finds unpleasant, forcing one to have sex with others or have others watch, ridiculing sexual performance, and anything making one generally feel demeaned or violated in regards to sex. This can also include forcing unprotected sex against the other's will. There are many other forms of sexual abuse that don’t need to be explicitly stated, but do exist (Bradley).

The Bottom Line for Domestic Violence

In short, domestic violence can be understood as any act that causes the victim to do something he/she does not want to do, prevents him/her from doing something he/she does not want to do, or causes him/her to be afraid. As one may suspect, many cases of domestic violence usually have multiple forms of abuse present. Many believe physical abuse to be the most dangerous to a person, and although it most definitely is the most dangerous to one's immediate life, one shouldn’t dismiss the damaging effects of the other forms of abuse. Bradley warns that many times emotional or sexual abuse can be seen as a precursor or “red flag” for future physical abuse.

Many healthy relationships involve the occasional bad argument or verbal fight, but one indicator of a potential domestic abuser is a continually one-sided attack followed by the promise to change behavior, which never happens (Bradley). One way someone can ensure they don’t end up in an abusive relationship is to recognize these red flags and leave the relationship before it escalates to the physical level.

The attorneys at the Law Offices of H. William Edgar are dedicated to the practice of family law and juvenile dependency matters. We have offices in RiversideTemeculaAnaheim and Palm Desert, and we are committed to helping you get the results that your family deserves. Contact us online or by calling (888) 251-9618 to review your options.


Berry, Dawn Bradley. The Domestic Violence Sourcebook. Contemporary, 2001.

Forward, Susan, and Joan Torres. Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them. Bantam., 1986.