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Domestic Violence: An Overview

> Introduction

Domestic Violence isn't just hitting, or fighting, or an occasional mean argument.  It's a chronic abuse of power.  The abuser tortures and controls the victim by calculated threats, intimidation, and physical violence.  Actual physical violence is often the end result of months or years of intimidation and control.

In their diagnostic and treatment guidelines for physicians, The American Medical Association defines intimate partner abuse as "the physical, sexual, and/or psychological abuse to an individual perpetrated by a current or former intimate partner. While this term is gender-neutral, women are more likely to experience physical injuries and incur psychological consequences of intimate partner abuse." 17

In a study, published in the Archives of Family Medicine, designed to measure physician's attitudes and practices toward victims of domestic violence, Snugg, et al, defined domestic violence as "past or present physical and/or sexual violence between former or current intimate partners, adult household members, or adult children and a parent. Abused persons and perpetrators could be of either sex, and couples could be heterosexual or homosexual." 19

Defining the problem:  Domestic violence is violence between adult intimate partners.

Though the definition above seems simple enough (it is widely accepted in the law enforcement community as the definition), the application of the definition varies quite significantly from organization to organization, state to state, and country to country.  The term "intimate partners" in some cases refers only to people who are cohabitating or have cohabited (lived together) whereas at other times "intimate partners" refers to people who are dating or who have dated at some time in the past.

Perhaps a better definition of domestic violence is emotional abuse, physical abuse, or sexual abuse between people who have at some time had an intimate or family relationship.

To understand how the meaning of "domestic violence" has and is changing, think about how the term "family" has changed in the past 50 years.  They are both ever-changing, and a bit controversial.

Many view the above definition of domestic violence as overly restrictive.  They argue that domestic violence can occur between adult family members who are not "intimate" in the traditional sense, such as adult brothers and sisters, cousins, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, mothers- and fathers-in-law.  For example, many consider elder abuse to be a form of domestic violence.

Though the definition above clearly states "adult...", there is a recent trend for states to adopt legal definitions of domestic violence that include violence toward children (more than half of states now mention children in their domestic violence laws).  This could broaden the definition to be violence between any of the following: husbands, wives, ex-husbands, ex-wives, partners, ex-partners, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, children, people who have lived together (which could include cousins, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, and caregivers), and people who are or have dated in the past.
Child Abuse and Neglect State Statutes Elements

Introduction
What is Emotional Abuse?
What is Physical Abuse?
What is Sexual Abuse?
Domestic Violence Statistics: Prevalence and Trends
It's Hard to Stop because it's Hard to Report
Effects of Domestic Violence
Effects of Domestic Violence on Children and Teenagers
Help is Available!
Domestic Violence Shelters: What They Do
Conclusions
Nationwide Crisis and Hotline Directory
Domestic Violence References



Referring to this article:
"Domestic Violence: An Overview" was written by C. J. Newton, MA, Learning Specialist and published in the Find Counseling.com (formerly TherapistFinder.net) Mental Health Journal in February, 2001.

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