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What Constitutes Domestic Violence?

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By Ron Wallace, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at American Military University

*This article is part of In Public Safety’s October focus on domestic violence awareness*

When you hear the term domestic violence, if you are like many people, the image of a battered female with bruises is probably the first thing that comes to mind. However, as discussed in previous articles, domestic violence, or intimate partner violence (IPV) as it is now known, goes far beyond this one stereotype.

[Related Article: What Does Domestic Violence Look Like?]

IPV is not limited to situations where females are the only victims. The U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women provides excellent definitions of the various types of violence that are categorized as IPV.

Physical and Sexual Abuse
domestic violence_fistThe most obvious types of domestic violence are those involving some form of physical or sexual abuse. Included are acts where the abuser harms the victim through some type of physical contact such as hitting, shoving, or slapping.

Some cases involve the abuser forcing the victim to participate in some form of unwanted sexual contact, especially after a physical attack has occurred. In this situation, sexual abuse could be viewed as either domestic violence and/or another sexually related crime, including marital rape in relationships where the partners are married.

Emotional Abuse
In many instances, domestic violence begins as some form of emotional abuse. If left unchecked, emotional abuse often leads to physical abuse.

Individuals who demean their partner are committing a form of domestic violence. Verbal attacks that target an individual’s feelings of self-worth and/or self-esteem are a form of domestic violence when directed by one partner upon the other. Another example of emotional abuse is attempts to damage the relationship of one partner with his or her children.

Psychological Abuse
Psychological abuse is related to emotional abuse, but focuses upon instilling fear in the victim. The threat of physical harm is often associated with psychological abuse. Intimidation tactics such as stalking, forced isolation of the victim from other family members, and/or harm to pets of the victim are other characteristics of psychological abuse.

Economic Abuse
Individuals who are financially dependent upon an abusive partner are often victims of economic abuse. Leaving the abusive relationship can be especially difficult for such victims as it would require them to find a means of self-support.

The Importance of Victim-Assistance Programs
Many communities have established emergency shelters for victims who wish to leave an abusive relationship. The amount of time a victim can stay at the shelter will vary based upon resources available to the organization providing the facility.

[Related Article: The Need for a Robust Victim Assistance Program]

These shelters provide victims access to services intended to assist them with starting an independent life free of the abuser. Many shelters also provide victims psychological counseling to break the cycle of violence that many victims have grown to accept.

What Can You Do?
Only professionals specifically trained in these issues should provide counseling and direct assistance to victims of domestic violence. However, there are things that you can do to help.

Seek out the local organization in your community that provides emergency services to victims of domestic violence. These organizations can use your support either in the form of financial contributions or donations of items. Many of these organizations run thrift shops where donated items are sold to raise funds. If you have time to attend dedicated training there may even be opportunities to volunteer within the organization.

No matter how little or great, any donation to these organizations ultimately helps victims in need. For Domestic Violence Awareness Month, take the time to reach out to your local organization and learn how you can help.

Ron Wallace_v3SMAbout the Author: Dr. Ron Wallace is a criminal justice professional with more than 30 years of experience in both the public and private sectors. He has worked with criminal justice agencies nationwide as a consultant on various projects and has several years of teaching experience at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Dr. Wallace currently serves as an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at American Public University System. He has conducted research and published articles on the topic of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV).

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