Defining the Undefinable

For many, the stereotype of domestic violence includes covering a black eye with dark make up or sunglasses.  But domestic violence is much, much more than that.  There are many ways to become the victim of abuse, and often the victim does not have the appropriate words to define what is happening to them.  Below, find a list of words commonly used when talking about domestic violence and the definitions that might help explain the various forms of abuse.

Domestic Violence: Legally, according to the Department of Justice, the term Domestic Violence is defined as “felony or misdemeanor crimes of violence committed by a current or former spouse or intimate partner of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, by a person who is cohabitating with or has cohabitated with the victim as a spouse or intimate partner, by a person similarly situated to a spouse of the victim under the domestic or family violence laws of the jurisdiction receiving grant monies, or by any other person against an adult or youth victim who is protected from that person’s acts under the domestic or family violence laws of the jurisdiction.” 

What that boils down to is, Domestic Violence is pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship, regardless of how long or short the relationship was.

Emotional Abuse: Emotional abuse is harder to define, but can include insults, name calling, isolation from friends and family, humiliation, accusations, gaslighting, monitoring movement and threats.

Gaslighting: An extremely effective form of emotional abuse that causes a victim to question their own feelings, instincts, and sanity.  There are multiple forms of gaslighting, but often the abuser will use denial to make you question what you believe.  For instance, an incident will take place and when you try to talk to your partner about it, they will deny what you are saying ever happened.  They may tell you that you’re crazy, making things up or completely wrong in how you’re remembering the event. 

Physical Abuse: This is abuse that is done to your physical body.  It can include, but is not limited to, punching, slapping, kicking, biting and chocking.  It also includes pulling hair, preventing eating or sleeping and the use or threat of weapons.

Sexual Abuse: Any abuse that is sexual in nature, including forcing or manipulating a person into performing sexual acts, dressing in a sexual way or hurting someone during sex.  It also includes demanding sex when the other partner is sick or tired and ignoring your feelings during sex.

Sexual Coercion:  According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline Website, sexual coercion lies on the ‘continuum’ of sexually aggressive behavior.  It includes behaviors like persuasion to perform sexual acts, forcing sexual contact and guilting someone into sexual acts. It can be verbal and emotional, in the form of statements that make you feel pressure, guilt, or shame. You can also be made to feel forced through more subtle actions.

Rape: Sexual intercourse with a person against her or his will, through force, threat or intimidation. Rape is a crime. The victims relationship to the perpetrator DOES NOT change the requirement for consent.

Sexual Assault: Sexual Abuse/Fondling/Touching of a person in areas of the body considered to be private, against her or his will.

Consent: Consent is an agreement to engage in sexual activity. This agreement needs to be given freely and willingly, without threat, force or intimidation. Consent needs to be clear, coherent and continuous. A person who has consented is entitled to change their mind at any point for any reason.

Stalking: The legal definition of stalking is, “a repeated course of conduct intended to cause fear of bodily injury or death.” This may look different in different states.