What is Domestic Violence?

If you have landed upon this site, then you perhaps have an idea of what domestic violence means and what it is, why it happens, who it affects, and even perhaps how to identify and classify its iterations. Our goal at Shine the Light Foundation is to help you expand your knowledge of domestic violence even further, allowing for a meaningful conversation to support and leverage the efforts in raising awareness.

We recognize that there are countless variations on domestic violence and each story is unique. With this in mind and with the goal of inclusive conversation, we have identified three overarching categories: Physical, Psychological, and Sexual.

We recognize that sexual violence and abuse can be both physical and psychological; this is precisely why we organized this kind of harm into its own category.


Physical abuse involves more than direct contact. If your partner has done or repeatedly does any of the following then you may be experiencing physical abuse.


Punching, slapping, kicking, biting or choking you, pulling your hair, forcefully shoving, hitting you with objects and/or injuring you with weapons, forcing you to engage in a sexual act with him.

Endangerment Without Contact

Forbidding you from eating or sleeping, preventing you from calling the police or seeking medical attention, preventing you from leaving the room or situation (e.g. blocking an exit), harming your children or pets, making threats of physical harm, abandoning you in unfamiliar places, driving recklessly or dangerously when you are in the car, forcing you to behave or dress in a certain way, forcing you to use drugs or alcohol, forcing you to engage in sexual acts with others.


Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) can be just as horrifying, and with long-lasting effects, even when it does not involve physical harm. Your partner may be verbally and emotionally abusive if he or she strives for control in the following ways:

  • Calling you names that hurt you

  • Consistently criticizing you to a point when you feel your intelligence has been insulted

  • Refusing to trust you and acting jealous or possessive

  • Isolating you from family and friends; forbidding you from seeing or spending time with your family and friends; telling you who can and cannot have a relationship with

  • Demands to know everywhere you go, who you are with, and what you are doing (an extension of this would also include demanding a GPS tracker on your phone, vehicle, or electronic device; see "digital abuse" below)

  • Trapping you in place (at home, in a specific location) and preventing you from leaving

  • Threatening you with words, objects, or weapons; threatening to harm your children, family, friends, or pets

  • Withholding affection as a form of punishment

  • Will only engage in sexual intercourse if it is carried out on their terms (an example of this would be forcing you to wear specific lingerie that you are not comfortable with, forcing you to watch pornography, making you position yourself in ways you are not comfortable with, etc.)

  • Damaging your property when they're angry (throwing objects, punching walls, kicking doors, etc.)

  • Humiliating you in any way (in public, in private, sexually)

  • Blaming you for their abusive behavior

  • Gaslighting (see terms, linked below)

  • Accusing you of cheating and being often jealous of your outside relationships

  • Cheating on you and blaming you for their cheating; cheating on you to intentionally hurt you and/or to prove that they are more desired, worthy, etc. than you are

  • Demands you dress and/or groom yourself in a certain way

  • Telling you that you will never make it on your own, you will never find anyone better, etc.

  • Financial Abuse: controlling the accounts, money, demanding receipts and provides you with only an allowance, placing your paycheck in their bank account and denying you access to it, forbidding you to work or limiting the hours that you can work, maxing out credit cards in your name without permission, not paying the bills, stealing money from you or your family or friends, lying about where money is coming from or what it is being used for, using funds from children's savings accounts without your permission, etc.

  • Digital Abuse: tells you who can and cannot be connected to on social media, sends you negative or insulting messages by email or through social media, uses social media to monitor you, publicly insults you on their social media accounts, pressures you to view and/or send explicit videos or pictures, steals or insists on knowing your passwords, constantly texts you and makes you feel like you cannot be separated from your phone for fear that you will be punished, looks through your phone, checks your pictures and texts and call logs, records you in conversations without your knowledge, uses any kind of technology to monitor you (e.g. spyware or GPS in your car or phone)


Sexual violence, abuse, and assault is a method of obtaining and retaining power and control. If your partner engages in the following behavior then you may be a victim of sexual abuse, violence, and/or assault:

  • Forcing you to dress in a sexual way (e.g. lingerie)

  • Insulting you in sexual ways

  • Forcing or manipulating you into having sex or performing sexual acts, with them and/or with others

  • Hold you down during sex, against your will

  • Demanding sex when you're ill, tired, or after hurting you

  • Hurting you with objects or weapons during sex

  • Disregarding or ignoring your feelings regarding sexual activity

  • Forcing you to watch pornography

  • Purposefully trying to pass on a sexually transmitted disease to you

  • Sexual Coercion: making you feel like you owe them sex (e.g. because you're in a relationship, because you've had sex before, or because they spent money on you or gave you a gift, etc.), giving you drugs or alcohol to purposefully intoxicate you to a point where you will disregard your inhibitions, reacting with sadness, anger or resentment if you say no or don't immediately agree to sexual activity, continuing to pressure you after you say no, making you feel threatened or afraid of what might happen if you say no, trying to normalize their sexual expectations

  • Reproductive Coercion: refusing birth control or protection, breaking or removing a condom during sex, lying about their methods of birth control (e.g. lying about having a vasectomy, taking birth control, etc.), refusing to "pull out" if that is the agreed upon method of birth control, forcing you to not use birth control or protection, sabotaging birth control methods, withholding finances for birth control, pressuring you into trying for or forcing pregnancy, forcing you to get an abortion or preventing you from getting one, threatening you or acting violent if you don't comply with their wishes to either end or continue pregnancy.

Having the Conversation

Taking these and other resources into the community and by inviting fellow advocates and professionals to participate in our programs, we continue our efforts to strengthen the dialogue on domestic violence. Visit our Programs + Outreach page to learn more about these efforts and how we are exploring topics and issues related to domestic violence.

Glossary of Terminology

Throughout this site, and perhaps in your own research, you may have come across certain terms used to describe methods or situations of, or conditions that result from, domestic violence. We have compiled an extensive list of these terms that you may find helpful. 

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Where Can I Find Help?

If you or someone you know is the victim of domestic violence, or if you think you may be harming your partner, there are resources available in your community and nationally that can provide support and assistance.                                                          

The information listed above is adapted from a resource guide published by our colleagues at the National Domestic Violence Hotline.