What is domestic violence?
Domestic violence is a type of abuse. It can be the abuse of a spouse or partner, which is also known as intimate partner violence. Or it could be the abuse of a child, older relative, or other family member.
Domestic violence may include different types of abuse, such as:
- Physical violence that can lead to injuries such as bruises or fractures (broken bones)
- Sexual violence, including sexual assault
- Emotional abuse, which includes threats, name-calling, put-downs, and humiliation. It can also involve controlling behavior, such as telling the victim how to act or dress and not letting them see family or friends.
- Economic abuse, which involves controlling access to money
- Stalking, which is repeated, unwanted contact that causes fear or concern for the safety of the victim. This can include watching or following the victim. The stalker may send repeated, unwanted phone calls or texts.
Who is affected by domestic violence?
It is hard to know exactly how common domestic violence is, because it's often not reported.
But we do know that anyone can be affected by it. Domestic violence can happen to men or women of all different ages. It affects people with all levels of income and education.
What are the signs that someone is a victim of domestic violence?
If you think that a loved one might be the victim of domestic violence, learn about the different types of abuse and watch for these signs:
Does your friend or loved one:
- Have unexplained cuts or bruises?
- Avoid friends, family, and favorite activities?
- Make excuses for their partner's behavior?
- Look uncomfortable or fearful around their partner?
Does your friend or loved one's partner:
- Yell at or make fun of them?
- Try to control them by making all the decisions?
- Check up on them at work or school?
- Force them to do sexual things they don't want to do?
- Threaten to hurt himself or herself if the partner wants to break up?
What can I do if I am a victim of domestic violence?
Your safety is the most important concern. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
If you are not in immediate danger, you can:
- Get medical care if you have been injured or sexually assaulted
- Call a helpline for free, anonymous help. You can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233) or 800-787-3224 (TTY).
- Find out where to get help in your community. Contact local organizations that can help you.
- Make a safety plan to leave. Domestic violence usually does not get better. Think about a safe place for you to go and all of the things that you will need when you leave.
- Save the evidence. Keep evidence of abuse, such as pictures of your injuries or threatening emails or texts. Make sure that it is in a safe place the abuser cannot access.
- Talk to someone you trust, such as a family member, a friend, a co-worker, or a spiritual leader
- Consider getting a restraining order to protect yourself
How can I help someone who is a victim of domestic violence?
Let your loved one know that being treated this way isn't healthy and that they are not to blame. You should:
- Call 911 if there is immediate danger
- Watch for the signs of abuse. Learn about the signs and keep track of the ones that you see.
- Find out about local resources. Get the addresses and phone numbers of some local resources in your community. Then you'll be able to share the information if the person is ready for it.
- Set up a time to talk. Make sure you can have your conversation in a safe, private place. Your loved one's partner may have access to his or her cell phone or computer, so be careful about sharing information over text or email.
- Be specific about why you are worried. Describe the behaviors that concern you. Be as specific as possible when explaining why you are worried.
- Plan for safety. If your loved one is ready to leave an abusive partner, help make a plan for getting out of the relationship as safely as possible. A domestic violence counselor can help with making a safety plan.
- Be patient and do not judge. You should talk about your concerns with your loved one, but you need to understand that they may not be ready to talk about it. Let them know that you're available to talk at any time, and that you will listen without judging them.
- Domestic Violence (Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women)
- Domestic Violence: Protecting Yourself and Your Children (American Academy of Family Physicians) Also in Spanish
- Harmful Partnerships: When Someone You Love is Abusive (National Institutes of Health) Also in Spanish
- Abuse, Maltreatment and PTSD and Their Relationship to Migraine (American Migraine Foundation)
- Building Social Bonds: Connections That Promote Well-Being (National Institutes of Health) Also in Spanish
- Common Reactions After Trauma (National Center for PTSD) Also in Spanish
- COVID-19: Support for People Experiencing Abuse (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in Spanish
- Domestic Violence against Men: Know the Signs (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
- Domestic Violence against Women: Recognize Patterns, Seek Help (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
- Intimate Partner Violence (American College of Nurse-Midwives) - PDF
- Know Your Rights: Domestic Violence (American Bar Association) - PDF
- Leaving an Abusive Relationship (Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health) Also in Spanish
- Violence and Abuse in Rural America (Rural Health Information Hub)
Statistics and Research
- Intersection of Intimate Partner Violence and HIV in Women (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) - PDF
- Intimate Partner Violence (Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime) - PDF
- Intimate Partner Violence in the United States - 2010 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) - PDF
- Intimate Partner Violence, 1993-2010 (Department of Justice) - PDF
- National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) - PDF
- Violence against Women (World Health Organization) Also in Spanish
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Domestic Violence (National Institutes of Health)
Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
- Article: Sharing information about domestic violence and abuse in healthcare: an analysis...
- Article: Identifying domestic violence and sexual assault presentations at a regional Australian...
- Article: The Perceptions of Domestic Violence by a Family Member Who Uses...
- Domestic Violence -- see more articles
Find an Expert
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Also in Spanish
- Civil Domestic Violence Resources (National Institutes of Health)
- Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women
- Violence against Women: Resources by State (Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health)
- Helping Children Exposed to Domestic Violence (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry)