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Domestic violence

Domestic violence is when a person uses abusive behavior to control a partner or other family member. The abuse can be physical, emotional, economic, or sexual. It can affect people of any age, sex, culture, or class. When domestic violence is aimed at a child, it is called child abuse. Domestic violence is a crime.

Types of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence can include any of these behaviors:

  • Physical abuse, including hitting, kicking, biting, slapping, choking, or attacking with a weapon
  • Sexual abuse, forcing someone to have any type of sexual activity he or she does not want
  • Emotional abuse, including name-calling, humiliation, threats to the person or his or her family, or not letting the person see family or friends
  • Economic abuse, such as controlling access to money or bank accounts

Signs of Domestic Violence

Most people do not start out in abusive relationships. The abuse often starts slowly and gets worse over time, as the relationship deepens.

Some signs that your partner may be abusive include:

  • Wanting most of your time
  • Hurting you and saying it is your fault
  • Trying to control what you do or whom you see
  • Keeping you from seeing family or friends
  • Being overly jealous of time you spend with others
  • Pressuring you to do things you do not want to do, such as having sex or doing drugs
  • Keeping you from going to work or school
  • Putting you down
  • Intimidating you or threatening your family or pets
  • Accusing you of having affairs
  • Controlling your finances
  • Threatening to hurt himself or herself if you leave

How to get Help

Leaving an abusive relationship is not easy. You may be afraid your partner will harm you if you leave, or that you will not have the financial or emotional support you need.

Domestic violence is not your fault. You cannot stop your partner's abuse. But you can find ways to get help for yourself.

  • Tell someone. The first step in getting out of an abusive relationship is often telling someone else about it. You can talk to a friend, family member, your health care provider, or a clergy member.
  • Have a safety plan. This is a plan in case you need to leave a violent situation right away. Decide where you will go and what you will bring. Gather important items you will need, like credit cards, cash, or papers, in case you need to leave quickly. You can also pack a suitcase and keep it with a family member or friend.
  • Call for help. You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline toll-free at 800-799-7233, 24 hours a day. The staff at the hotline can help you find resources for domestic violence in your area, including legal help.
  • Get medical care. If you are hurt, get medical care from your provider or at the emergency room.
  • Call the police. Do not hesitate to call the police if you are in danger. Domestic violence is a crime.

How to Help a Loved one

If a friend or family member is being abused, there are many ways you can help.

  • Offer support. Your loved one may feel scared, alone, or ashamed. Let him or her know you are there to help however you can.
  • Do not judge. Leaving an abusive relationship is difficult. Your loved one may stay in the relationship despite the abuse. Or, your loved one may leave and return many times. Try to support these choices, even if you do not agree with them.
  • Help with a safety plan. Suggest that your loved one make a safety plan in case of danger. Offer your home as a safe zone if he or she needs to leave, or help find another safe place.
  • Find help. Help your loved one connect with a national hotline or a domestic violence agency in your area.

Alternative Names

Intimate partner violence; Spousal abuse; Elder abuse; Child abuse; Sexual abuse - domestic violence


Feder G, Macmillan HL. Intimate partner violence. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 228.

Mullins EWS, Regan L. Women's health. In: Feather A, Waterhouse M, eds. Kumar and Clarke's Clinical Medicine. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 39.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline. Getting help for a friend in need. Accessed December 1, 2022.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline. Types of abuse. Accessed December 1, 2022.

Review Date 8/15/2022

Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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