Defining Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence is a huge problem in the United States, and impacts roughly 1 in 4 women (22.3%)¹ across their lifespan.  Despite popular belief, domestic violence in not a purely a women’s issue — nearly 1 in 7 men (14%) are victims of domestic violence as well. Additionally millions of children (1 in 15)² are exposed to domestic violence each year.  According to a 2011 DOJ report, nearly 90% of those children actually witnessed the abuse. Additionally, all too often, these acts of domestic and/or intimate partner violence involve sexual assault. Much like sexual assault, the definitions of domestic violence will vary state to state.  Regardless of the nuances in legal definitions, however, experts and advocates understand that domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior inflicted on a victim with whom the abuser has a relationship. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell whether a relationship is abusive, especially as a third party, because every relationship is different.  The hallmark sign of an abusive relationship, however, is that the abuser acts in ways to exercise power and control over their victim. **It’s important to note that the terms domestic violence and intimate partner violence, are used interchangeably for the sake of our discussion.**

More Domestic Violence Stats

Number of Women Who Die Each Day

According National Network to End Domestic Violence, 3 women die each day as a result of intimate parter or domestic violence. (4)

Number of People per Minute

According to the CDC, 20 people per minute experience physical violence by an intimate partner in the United States.  That’s over 10 million acts of violence perpetrated by partners per year. (5)


Percentage of Financial Abuse in Domestic Violence Cases

Financial abuse is one of the most prevalent forms of abuse, while at the same being among the most overlooked.  The abuser will often have complete control of the money supply which creates daunting barriers to leaving. (6)

What “Counts” as Abuse?

When we talk about domestic violence, we often focus on aspects of physical abuse. The truth of the matter is that the pattern of domestic violence often starts out with more subtle controlling behaviors.  Because we’re conditioned to think of abuse as synonymous with physical injury, we often entirely miss or are more likely to dismiss other forms. The other problem is that most abusive relationships don’t start out that way! So often I hear someone say, “Well I would never tolerate someone hitting me!” in a manner that communicates an air of superiority over those who find themselves in abusive relationships. Congratulations. I can safely say for a majority of the survivors I’ve worked with, if their date had slugged them on the first date, they would’ve cut ties then and there. It’s not that simple.


Survivors of domestic violence (and sexual assault, for that matter) are no more clueless than the rest of us.

Common Red Flags in Relationships

  • Progresses very quickly from dating to a committed the relationship — maybe even in a matter of days.
  • Tries to monopolize all of your time at the expense of:
    • spending time with friends and family
    • hobbies or other enjoyed activitiesCaution with Red Flags
    • school or work
  • Challenges, dismisses or outright crosses your personal boundaries.
  • Excessive jealous behavior: Constantly saying other people are trying to sleep with you, or accusing you of infidelity
  • Inquires (or demands) as where you at all times, including:
    • Frequent calls, emails, and texts throughout the day wanting to know your location.
    • Uses social media to track — asking you to ‘check in’ or ‘snap chat’ locations and friends
  • Constantly reminds you how luck you are that they chose you.
  • Takes no responsibility for own actions and blames others: Blames entire failure of previous relationships on former partners
  • Exhibits rapid personality shifts when by yourselves vs. around others
  • Early in the relationship flatters you constantly, and seems “too good to be true.” but later on criticizes or puts you down including variations of, “You’re crazy, stupid, worthless, lazy, fat/unattractive.” May claim that no one else would ever want or love you.

The Power & Control Wheel

The Power & Control Wheel is a tool widely used in domestic violence advocacy to help illustrate the complex dynamics and tactics of an abusive relationship.

As we mentioned, abuse is a pattern of behaviors over time that serve to gain power and control over an intimate partner. While we are taught to recognize physical acts of violence as abuse, perpetrators also use a variety of threats, intimidation, emotional and psychological stress, and economic leverage to wear down their victims. Often, abusers will use multiple tactics at the same time.

At the center of the wheel is Power & Control — the true intent behind all abuse. Regardless of whether a person hits you, or makes verbal threats to scare and intimidate, the goal is always the same. And remember that men are not the only offenders. While men are often more likely to use physical threats and intimidation, women are more likely to use psychological and emotional tactics.

© 2011 Duluth Model Power and Control Wheels from Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs

The inside of the wheel with the spokes represents the categories of behaviors that wreak havoc on the mental health and wellbeing of abused persons, but that may also go unrecognized due to their more subtle characteristics. These “inner ring” tactics are especially destructive because they may play on the personal, cultural and spiritual values of the victim. The outer ring represents physical, sexual and otherwise “visible” violence. Again, abusers can use a mix of both inner and outer tactics simultaneously. Sometimes the intensity of these outer ring acts can distort the harmful nature of the more subtle inner ring:  “At least he didn’t hit me this time…” While the categories of abuse are the largely the same regardless of demographics, some of individual tactics are quite different for those in the LGBTQ+ community, as well as in teen relationships.

More Statistics About Domestic Violence


Percentage of All Murder-Suicides Involving an Intimate Partner

According Violence Policy Center, 72% of all murder-suicides involved an intimate partner; 94% of the victims were female.³

Avg. Number of Times to Leave

According to the experts, a victim of domestic violence will leave the abusive relationship seven times before severing ties for good.4


Avg. Percentage of Women Who Feared Contacting Police Would Make It Worse

According to a new study published in 2015, among women who had (51%) and had not (70%) contacted police, feared doing so in the future would make the abuse worse.5

Why Don’t They Just Leave?!

This is THE question when it comes to domestic violence, isn’t it? Why don’t they just leave? Sassy-Advocate-Leave-DV-Blog

This question came to the forefront of our collective consciousness in the early Fall of 2014 when yet another famous person was caught on video physically assaulting his then-girlfriend. The expressions of shock and horror made by the public in response to the video were quick and strong — dwarfed only by their reaction upon learning that during the time between when the incident actually took place and when the video leaked, she had married him.

Although some people clearly thought this behavior was absurd, social media proved to be a powerful tool in helping the general public learn a little bit more about the dynamics of domestic violence that can make leaving so damn difficult.

Read More About Leaving

There can be huge (and often dangerous) barriers to overcome when leaving a domestic violence relationship. Additionally, there are certain things to consider when planning an exit.  Learn more about why people stay and some tips to help you or someone you love get out safely.

(Note: Shaming them is NOT one of the ways)

I Want to Know!

Sassy Advocate Blog

Explore the Realities of Leaving a Domestic Violence Situation

Read More Blog Posts


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If you would like to know more signs of abusive relationships, visit our Resources Page for more links.