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Understanding Relationship Violence

Your guide to understanding, recognizing, and learning to talk about Relationship Violence.

"Domestic violence can happen to anyone regardless of race, age, sexual orientation, religion, sex, or gender identity. Domestic violence affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels. Domestic violence occurs in both opposite-sex and same-sex relationships and can happen to intimate partners who are married, living together, dating, or sharing a child.”

-- The Office on Violence Against Women

Relationship violence is defined as any harmful or unwanted physical, sexual, verbal, or emotional act inflicted by a casual or intimate partner with the intention, either real or perceived, of causing pain or injury to the other partner. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.

The goal of the behavior is to establish and maintain power and control in the relationship.

Some forms of intimate partner violence (e.g., aspects of sexual violence, psychological aggression, including coercive tactics, and stalking) can be perpetrated electronically through mobile devices and social media sites, as well as in person.

While violence impacts all people in the United States, some individuals and communities experience inequities in risk for violence due to the social and structural conditions in which they live, work, and play.

Relationship violence data

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that on average, nearly 20 people per minute perpetrate physical abuse on their partner in the United States.

During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men who are targets of this abuse.

Source: McFarlane, Campbell, Wilt, Sachs, Ulrich & Xu, 1999

77% of female victims know their stalkers.
62% of female victims were stalked by current or former intimate partners
81% of women who were stalked were also physically assaulted by the same partner.
52% of victims are between 18-29 years of age, making this the riskiest demographic.
More than 13% of women report having been stalked in college.
54% of female murder victims reported stalking to police before being killed by their stalkers.
76% of female murder victims reported being stalked at least once in the 12 months prior to death.

What does relationship abuse look like?


The cycle of abuse

Types of Relationship Violence

Emotional, Mental & Verbal Abuse

  • Using put-downs, insults, name-calling, humiliation

  • Threatening to harm or kill family, friends, a new partner, pets, etc.

  • Threatening to commit suicide if a partner leaves

  • Making threats like, “If you leave me I’ll … spread rumors about you, tell your parents we had sex,” etc.

  • Blaming the person who is being abused for the abuse or for all the problems in the relationship

  • Minimizing or denying abusive behavior, playing mind games

  • Possessiveness and/or constant accusations of cheating

  • Constant criticism

  • Damaging one's relationship with others

Physical Abuse

  • Hitting, slapping, grabbing, pushing, shaking, hair-pulling, physical restraint

  • Intimidation (blocking exits/doors, hitting things or throwing objects at or near partner)

  • Using or threatening to use weapons

  • Stalking

  • Denying medical care

  • Forcing alcohol and/or drug use

Psychological Abuse

  • Causing fear by intimidation

  • Threatening physical harm to self, partner, children, or partner's family or friends

  • Destruction of pets and property

  • Forcing isolation from family, friends, or school and/or work

Sexual Abuse

  • Ignoring the partner’s sexual choice(s) through pressure, manipulation, or coercion (e.g. saying, “You’d do it if you loved me.”)

  • Rape or forced penetration without consent (including use of intimidation, threats, weapons, etc.), including marital rape

  • Treating someone in a sexually demeaning manner

  • Sexual assault or forced sexual contact

  • Sexual harassment or any unwanted sexual attention

Financial Abuse

  • Controlling all money, using money to threaten or manipulate

  • Controlling possessions like a car, phones, clothes, jewelry

  • Excessive gift-giving with strings attached, for example, “I gave you this, now you owe me.”

  • Using gifts to make up for abusive behavior

  • Sabotaging a partner’s work or school career, for example, harassing a partner at work and causing them to get fired or refusing to give a partner a ride to work or school, etc.

Technological Abuse

An act or pattern of behavior that is intended to harm, threaten, control, stalk, harass, impersonate, exploit, extort, or monitor another person that occurs using any form of technology, including internet-enabled devices, online spaces, and platforms, computers, mobile devices, cameras, and imaging programs, apps, location tracking devices, or communication technologies, or any other emerging technologies.


  • Any repeated behavior, including occasions of visual or physical proximity (e.g., showing up at the door of an ex's class)

  • Non-consensual communication (e.g., repeated unwanted email blasts)

  • Verbal, written, or implied threats (e.g, “If you don't pick up my phone calls, you'll be sorry.”) that would cause fear in a reasonable person

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