The four types of abuse can take on many forms. Some types are more subtle than others and might never be seen or felt by anyone other than the woman experiencing the abuse. The abuser uses a combination of tactics that work to control the victim. The abuse also usually increases in frequency and severity over time.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse is easier to recognize and understand than other types of abuse. It can be indicated when the batterer:

  • Scratches, bites, grabs or spits at a current or former intimate partner.
  • Shakes, shoves, pushes, restrains or throws her.
  • Twists, slaps, punches, strangles or burns the victim.
  • Throws objects at her.
  • Subjects her to reckless driving.
  • Locks her in or out of the house.
  • Refuses to help when she’s sick, injured or pregnant, or withholds medication or treatment.
  • Withholds food as punishment.
  • Abuses her at mealtime, which disrupts eating patterns and can result in malnutrition.
  • Abuses her at night, which disrupts sleeping patterns and can result in sleep deprivation.
  • Attacks her with weapons or kills her.

Sexual violence and abuse

Sexual violence and abuse can be extraordinarily difficult for victims to talk about because of the ways in which this type of violence often is perpetrated. Sexual violence or abuse can be indicated when the batterer:

  • Is jealous or angry and assumes she will have sex with anyone.
  • Withholds sex and affection as punishment.
  • Calls her sexual names.
  • Pressures her to have sex when she doesn’t want to.
  • Insists that his partner dress in a more sexual way than she wants.
  • Coerces sex by manipulation or threats.
  • Physically forces sex or is sexually violent.
  • Coerces her into sexual acts that she is uncomfortable with, such as sex with a third party, physically painful sex, sexual activity she finds offensive or verbal degradation during sex.
  • Inflicts injuries that are sex-specific.
  • Denies the victim contraception or protection against sexually transmitted diseases.

Psychological Abuse

Psychological abuse is the abuser’s use of physical and sexual force or threats that gives power to his psychologically abusive acts. Psychological abuse becomes an effective weapon in controlling a victim, because she knows through experience that her abuser will at times back up the threats or taunts with physical assaults. Psychological abuse can be indicated when the batterer:

  • Breaks promises, doesn’t follow through on agreements or doesn’t take a fair share of responsibility.
  • Verbally attacks and humiliates his partner in private or public.
  • Attacks her vulnerabilities, such as her language abilities, educational level, skills as a parent, religious and cultural beliefs or physical appearance.
  • Plays mind games, such as when he denies requests he has made previously or when he undercuts her sense of reality.
  • Forces her to do degrading things.
  • Ignores her feelings.
  • Withholds approval or affection as punishment.
  • Regularly threatens to leave or tells her to leave.
  • Harasses her about affairs he imagines her to be having.
  • Stalks her.
  • Always claims to be right.
  • Is unfaithful after committing to monogamy.

Economic Abuse

Economic abuse can be indicated when the batterer:

  • Controls all the money.
  • Doesn’t let her work outside the home or sabotages her attempts to work or go to school.
  • Refuses to work and makes her support the family.
  • Ruins her credit rating.


You cannot emerge a whole human being when you escape someone who constantly beats you and berates you physically, emotionally and spiritually . . . until that searing of the soul has been attended to. . . There is something that happens to the psyche. The wholeness of the individual must be looked at. . . They must begin to understand what has happened to them, and why.” — SURVIVOR OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE


Source: Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence,, Understanding the Nature and Dynamics of Domestic Violence (March 2015)