Module 1: Forms and dynamics of domestic violence

Types of violence within the context of domestic violence
Special forms of violence
Gender-based violence
Facts about gender-based violence in Europe and worldwide
Victims of domestic violence
Perpetrators of domestic violence
Risk factors for domestic violence
Consequences of domestic violence


Various factors on the individual, relationship, community, and societal level can put victims at greater or lesser risk. Certain groups of people are particularly vulnerable to domestic violence and may lack support services.
Domestic violence can have serious and long-lasting consequences – from immediate and short term to inter-generational effects. There can be serious health, social and economic impacts for victims and their families. Even though men can also be victims, women experience higher rates of repeated victimisation and are much more likely to be seriously hurt than men (80 vs. 20 %) (Walby & Towers, 2017). Furthermore, women are more likely to experience higher levels of fear and are more likely to be subjected to coercive and controlling behaviours (Hester, 2013; Myhill, 2017).

Learning objectives

This module aims at gaining a better understanding of domestic violence and its forms and consequences. Knowing about the specific contexts and the impact of domestic abuse can be a helpful step in understanding the individual needs of victims.

‘So many people don’t understand what domestic violence is about. It’s not all about being beaten up, it’s also not allowing you to see your friends; not allowing you your own money; it’s controlling your life in every possible way; no one can see it.

‘Helping a victim of domestic violence means laying down the base of a house. Only this will allow her to step out of the situation. It means to map the past and to map the present in terms of the roots of violence in the family and all the consequences of violence in the present.

‘Intimate partner violence is not the specificity of the poor and uneducated, like many people misbelieve. The wife of a well-known politician was sheltered here. Upper middle-class family. The husband was a well-respected community leader and a churchman. Some people knew what was happening behind closed doors. Kids had to witness how the father raped the mother. He even peed on the kids as a punishment for misbehaving. The man was so influential in his city that the Guardianship office refused to help when they realised that his name is involved. It was almost hopeless for the wife to escape from her prison, because most people would not believe her and those who believed her didn’t dare to help her.


(1) Think about the ways in which you may have encountered the term ‘domestic violence and abuse’ so far. How do you define domestic violence and abuse? What does it mean to you and are you aware of any other terms used to describe the same phenomenon?

(2) You may wish to make some brief notes and return to these as you continue to read. As you read the different definitions, reflect whether this would change anything about your initial views.

Examples of participants of a training course on domestic violence

‘When I read these quotes, I feel mainly helpless. The quotes show how incredibly complex the topic of domestic violence is and how difficult it is for those affected to break out of it. Domestic violence goes far beyond the physical use of violence and affects the victims in many different life situations: it is not only about physical violence, but also about control, gender bias and shame, loss of trust and powerlessness.’

‘I’ve just realised how widespread domestic violence is. That everyone must have had contact with domestic violence somewhere, and that perpetrators were perhaps once victims, innocent children who could not help what happened to them, that we often overlook violence or don’t want to see it. Because knowledge about it makes us accomplices.’


We are all familiar with the terms intimate partner violence, domestic violence, violence in close relationships and child abuse, although we don’t always stop to reflect what these terms actually mean, and whether there is any overlap between the different concepts presented in the definition of domestic violence and intimate partner violence, respectively.

Definition of domestic violence

Domestic violence is defined as any violent, threatening, coercive or controlling behaviour that occurs in families or intimate relationships. It includes any abuse or violence occurring within a family, for example between siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, in-laws, and elders, or within intimate partnerships, referring to a survivor’s current or previous partner or living companion, including same sex relationships. Domestic violence can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender, profession, social background, culture, religion, or sexuality.

Definition of intimate partner violence

Intimate partner violence is any behaviour within an intimate relationship that causes physical, emotional, sexual, economic, and social harm to those in the relationship. An intimate relationship may refer to a victim’s current or previous partner or living companion, including same sex relationships.

Violent behaviour as spontaneous conflict behaviour in a partnership must be clearly distinguished from systematic violent and controlling behaviour in a couple relationship. If a conflict occurs, violence can find expression as a spontaneous or situational means in the dispute without putting the other person in an inferior position. If one couple member repeatedly becomes violent, threatens violence, and intimidates the other person so that the latter is systematically placed in an inferior position, this is systematic violence and control behaviour (cf. Gloor, D., & Meier, H. (2003). Gewaltbetroffene Männer–wissenschaftliche und gesellschaftlich-politische Einblicke in eine Debatte. Die Praxis des Familienrechts, 3, 526-547.). Intimate partner violence is one of the most common forms of violence against women and occurs in all settings and among all socioeconomic, religious, and cultural groups.

Although women can be violent in relationships with men, often in self-defence, and violence sometimes occurs in same-sex partnerships, the most common perpetrators of violence against women are male intimate partners or ex-partners. By contrast, men are far more likely to experience violent acts by strangers or acquaintances than by someone close to them.

Types of violence within the context of domestic violence

Domestic violence can take many forms and is often not recognised as such by the victim.

‘At the time I felt that it was not really abuse but the longer I thought about it the more I felt that it was abuse. Emotional abuse is more severe than physical abuse as there are no outward marks or bruises. When this was realised by myself, I got out. Living alone is far better than what was happening in the relationship.’

Physical violence

Physical violence describes any use of physical force or threat to use physical force which compels the victim to do or to abandon something, to suffer, to restrict or to move her/him. It causes pain, fear or humiliation, regardless whether an actual injury was caused.

Physical injuries may range from minor trauma, which may or may not be visible, to broken bones and lacerations, head injuries and injuries to internal organs. Some victims are threatened with weapons, such as knives, or household items such as a hot iron, cigarettes, or a length of rubber hose. Physical abuse can take many forms such as smashing property or killing or hurting family pets.

Strangulation is a common and serious form of domestic violence. Recognising the subtleties of presentation remains imperative as strangulation is a strong predictor for future severe domestic violence and subsequent homicide.

Although many victims of domestic violence experience physical abuse, most victims say that the constant fear of the next episode is as bad as the actual violence.


  • Locking them in the house or stopping them from leaving
  • Restraining, pushing, slapping, hitting, shaking (infants), kicking, strangling, or burning
  • Drugging the victim with prescription, pharmaceutical, or illegal drugs
  • Breaking possessions or punching/kicking walls
  • Neglecting
Sexual violence

Sexual violence is the conduct of sexual content that the victim does not consent to, is coerced into, or, because of their level of development, does not understand their meaning. It includes the threat of sexual violence and the public disclosure of sexual content about the victim.

Sexual violence is any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, self-satisfaction against the intimate partner’s or someone else’s will, or any other act directed against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting. It includes any form of rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse, everyday harassment, and any organised form of sexualised violence. It includes every action that restricts the sexual self-determination of a person. Sexual violence can be a form of domestic violence as the perpetrator might be an intimate partner or a family member.

The criminal legal systems of different countries define rape in a varying manner. The Istanbul Convention (and other international legal developments) suggests defining rape with the lack of consent of the victim, not the added violence or threat of it.


  • Pressuring them to have sex or do sexual acts when they don’t want to
  • Pressuring, forcing, or tricking them into having unsafe sex
  • Making them have sex or do sexual acts with other people
  • Sexual assault (rape)
  • Voyeurism
  • Practicing sexual acts or acts with sexual significance against the intimate partner’s or someone else’s will (unwanted caress, touching)
  • Sexual harassment
  • Not disclosing their HIV-positive status, saying they are HIV-negative, and having unprotected sex
  • Taking explicit pictures or videos without consent
  • Forcing the victim to watch pornographic material
  • Forcing the victim to abort a pregnancy
  • Hindering or forcing the victim to use contraception
  • Making insinuating comments about the victim or others in the presence of the victim
Psychological violence

Psychological violence is the conduct and dissemination of information by which the perpetrator of violence causes fear, humiliation, feelings of inferiority, danger, and other psychological distress in the victim, even when committed by using information and communication technology.

Psychological violence may include subtle or overt verbal abuse, humiliation, threats, or any behaviour aimed at scaring or terrorising the person experiencing the abuse. The victims may lose their confidence, self-esteem, or self-determination. It can take many forms including threats of suicide, extreme jealousy and stalking or harassment at work or using digital technology, and isolating the victim from family, friends and other contacts in the community. Psychological violence often has long-term consequences that can be even worse than physical injuries.


  • Stalking
  • Intimidation, threats, and coercion
  • Isolation or confinement
  • Undermining the relationship between the partner and their children
  • Threatening to self-harm or commit suicide
  • Controlling behaviours
  • Withholding information
  • Disinformation
  • Publicizing or threatening to publicise private information
  • Manipulation
  • Gas lighting: putting the victim’s reality, perceptions, or memory into question
  • Stopping the partner from visiting their friends or family
    • Threatening to hurt or hurting pets
    • Threatening to harm family members or children
    • Threatening to spread rumours about the victim
    • Threatening to publicly disclose intimate or other materials potential to harm the reputation of a victim

Verbal Violence is part of Psychological Violence.

Everything said by the perpetrator to or about the victim in order to harm him or her.


  • Putting the victim down, e.g., telling them that they are ugly, stupid, worthless, or incompetent
  • Ridiculing
  • Insulting
  • The use of swear/curse-words or name-calling
  • Humiliating them in front of friends, family or in public
  • Intimidating and threatening other forms of violence against the victim or against somebody or something dear to them
    • Threatening to hurt or hurting pets
    • Threatening to harm family members or children
Coercive control

Psychological violence also includes the so-called ‘coercive control’ which constitutes a pattern of the following behaviours (definition from Home Office, 2015).

‘Controlling behaviour is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape, and regulating their everyday behaviour.

Coercive behaviour is a continuing act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten the victim.’

Isolating victims from support and medical services; monitoring, controlling, depriving, and restricting the victim’s everyday behaviour, activities and who they communicate with.


Economic violence

Economic violence is the unjustified control or restriction of a victim by disposing of income or property with which the victim independently disposes or manages or unjustifiably restricting the disposition or management of joint property of family members, unjustified failure to fulfil financial or property obligations to a family member or unjustified shifting financial or property liabilities to a family member.

Socio-economic violence includes restricting access to money and essential needs, fraudulently using another’s money for personal gain, or stealing from the victim; the illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property, or assets.


  • Taking the victim’s money, controlling their income, or accessing the victim’s accounts without consent
  • Making and controlling all the decisions about joint money and assets
  • Refusing to give them money or making them account for everything they spend
  • Threatening to withdraw financial support as a means of control
  • Preventing the victim from working so they become financially vulnerable or reliant on the perpetrator
  • Manipulating and coercing the victim to sign financial contracts with third parties
  • Making the victim responsible for all the joint bills and debts, or making the victim responsible for the perpetrator’s debts
  • Impersonating or posing as the victim to access their accounts or to sign up for credit or debts

Neglect is a form of violence where the perpetrator abandons the due care of the victim, which is needed due to illness, disability, age, developmental or other personal circumstances.


Not providing the necessary attention, protection, and care, or not providing it to a sufficient extent:

  • nutrition
  • hydration
  • clothing (e.g., not appropriate for the weather)
  • personal hygiene (e.g., unkempt appearance)
  • medical care/treatment
  • emotional care
  • care (e.g., irregular attendance at school)
  • protection from danger

Stalking is a wilful repeated unwanted contact, pursuit, physical intrusion, observation, restraint in places where the victim moves or other form of unwanted intrusion into the victim’s life. It can include:

  • following their partner when they go out, to work, or home
  • constantly watching them, their house or workplace
  • monitoring their behaviour online
  • calling, texting, or emailing them, their family, friends, or work colleagues more often than is appropriate or when asked not to
Online violence

Online violence is any behaviour involving the use of the internet by one partner to harm, harass or humiliate the other. It may occur through social media, email, online forums, blogs or other interactive websites or apps. It can include:

  • sending mean or threatening messages directly to their partner or posting them publicly
  • spreading rumours or encouraging others to harass them
  • publicly disclosing their private information (e.g., home address, workplace, telephone number, banking details, or other personal information)
  • impersonating or posing as them while interacting online
  • creating fake profiles to gain access to their partner’s profile to monitor, stalk or harass them
  • posting pictures of them without their consent
  • stalking, following, or monitoring their movements online
  • installing tracking devices or apps on phones, computers, or tablets

Special forms of violence

The following special forms of domestic violence are distinct forms of crime in some countries. When family members are involved, different types of crime are related to domestic violence.

Child, early and forced marriage

Child marriage is when at least one of the parties is a child (below the age of 18, as defined by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, or below the age of 16, depending on country-specific regulation).

Early marriages involve a person aged below 18 or marriages where both spouses are 18 or older but other factors make them unready to consent to marriage, e.g., their level of physical, emotional, sexual, and psychosocial development.

Forced marriage is any marriage which occurs without the full and free consent of one or both of the parties, where one or both of the parties is/are unable to end or leave the marriage, or as a result of duress or intense social or family pressure.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

Female genital mutilation includes all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia.

The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) has released estimations of the number of girls at risk of FGM in Denmark, Spain, Luxembourg, and Austria. The estimations find that increases in the number of migrants from FGM-practising countries since 2011 have pushed up the number of girls at risk in Spain, Luxembourg, and Austria. EIGE has now calculated the numbers of girls at risk in a total of 13 EU Member States. Measures to tackle FGM have been implemented successfully in the countries migrants originally came from. Therefore, the share of girls at particularly high risk of FGM has shrunk in Spain and Austria. In Austria, for example, the largest group of girls at risk now comes from Iraq. FGM-affected communities in the EU also hold mostly negative views around the practice and believe it is slowly dying out in their countries of origin. EIGE estimates e.g., that in Denmark, between 11 and 21 % of girls originating from FGM-practising countries are at risk (1,408 – 2,568 girls). In Spain, the share is 9 – 15 % (3,435 – 6,025 girls), 12 – 17 % in Luxembourg (102 – 136 girls) and 12 – 18 % in Austria (735 – 1,083 girls). Asylum seeking girls are at higher risk in all countries, with the share of girls at risk in this group reaching 37 % in Denmark, 19 % in Luxembourg and 31 % in Austria. Anti-FGM legislation and policy is strong in all four countries of EIGE’s study. All countries criminalise FGM, including when performed abroad. However, protection is weaker for women and girls trying to enter the EU to seek safety from FGM. Out of the four countries in the study, only Luxembourg formally recognises FGM as grounds for asylum. While FGM has been a factor in successful asylum applications in Denmark, Spain and Austria, such cases are rare. In Spain, the majority of FGM-related applications are rejected because FGM is illegal in the country of origin, though it may still take place in practice. In order to eliminate FGM, EIGE recommends EU Member States provide specialised training to professionals in sectors dealing with affected communities, such as healthcare, education, law enforcement and child protection, asylum and migration. EIGE also recommends countries implement national registration systems to record cases of FGM, invest in grassroot campaigns, and recognise FGM as a form of gender-based persecution in the asylum system.

European Commission’s myth busting FGM factsheet


Trafficking in persons

Trafficking in persons is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, or receipt of persons by means:

  • of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion
  • of abduction
  • of fraud
  • of deception
  • of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability
  • of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.

Exploitation includes, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

Sexual exploitation/forced prostitution

The term ‘sexual exploitation’ means any actual or attempted abuse of a position of vulnerability, differential power, or trust for sexual purposes, including, but not limited to, profiting monetarily, socially, or politically from the sexual exploitation of another. Some types of ‘forced prostitution’ can also fall under this category.

Crimes committed in the name of honour

Honour-related violence (also HRV, honour violence, honour-based violence) describes any form of physical (battery, rape, murder, FGM), psychological (mental pressure, threatening, deprivation of personal liberty) or other forms of violence (e.g., restricted movement, restricted circle of friends, coercive control, forced marriage, human trafficking) that is carried out within the family or the community in the name of ‘family honour’.

Honour-related violence is related to situations where a person is not following social, sexual, or familial roles and expectations given by a traditional ideology, or is suspected of having broken the chastity values of a community. The conflict is not only tied to someone’s behaviour but also on rumours or gossip. Honour-related violence is not restricted to certain countries, ethnic groups or religions but occurs within different kinds of communities. 

Honour-related violence is often seen as a violence against women and girls. It is important to note that also men, boys and persons identifying themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or transsexual may experience honour related violence and psychological pressure.

If the victim does not recognise violence as wrong or harmful to her/himself, it may be challenging to intervene in the situation. Even if the characteristics of the crime are not met, it is important to address the situation with a low threshold, as all the forms of honour-related violence are harmful.

It is important to bear in mind that honour-related violence is collective violence. Although an individual community member would not approve of the community norms, it may be extremely hard for her/him to challenge them.

Intervening in honour-related violence may be difficult, but not impossible. Victim’s safety should always come first, and victims should be referred to appropriate services. With the consent of the victim, the authorities should – together with HRV-specialised NGOs – build trust between the victim’s family and the authorities and engage the family in a dialogue. With the help of HRV-specialised NGOs and e.g., religious repository it may be possible to resolve a conflict and help the family to engage in a constructive and non-violent way of action. This is an important aim since for a victim it may be an unthinkable idea to abandon his or her family and community and start a new life alone; it is more probable that the victim will return to the family at some point.

Elderly abuse/maltreatment

Elderly persons are in a vulnerable situation regarding domestic violence. Research has identified risk factors that make older people more vulnerable to elder abuse. These risk factors are aged greater than 80, gender being female, monetary challenges, poor health, cognitive impairment, mobility difficulties, depressive symptoms and a poor social network. Elder abuse includes physical, psychological, or sexual violence inflicted upon an older adult, their financial exploitation, neglect of their treatment or welfare, or abandonment by people who are directly responsible for their care.

  • Physical violence may include e.g., infliction of pain or injury, physical coercion, hitting, slapping, pushing, spitting, misuse of medication or inappropriate sanctions.
  • Psychological violence may include e.g., emotional or verbal abuse, deprivation of contact, humiliation, blaming, intimidation, coercion or withdrawal from supportive networks.
  • Financial exploitation may include e.g., illegal or improper exploitation or use of funds or resources by theft, fraud, coercion, pressure in connection with wills, financial transaction, or misuse of power of attorney.
  • Neglect or abandonment may include intentional or unintentional refusal or failure to fulfil a caretaking obligation, e.g., ignoring medical or physical care needs, failure to provide access to services, withholding medication, adequate nutrition or heating, or failure to provide appropriate equipment.

Perpetrators include children, other family members, and spouses as well as staff e.g., at nursing homes or assisted living facilities. Family members caring for an older adult with significant care needs may experience burn-out and stress. Without support, the carer may be unable to adequately manage their responsibilities and become overwhelmed, frustrated, and abusive. In many instances a caregiver may be unaware that his/her behaviour is considered abusive. An adult child who is abusive toward a parent is often financially dependent on the elder. Unemployment rates are higher among abusive adult children, and they may experience substance abuse or mental health issues.

Often, elderly people may be afraid of reporting domestic violence to avoid being subjected to more abuse. As elder parents get older, they also become increasingly dependent on their adult children. In addition, as parents become older, their willingness and capability to escape from abusive relationships lowers.

Signs to detect elderly abuse:

  • physical injuries, bruises, broken bones
  • malnourishment, weight loss, dehydration
  • lack of basic hygiene, wet diapers
  • anxiety, depression, confusion
  • unexplained transactions, loss of money, unexplained debt, no money to buy medication
  • unexplained sexually transmitted disease
  • missing medical aids like walkers, dentures
  • bedsores, pressure ulcers
  • elderly person is kept from talking to visitors
  • caregiver speaks about the elder as if she/he was a burden

Remember: elderly victims of domestic violence may be reluctant to disclose abuse. They may be ashamed or embarrassed or they want to help and protect their abusive child. They may blame themselves for their child’s abusive behaviour. Reporting domestic violence to the police may cause them to lose the most significant relationship in their lives.


Anetzberger, G.J., (2000) Caregiving: Primary Cause of Elder Abuse? Generations, 24 (2): 46–51

Dong XQ and Simon MA (2014) Vulnerability Risk Index Profile for Elder Abuse in Community-Dwelling PopulationJ Am Geriatr Soc. 2014 Jan; 62(1): 10–15

Laakso, S., (2015). Ikäihmisten kaltoinkohtelu Suvanto-linjan puheludokumenteissa. University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences. Dissertation.

Uuttu-Riski, Ritva, (2004). Vanhusten kaltoinkohtelu – tiedotusvälineissä käyty keskustelu. Teoksessa Kankare, Harri & Lintula, Hanna (toim.) Vanhuksen äänen kuuleminen. Helsinki: Tammi.

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