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Types of Abuse

If someone were to ask you to define domestic violence, your mind would go to scenes of hitting, hair pulling, shoving, slapping, or other physical contact.

Remember that domestic violence or abuse is not the same as “situational violence,” which might be a one-time occurrence rather than a cycle of abuse brought on by a stressful situation, argument, or escalating anger. Situational violence is equally possible with men and women.

But, domestic violence is more than being a victim of physical acts. It is defined as: “any behavior by which a person gains power and control to intimidate or coerce their partner into getting what that person wants.”3  A more modern term you may hear is “intimate partner violence” (IVP), since the word “domestic” implies marriage. The violence may occur in a dating or cohabiting relationship as well.

Types of abuse4 include:

Psychological or emotionalExamples include: mind games, mental coercion, conditional affection, using looks or actions that the abuser knows will generate fear in the victim, manipulation, stalking, depriving the victim of seeing friends or family, frequent moves, public humiliation. Note: All forms of abuse are psychological.

Physical—hitting, shoving, grabbing, slapping, kicking, punching, pushing, biting, tripping, spitting, pinching, hair pulling, scratching, restraining, choking, smothering, posturing to intimidate by size and strength.

Sexual—rape, unwanted sexual comments, jokes or put-downs, attacking body parts, requiring a certain type of dress, requiring bizarre sexual acts, using pornography, affairs, interrupting sleep, extreme jealousy.

Property—damaging household property, sabotaging a car, destroying personal property, slamming doors, damaging valuable or sentimental property, etc.

Animal—kicking or throwing a dog or cat, harming or killing a household animal, threatening to get rid of a family pet, neglect of a family pet (lack of food or water), etc.

Spiritual—misusing Scriptures, or false teaching about God, to control or emotionally abuse, negatively affecting a victim’s image of self or God, demanding submission and obedience, questioning the victim’s salvation, not allowing the victim to go to church, discrediting the victim in front of spiritual leaders. The victim may tragically decide that she must choose between her faith and her safety and the safety of her children.5

Financial—controlling the household spending, unilateral decisions, lying about finances, hiding accounts, restricting employment, denying basic needs, not paying child or spousal support.

Verbal—Yelling, swearing, put-downs, name-calling, sarcasm, shouting, threats, abusive jokes, the silent treatment, continual arguing, belittling, controlling conversations, countering or discounting, criticizing, questioning, blaming, constant undermining.

Most domestic abuse is never reported, even though it is the single major cause of injury to women in the United States.

Reflection Questions

At the beginning of the unit, you were asked to think of four women you know, keeping in mind that—statistically speaking—one of those women is a potential domestic abuse victim. Reflecting again on these different types of abuse, can you think of a woman in your life who might be a victim?

Does that woman realize she is a victim of abuse, or is she “writing it off” as just a part of her husband’s or abuser’s personality?


3. Bev White Hislop, Shepherding Women in Pain: Real Women, Real Issues, and What You Need to Know to Truly Help (Chicago: Moody Press, 2010), 211.

4. Fear No Evil: A Faith-Based Approach to Ending Domestic Abuse (Hillsboro, OR: Abuse Recovery Ministry and Services, 2006), 2.

5. Identify, Understand, Intervene: Training Manual on Domestic Violence (St. Louis, MO: The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod) lcms.org/socialissues/domesticviolence, accessed October 4, 2018.

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

“Fragile Soul: Ministering to Victims of Domestic Violence” is published by the National Women’s Department at women.ag.org, 2020. Permission granted to reprint for personal use or within a teaching setting. Do not reproduce.