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Types of Abuse

Woman with insults written on her face holding up her hand with the word "stop" written on it
Crying woman with a smile taped across her mouth

Click the topics below to see more information about each type of abuse.

  • Physical Abuse
    Physical abuse is any intentional, unwanted contact with you or something close to your body, or any behavior that causes or has the intention of causing you injury, disability, or death. Abusive behavior may not always cause physical pain or leave a bruise, but it’s still unhealthy and should always be taken seriously. Physical abuse may look like: Throwing objects at you. Driving recklessly or dangerously with you in the car or abandoning you in unfamiliar places. Forbidding or preventing you from eating or sleeping. Pulling your hair or punching, slapping, kicking, biting, choking, or smothering you. Pushing or pulling you. Forcibly grabbing your face, or any part of your body, or clothing. Harming your children or pets. Touching any part of you without your permission or consent. Forcing you to have sex or perform a sexual act. Trapping you in your home or prevent you from leaving. Using weapons against you, including firearms, knives, bats, or mace. Preventing you from contacting emergency services, including medical attention or law enforcement. Forcing you to use drugs or alcohol, especially if you have a history of substance abuse. Preventing you from taking prescribed medication or denying you necessary medical treatment. Preventing you from leaving or forcing you to go somewhere.
  • Emotional and Verbal Abuse
    Emotional abuse includes non-physical behaviors such as threats, insults, constant monitoring or “checking in,” excessive texting, humiliation, intimidation, isolation, or stalking. Relationships can still be unhealthy or abusive even without physical abuse. Examples of behaviors that qualify as emotional or verbal abuse include: Controlling what you wear, including clothes, makeup, or hairstyles. Acting jealous or possessive or refusing to trust you. Calling you names, insulting you, or constantly criticizing you. Isolating you from family, friends, or other people in your life. Monitoring your activities with or without your knowledge. Demanding to know where you go, who you contact, and how you spend your time. Gaslighting you by pretending not to understand or refusing to listen to you. Questioning your recollection of facts, events, or sources; trivializing your needs or feelings; or denying previous statements or promises they made. Humiliating you in any way, especially in front of others. Blaming you for their abusive behaviors. Threatening you, your children, your family, or your pets (with or without weapons). Damaging your belongings, including throwing objects, breaking objects, punching walls, kicking doors, etc. Accusing you of cheating, intentionally cheating on you to hurt you, or threatening to cheat on you. Cheating on you to intentionally hurt you and threatening to cheat again to suggest that they’re “better” than you. Telling you that you’re lucky to be with them or that you’ll never find someone better.
  • Sexual Abuse
    Sexual abuse refers to any behavior that pressures or coerces someone to do something sexually that they don’t want to do. It can also refer to behavior that impacts a person’s ability to control their sexual activity or the circumstances in which sexual activity takes place, including oral sex, rape, or controlling reproductive methods and choices. Everyone has the right to decide what they do or don’t want to do sexually, and not all sexual assaults are violent “attacks.” Most victims of sexual assault know their assailant, and people of all genders and sexualities can be victims or perpetrators of sexual abuse. That includes people who are married, dating, in a “friends with benefits” arrangement, or just acquaintances. Sexual abuse is never the victim’s fault. Just because someone “didn’t say no” or doesn’t resist unwanted sexual advances doesn’t mean that they consent. Physical resistance can sometimes put victims at higher risk for further abuse, and the narrative that a lack of resistance equals consent makes it more difficult for survivors to report abuse. It’s up to each of us to understand consent and to communicate and respect the boundaries of our intimate partners, without exception. Some examples of sexual abuse include: Forcing you to dress in a sexual way you’re uncomfortable with. Insulting you in sexual ways or calling you explicit names. Forcing or manipulating you into having sex or performing sexual acts, especially when you’re sick, tired, or physically injured from their abuse. Choking you or restraining you during sex without your consent. Holding you down during sex without your consent. Hurting you with weapons or objects during sex. Involving other people in your sexual activities against your will. Ignoring your feelings regarding sex. Forcing you to watch or make pornography that you are not comfortable with. Intentionally giving you or attempting to give you a sexually transmitted infection.
  • Sexual Coercion
    Examples of sexually coercive behavior include: Using your relationship status as leverage, including by demanding sex as a way to “prove your love” or by threatening to cheat or leave. Continuing to pressure you after you say no or intimidating you into fearing what will happen if you say no. Implying that you owe them something sexually in exchange for previous actions, gifts, or assuming rather than asking for consent. Guilt-tripping you; reacting with sadness, anger, or resentment if you say no or don’t immediately agree to something, or trying to normalize their sexual demands by saying that they “need” it. Giving you drugs or alcohol to “loosen up” your inhibitions. Continuing to pressure you after you say no or intimidating you into fearing what will happen if you say no. Sexual coercion lies on the continuum of sexually aggressive behavior, and it may vary in practice from begging and persuasion to forced sexual contact. It may be verbal and emotional through statements made to pressure, guilt, or shame, or it may appear more subtly. Even if your partner isn’t forcing you to perform sexual acts against your will, making you feel obligated to do them at all is coercion. Being in a relationship—no matter what the arrangement—never means that you owe your partner intimacy of any kind.
  • Reproductive Coercion
    Examples of reproductive coercion include: Refusing to use a condom or other types of birth control. Withholding money to purchase birth control. Breaking or removing a condom before or during sex, or refusing to pull out. Lying about methods of birth control (i.e. having a vasectomy or being on the pill). Removing birth control methods like rings, IUDs, or contraceptive patches, or sabotaging methods by poking holes in condoms or tampering with pills. Monitoring your menstrual cycles to inform their abuse. Forcing pregnancy or not supporting your decisions about when or if to have children. Intentionally becoming pregnant against your wishes. Forcing you to get an abortion or preventing you from getting one. Threatening you or acting violent if you don’t agree to end or continue a pregnancy. Keeping you pregnant by getting you pregnant again shortly after you have a child. Reproductive coercion is a form of power and control where one partner strips another of the ability to control their own reproductive system. It can be difficult to identify this form of coercion — it’s often less visible than other types of abuse occurring at the same time and may appear as pressure, guilt, or shame about having or wanting children (or not having or wanting them).
  • Financial Abuse
    Financial abuse often operates in more subtle ways than other forms of abuse, but it can be just as harmful to those who experience it. Modern conditions of stark economic inequality mean that financial security is directly tied to our health and wellbeing. No one has the right to use money or how you choose to spend it to control your actions or decisions, and no one should control your ability to work. This abuse can take many forms and may include: Preventing you from working, limiting the hours that you can work, getting you fired, or forcing you to work certain types of jobs. Living in your home but refusing to work or contribute to the household. Providing an allowance and closely monitoring how you spend it, including demanding receipts for purchases. Depositing your paycheck into an account you can’t access. Preventing you from viewing or accessing bank accounts. Refusing to provide money for necessary or shared expenses like food, clothing, transportation, medical care, or medicine. Maxing out your credit cards without permission, not paying credit card bills, or otherwise harming your credit score. Stealing money from you, your family, or your friends. Withdrawing money from children’s savings accounts without your permission. Forcing you to provide them with your tax returns or confiscating joint tax returns. Financial or economic abuse occurs when an abusive partner extends their power and control into your financial situation.
  • Stalking
    Stalking occurs when someone watches, follows, or harasses you repeatedly, making you feel afraid or unsafe, and may occur from someone you know, a past partner, or a stranger. A stalker can be someone you know, a past partner, or a stranger. While the legal definition of stalking varies from state to state, common examples of stalking include: Using social media or technology to track your activities. Waiting around at places you spend time. Showing up at your home or workplace unannounced or uninvited. Sending you unwanted texts, messages, letters, emails, or voicemails. Leaving you unwanted items, gifts, or flowers. Calling you and hanging up repeatedly or making unwanted phone calls to you, your employer, a professor, or a loved one. Spreading rumors about you online or in person. Manipulating other people to investigate your life, including using someone else’s social media account to look at your profile or befriending your friends in order to get information about you. Damaging your home, car, or other property. Hiring a private investigator to follow or find you as a way of knowing your location or movements.
  • Digital Abuse
    Digital dating abuse is the use of technologies like texting and social media to bully, harass, stalk, or intimidate a partner. This behavior is often a form of verbal or emotional abuse, conducted online. All communication in a healthy relationship is respectful, whether in person, online, or over the phone. It’s never okay for your partner to use words or actions to harm you, lower your self-esteem, or manipulate you. Examples of digitally abusive behavior include: Using social media to track your activities. Telling you who you can or can’t follow, or be friends with on social media. Constantly texting you or making you feel like you can’t be separated from your phone for fear that you’ll anger them. Looking through your phone or checking up on your pictures, texts, and phone records. Sending you negative, insulting, or threatening messages or emails. Insulting or humiliating you in their posts online, including posting unflattering photos or videos. Sending, requesting, or pressuring you to send unwanted explicit photos or videos, sexts, or otherwise compromising messages. Stealing or insisting on being given your account passwords. Using any kind of technology (such as spyware or GPS in a car or phone) to monitor your activities. Using smart home technology, smart speakers, or security cameras to track your movements, communications, and activities. Creating fake social media profiles in your name and image, or using your phone or email to send messages to others pretending to be you, as a way to embarrass or isolate you. Digital abuse is the use of technology and the Internet to bully, harass, stalk, intimidate, or control a partner. This behavior is often a form of verbal or emotional abuse conducted online. Digital abuse comes with its own unique concerns and stipulations to consider. Remember: It’s okay to turn off your phone or not respond to messages right away. You have the right to your own privacy. (Be sure that the people who might need to reach you in an emergency still have a way to.) You never have to share your passwords with anyone. You never have to send any explicit pictures, videos, or messages that you’re uncomfortable sending (“sexting”). Sexting can have legal consequences: nude photos or videos of someone under the age of 18 could be considered child pornography, which is illegal to own or distribute. Don’t answer calls from unknown or blocked numbers; your abuser may try calling you from another line if they suspect that you’re avoiding them. Find out if your phone company allows you to block numbers (and how many if so). Once you share a post or message, it’s no longer under your control. Abusive partners may save or forward anything you share, so be careful sending content you wouldn’t want others to see. Know and understand your privacy settings. Social media platforms allow users to control how their information is shared and who has access to it. These settings are often customizable and may be found in the privacy section of the website. Keep in mind that some apps may require you to change your privacy settings in order to use them. Be mindful when checking-in places online, either by sharing your location in a post or by posting a photo with distinguishable backgrounds. Ask your friends to always seek permission from you before posting content that could compromise your privacy. Do the same for them. Avoid contact with your abuser in any capacity, through any technology, online or in person. Consider changing your phone number if the abuse and harassment don’t stop. Save or document threatening messages, photos, videos, or voicemails as evidence of abuse.
  • Humiliation
    An abuser will do everything they can to make you feel bad about yourself or defective in some way. After all, if you believe you’re worthless and that no one else will want you, you’re less likely to leave. Insults, name-calling, shaming, and public put-downs are all weapons of abuse designed to erode your self-esteem and make you feel powerless.
  • Isolation
    In order to increase your dependence on them, an abusive partner will cut you off from the outside world and control what you do. They may keep you from seeing family or friends, or even prevent you from going to work or school. You may have to ask permission to do anything, go anywhere, or see anyone. They may control what you read or watch, limit any outside involvement, and oftentimes use jealousy to justify their actions.
  • Coercion and Threats
    Abusers commonly use threats to keep their partners from leaving or to scare them into dropping charges. Your abuser may threaten to hurt or kill you, your children, other family members, or even pets. They may also threaten to commit suicide, file false charges against you, make you drop protection order charges through threats, make you do illegal things, or report you to child services.
  • Intimidation
    Your abuser may use a variety of intimidation tactics designed to scare you into submission. Such tactics include making threatening looks or gestures, smashing things in front of you, destroying property, hurting your pets, or putting weapons on display. The clear message is that if you don’t obey, there will be violent consequences.
  • Denial and Blame
    Abusers are very good at making excuses for the inexcusable. They will blame their abusive and violent behavior on a bad childhood, a bad day, and even on the victims of their abuse. Your abusive partner may minimize the abuse or deny that it occurred. They will commonly shift the responsibility onto you: Somehow, their violent and abusive behavior is your fault.
  • Minimizing
    With minimizing, the abuser makes light of the abuse and does not take your concerns about your abuse seriously. They may say the abuse did not happen, or shift responsibility for abusive behavior to you by saying you caused it.
  • Using Your Children
    Your abuser may make you feel guilty about the children, use the children to relay bad messages to you, use visitation to harass you, or threaten to take away the children.
  • Using Male or Dominant Partner Privilege
    Your partner may treat you like a servant, make all the “big” decisions, act like the “master of the castle,” and/or be the one to define men, women, or partners’ roles in the relationship.
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