Domestic violence is a term used to describe physical violence within the context of a relationship between adults. Increasingly, domestic violence as a term is being replaced by Domestic Abuse a broader term that describes emotional, verbal, sexual and economic abuse. Some use the term Family Violence or Family Abuse to further expand the definition to include all acts of abuse within a family context such as Child Abuse. These additional definitions will be addressed in other articles. As the most common term is currently Domestic Violence that is the terminology, and focus, that will be used in this article.
Domestic Violence is criminal and can include a wide variety of physical assaults from hitting to pushing, shoving and yanking. Under the broader spectrum of abuse there can be criminal behaviors such as sexual abuse (forced sexual activities), and stalking both of which are criminal and can be used as criminal charges. There are also forms of abuse that do not fall under criminal law, but are extremely damaging to the victim such as: emotional, psychological and financial abuse. Often these other forms of abuse are warning signs or precursors of criminal abuse.
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Emotional and psychological abuse includes yelling, screaming, put downs , name calling, power plays, manipulation and other attacks on the victims psyche. Emotional abuse can be subtle and take the form of constantly undermining a partner’s confidence. It can also be overt such as a perpetrator screaming epithets at a victim. Emotional abuse takes its toll on the victim and can prevent them from leading a full and happy life. Emotional abuse can even cause the victim to have deteriorated health to due stress and a weakened immune system. While not criminal in nature, emotional abuse is very damaging to the victim.
Financial abuse includes preventing partners from being able to get a job through a variety of means such as denying transportation, denying freedom of movement from housing, destruction of job applications, denial of appropriate work attire and other manipulative means designed to prevent employment of the victim. It can also take the form of denying the victim the right to household or personal money.
A more complicated form of abuse that can be either criminal or simply abusive is denying the victim medical care. Depending on the circumstance this can be a criminal act. For example, in an extreme case a perpetrator might prevent medical care to a deathly ill victim who eventually dies leading to charges of manslaughter. In other cases, it may not lead to criminal charges but leads to the victim having unnecessary physical and emotional suffering.
Domestic violence can affect anyone regardless of age, race, ethnicity, sex, culture or sexual preference (same sex partners). While Domestic Violence primarily affects women it also effects men and shouldn’t be treated with the same care and respect as violence against women. Domestic Violence is also not limited to married partners, but can affect those who are divorced, separated or even those who are dating.
There are professional specializations within Counseling, Psychology and Licensed Social Work which deal specifically with Domestic Violence. In the case of counselors, the National Association of Forensic Counselors offers clinical and non-clinical certification levels for Domestic Violence specialization. Often during your studies in Counseling, Psychology or Social Work you can choose to have a Major or specialization focus on Domestic Violence as part of your degree.
All cases of suspected abuse or Domestic Violence should be treated with respect and the appropriate workplace protocols. In many Human Services organizations, suspected Domestic Violence triggers Mandatory Reporter rules and/or laws and must be appropriately reported. Be sure you are familiar with the rules and regulations in your area and within your organization to ensure the appropriate handling of all cases of reported or suspected Domestic Violence. You must also be aware that inappropriate reporting, record keeping or discussion of Domestic Violence can lead to the victim being harmed by the perpetrator. This is an extremely important point and should be taken into account when dealing with reported or suspected cases of Domestic Violence. Most Human Services organizations have extremely detailed requirements around Domestic Violence both in terms of Mandatory Reporting, but also in regards to confidentiality to ensure the safety of Domestic Violence victims. Many Human Services organizations also have extensive and detailed trainings for those workers who will be dealing with Domestic Violence cases.
Domestic Violence is a very serious matter and results in the deaths of over 1,300 people per year in America1 and should always be treated with the utmost respect, compassion and professionalism. This once hidden phenomenon is now being discussed publicly, has received legal recognition in criminal charges and is being increasingly treated in a complex and effective manner. A Human Services career with a focus on Domestic Violence is a very noble choice and can help make a life changing difference for the victims of Domestic Violence.