Domestic violence professionals define domestic violence as:

an ongoing pattern of coercive behavior in which one person attempts to control another through the threats or actual use of physical violence, sexual assault, and economic and/or verbal or psychological abuse.

This means domestic violence includes not only physical violence, but also sexual and emotional violence, including name-calling, insults, lying, and keeping somebody from seeing friends or family. These other forms of abuse can be just as controlling, harmful and frightening as physical violence.

How common is domestic violence?

Domestic violence is more common than most people realize.

How many women in the United States do you think are physically abused by a partner at some point in their life?

The correct answer is: 1 in 3.

How many women do you think are physically abused each year in the United States?

The correct answer is: 1.3 million (based on a survey published by National Institute of Justice and the Center for Disease Control, July 2000).

Who does domestic violence affect?

Children: In homes where one partner abuses the other, there is an increased risk that that person will also abuse any children in the house. Just witnessing domestic violence can have harmful effects on children. Abusers may use children to hurt their victim—for example, threats of kidnapping or harming children may impact a mother's concentration at work.

Adolescents: Teens can be involved in abusive relationships. They can also become victims of date rape. Between one-third and one-fourth of adolescent women have experienced a form of dating violence. The abuse is usually done by a peer, and can be as dangerous as abuse between adults.

Women and men: Women are more likely to be abused, but men may also be victims.

All kinds of people: Domestic violence occurs among people of all ethnic groups, cultures, ages, sexual orientations, income levels, faiths, and education levels. Some people’s social, economic or cultural background may make it harder for them to seek help. Lack of money, racial bias, language barriers, immigration status, anti-gay or lesbian beliefs, and religious beliefs can be additional barriers to victims.

Who are abusers?

Abusers, just as victims, come from all parts of the population.

The purpose of domestic violence is for the abuser to get or maintain control over his intimate partner or ex-partner. Abusers use domestic violence because it works to get them what they want.

The use of physical violence in a relationship—just like the use of physical violence on the street—is an illegal act. Using violence against a family member or intimate partner is considered a crime, and the abuser can be arrested and prosecuted.

Each domestic violence situation is different, yet all abusers use similar ways to get what they want and maintain control. Many abusers appear to go between using violence and being sorry for it. They can be charming, sweet, and apologetic one minute and abusive the next. Sometimes victims describe the abuser as having a "Jekyll/Hyde personality." The abused partner can be confused and kept off-balance by these changes in the abuser's behavior.