Definition of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is a disruptive confrontation between two or more people in which direct or indirect force is used to cause injury, instill fear and/or destroy property.

Domestic violence has existed in many families for many generations. This pattern is resistant to change, tenacious and a well-kept family secret. In fact, many families invest an enormous amount of time and energy into keeping domestic abuse a secret.

Physical Abuse (Direct Force)

Emotional Abuse (Indirect Force)

Sexual Abuse

Recognizing the Red Flags of Domestic Violence

In general, people who are abused physically are often isolated. Their partners tend to control their lives to a great extent and verbally degrade them. Some examples of domestic violence include:

The Cycle of Domestic Violence

Psychologist Lenore Walker pioneered research on violent relationships and released her findings on the “cycle of violence” in 1979. A full cycle, as shown visually here, can occur in one day, or can build over weeks or months. It also can occur numerous times throughout a relationship.

The three parts of the cycle are:

1. Tension-building phase – Tension builds over common domestic issues like money, children, jobs and other life stressors. Verbal abuse is evident. The victim tries to please the abuser, gives in to the abuser or avoids them in hopes of slowing the crescendo of rising tension. None of these actions works in stopping the building violence over the long-term, and when the tension peaks, physical abuse begins.
2. Explosion or battering episode – Physical violence begins when the tension reaches a boiling point. It is not brought on by the victim’s actions, but rather by the abuser’s emotional state or an external triggering event. Essentially, the explosion is unpredictable.
3. Honeymoon phase – Ridden with shame and guilt over his/her actions, the abuser may express remorse, try to minimize the abuse or may even blame it on his/her partner. He/she may exhibit kind, loving behavior, apologies, generosity or helpfulness. He/she will try to convince his/her partner that the abuse will not happen again. Such behavior is a tactic by the abuser to strengthen the bond between partners and likely will convince the victim not to leave the relationship. This phase is often the reason a victim stays with the abuser; promises of change give a victim false hope that everything will be better.

Note: Not every relationship follows this cycle. In some cases, the abuse is constant and there is no remorse or relief. In other cases, the abuse never progresses past the verbal abuse incurred in the tension-building phase. Regardless of whether this pattern occurs as outlined above, all phases are examples of domestic violence and an abuser’s use of power and control over a victim.

Using the Power and Control Wheel

The Power-and-Control Wheel is a tool used to help victims identify abusive behaviors in their partners. It was created in 1984 by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth, Minnesota. Through focus groups of women who had been abused, the group facilitators identified the most common abusive behaviors and tactics and those that were most universally experienced by battered women were chosen for the wheel.

Today, the wheel has been translated into more than 40 languages and has been adapted to clearly identify tactics that may apply to diverse groups. Below are several Power-and-Control Wheels. If you can identify yourself, you may be in an abusive relationship.

General Power-and-Control Wheel
Diagrama del Poder y el Control
Immigrant Women Power-and-Control Wheel
Abuse Later in Life Power-and-Control Wheel
Deaf Community Power-and-Control Wheel
Women Living With Disabilities Power-and-Control Wheel
LGBT Community Power-and-Control Wheel
Abuse of Children Power-and-Control Wheel
Poder y Control en el Noviazgo