Domestic Violence

What is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence, also known as domestic abuse, spousal abuse, child abuse or intimate partner violence, can be broadly defined as a pattern of abusive behavior by one or both partners in an intimate relationship such as marriage, dating, family, friends, or cohabitation. Domestic violence has many forms including physical aggression (hitting, kicking, biting, shoving, restraining, throwing objects), or threats thereof; sexual abuse; emotional abuse; controlling or domineering; intimidation; stalking; passive/covert abuse (e.g., neglect); and economic deprivation.

Legal Definition of Domestic Violence

“Domestic violence” means abuse committed against an adult or a minor who is a spouse, former spouse, cohabitant, former cohabitant, or person with whom the suspect has had a child or is having or has had a dating or engagement relationship. “Abuse” means intentionally or recklessly causing or attempting to cause bodily injury, or placing another person in reasonable apprehension of imminent serious bodily injury to himself or herself, or another. “Cohabitant” means two unrelated adult persons living together for a substantial period of time, resulting in some permanency of relationship. Factors that may determine whether persons are cohabiting include, but are not limited to, (1) sexual relations between the parties while sharing the same living quarters, (2) sharing of income or expenses, (3) joint use or ownership of property, (4) whether the parties hold themselves out as husband and wife, (5) the continuity of the relationship, and (6) the length of the relationship. Cal. Pen. Code § 13700(a) – (b).

Recognizing Domestic Violence

Domestic violence often becomes a pattern made up of three stages

A. Tension-Building Phase
  1. Batterer may: pick fights, act jealous, be possessive, be critical, yell, swear, use angry gestures, coercion, threats, be moody or unpredictable, or drink or use drugs
  2. Partner may: feel like they are walking on egg shells, afraid, anxious, try to reason, act calm, appease the batterer or keep silent, or try to keep the children quiet
B. Violence-Crisis Phase
  1. Batterer may: verbally, emotionally, or physically abuse, sexually assault, restrain or threaten partner, or destroy property
  2. Partner may: experience fear, shock, use self-defense, try to leave, call for help, pray for it to stop, or do what is necessary to survive
C. Seduction-Calm Phase
  1. Batterer may: apologize, minimize or deny abuse, ask for forgiveness, be affectionate, promise it won’t happen again, promise to change, or give gifts
  2. Partner may: forgive, feel hopeful that the abuse will stop on its own, feel manipulated, blame self, arrange for counseling, return home, or minimize or deny the abuse
Three dynamics (love, hope, and fear) keep the cycle in motion and make it hard to end a violent relationship.
  • Love for your partner: “The relationship has its good points, it’s not all bad.”
  • Hope: “The relationship will change; it didn’t start out this way.”
  • Fear: That threats to kill you or your family will be acted upon.

Who are the victims of domestic violence?

Anyone can be a victim – rich or poor, any racial or ethnic group, age, educational background, sexual orientation, or religion.

Who are the abusers?

Like victims, domestic violence abusers come from all backgrounds. However, abusers do share some characteristics. They tend to justify their abusive behaviors, fail to take responsibility for the abuse, and use similar tactics to gain and maintain power and control over their partners. Abusers typically present a different personality outside of their relationship than they do to their intimate partner, which complicates victims’ ability to describe their experience and seek assistance.

Types of Domestic Violence

The following are common types of abuse and examples of abusive behaviors. The list is not exhaustive.
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Verbal abuse
  • Psychological abuse
  • Stalking
  • Economic abuse
  • Legal abuse
  • Spiritual abuse
Abuse may occur frequently or infrequently, but in most cases it tends to escalate over time. Without intervention, domestic violence generally increases and can lead to serious injuries and death.

What to do if you are victimized…

If you are in an abusive relationship,
  • Think of a safe place to go when the abuse begins – avoid rooms without exits (bathrooms), or rooms with weapons (kitchens).
  • Make a list of safe people to contact and keep this list safe in several places.
  • Make copies of important papers and documents you might need to take with you which would enable you to apply for benefits or take legal action such as:
    • social security cards and birth certificates for you and your children
    • passport or other visa documentation
    • your marriage license
    • leases or deeds in your name or both yours and your partner’s names
    • your checkbook, credit cards, bank statements and charge account statements
    • insurance policies
    • proof of income for you and your spouse, pay stubs or W-2’s
    • any documentation of past incidents of abuse such as photos, police reports, medical records, etc.
  • Do research on safe computers. Abusers can monitor your computer usage; if you think you are being monitored, you probably are. Computers can provide a lot of information about what you look at on the Internet, the emails you send, and other activities. It is not possible to delete or clear all computer “footprints” so use a safer computer (such as a friend’s or one at the library) to do any internet research or electronic communications.

How to protect yourself from further domestic violence attacks…

A domestic violence restraining order is a court order that helps protect people from abuse or threats of abuse from someone they have a close relationship with. You can ask for a domestic violence restraining order if: 1. A person has abused (or threatened to abuse) you, AND 2. You have a close relationship with that person. You are: married or registered domestic partners, divorced or separated, dating or used to date, living together or used to live together (more than roommates), parents together of a child, OR closely related (parent, child, brother, sister, grandmother, grandfather, in-law). If you do not qualify for a domestic violence restraining order, there are other kinds of orders you can ask for:
  • Civil harassment restraining order (can be used for neighbors, roommates, coworkers, or more distant family members like cousins, uncle or aunt, etc.).
  • Elder or dependent adult abuse restraining order (if the person being abused is 65 or older; or between 18 and 64 and a dependent adult).
  • Workplace violence restraining order (filed by an employer to protect an employee from violence, stalking, or harassment by another person).
If you are not sure what kind of restraining order you should get, talk to a lawyer. If you live in an Indian Tribal Community or Reservation, the tribe may have resources to assist you.

Resources for victims of domestic violence…

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship and needs help, or would like to speak with someone about services and options, free and confidential help is available 24 hours per day. Go to the homepage to find resources in your county including Victim Assistance Centers and local law enforcement agencies.

You may be eligible for compensation…

The California Victim Compensation Program may be able to help victims who were injured or threatened with physical injury as the result of a domestic violence attack. See the following link to find out how to apply for compensation: or contact the California Victim Compensation Program: Phone: 1-800-777-9229 Web: