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Domestic violence, intimate partner violence and coercive control

This article describes the different types of violence.
A woman looking upset with her male partner in the background.
© Shutterstock/fizkes

Domestic violence or intimate partner violence is about maintaining control over a partner in an intimate relationship. It can involve physical abuse, but also emotional, sexual and financial abuse. It can happen to anyone, in any home.

Domestic violence is a very sensitive topic, but it is important to talk about it as, unfortunately, we know that pregnancy and birth do not prevent a partner from being abusive. In fact research shows that domestic violence increases during and after pregnancy (Finnbogadóttir & Dykes, 2016).

Domestic violence doesn’t only mean physical, emotional or sexual abuse. Under the new Domestic Violence Act 2018, coercive control became a criminal offense in Ireland.

Coercive control

Coercive control is a pattern of psychological and emotional manipulation, threats of or acts of assault, use of humiliation and intimidation or other abuse to bring emotional or physical harm to another person. It is not limited to a single incident, but is a deliberate and continuous pattern of controlling behaviour where one person seeks to have power and control over another in a relationship.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse, such as being punched, slapped, kicked or thrown are the kind of actions that most people would identify as being examples of abuse. Being urinated or spat on, having your hair pulled or something thrown at you is also physical abuse; physical assaults are still assaults even when they do not leave a visible mark. Don’t excuse these actions or blame yourself, and don’t take them lightly or as ‘once-off’ actions – often these behaviours get worse over time.

Emotional abuse

Emotional or mental abuse is a very effective means to creating a power imbalance in a relationship. The abusers actions can be subtle and they can wear down the abused person’s confidence and self-esteem over time. People outside of the relationship cannot easily see it and the abused person may not even recognise that it is happening. This kind of abuse can include:

  • Being put down or insulted, having your interests and hobbies belittled, or your efforts and achievements criticised.
  • Being constantly monitored: through the use of technology – like having a phone, computer or emails checked; or physically – being followed inside and outside the house or having to frequently report where you are and who you are with.
  • An abuser may lie, and manipulate family, children or friends to try and get them to avoid or turn against you.
  • Denial: claims from the abuser that they have not done or said something harmful – this may also involve the abuser claiming that the victim is ‘crazy’, ‘imagining things’ or ‘making things up’.
  • Threats of violence from the abuser to harm themselves or the victim, or the victim’s children, family or friends if they do not do what the abuser wants.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is any situation in which someone is forced to participate in unwanted, unsafe or degrading sexual activity. This can include:

  • Rape (forced penetration), sexual assault and sexual assault using objects.
  • Forcing or demanding sex when a partner is vulnerable: during illness, soon after pregnancy or miscarriage.
  • Sexual coercion: the abuser may tell the abused person that it is their duty to have sex with them, they may make access to money or children conditional on having sex, or make sex conditional on behaviour, forcing the abused person to perform sexual acts they are not comfortable with.

Financial abuse

Financial abuse means an abuser uses money as a way of controlling the independence and freedom of the partner. It keeps the abused person and their children financially dependent on the abuser, and limits their means of leaving an abusive situation. The abuser may:

  • Control all family or household finances.
  • Not allow their partner to see bank statements, bills, or financial transactions.
  • Making their partner account for all purchases, and provide receipts.
  • Not pay bills, buy food or necessities for the family and be irresponsible with family finances.
  • Steal or sell their partner’s belongings or take money from them.
  • Not allow their partner to have a bank account or independent income.
  • Withhold money because their partner does not want to have sex.
© Trinity College Dublin
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