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Defining the Problem and the Population
Status of Current Domestic Violence Services
Funding and Technical Assistance

Domestic Violence Victims/Survivors:
Defining the Problem and the Population

Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behaviors – including physical, sexual, and psychological attacks as well as economic coercion – that adults and adolescents use against an intimate partner. A central dynamic of domestic violence is one partner’s need to control the other, and the intentional and instrumental use of a range of tactics to secure and maintain that control. Abusers use these tactics and behaviors to frighten, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, terrorize, often injure, and sometime kill their partners or ex-partners. Domestic violence, defined in this way, is highly gendered, nearly always perpetrated by a malen against his female partner, although all victims deserve safety, support and services, including those in same-sex relationships and male victims abused by female partners.

NOTE: Other terms sometimes used interchangeably with domestic violence are intimate partner violence, battering, relationship violence, and family violence, although the latter term is more often used to refer to the range of violence – child abuse, domestic violence, and elder abuse – that can occur within families.

Answers to the following questions are provided below:

How big is the problem of domestic violence and who is affected?: | Back to Top

The prevalence of abuse against intimate partners is difficult to measure as it often occurs in private and victims are reluctant to disclose such abuse to anyone because of shame or fear of reprisal.  In one study, only one-fifth of all rapes, only one quarter of all physical assaults, and only one-half of all stalking perpetrated against female respondents by intimates were reported to the police.1  In addition to the social stigma that inhibits victims from disclosing their abuse, varying definitions of abuse used in different studies make measurement challenging.

However, key findings from a large-scale study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Justice2 include:

While dating, domestic and sexual violence affect women regardless of their age, teens and young women are especially vulnerable.  A large number of young people in this country whose lives are affected – sometimes shaped – by violence:

The element of control that is central to understanding domestic violence are often unseen by those outside the family dynamic and it is sometimes difficult for those suffering from the abuse and control to articulate specifically what is wrong.  The stress of living under these conditions can create short- and long-term physical and emotional problems. Victims in violent relationships often have trouble gaining access to services, taking part in public life, and receiving emotional support from friends and relatives.   Over time, domestic violence may increase in intensity and frequency unless the abuser is held accountable for his/her actions.

What legal remedies exist?: | Back to Top

Laws defining domestic violence in the state codes vary significantly across the country, as do the protections afforded to victims in civil and criminal courts.  Teen victims of dating or relationship abuse continue to experience significant barriers to accessing the protections that do exist, either because they do not fit into any of the “relationship” categories specified in the law or due to their status as minors.  Based on a 2009 report issued Break the Cycle, just nine states (California, Connecticut, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming) allow minors to obtain protection or restraining orders without the involvement of a parent, guardian or other adult if they meet certain requirements, like age or relationship to abuser.

1. Tjaden, P., & Thoennes, N. (July 2000). Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence – Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at
2. Tjaden, P. & Thoennes, N. (2000). Full Report of the Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of
Violence Against Women, National Institute of Justice and the Centers For Disease Control And
Prevention, Washington, DC and Atlanta, GA.  Available at
3. Rand, Michael.  (2008).  Criminal Victimization, 2007.  U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics.  At  
4. Baum, Katrina, Catalano, Shannan, Rand, Michael and Rose, Kristina. (2009).  Stalking Victimization in the United States.  U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics.  At
5. McDonald, R, Jouriles, E, Ramisetty-Mikler, S. et al.  (2006).  Estimating the Number of American Children Living in Partner-Violent Families.  Journal of Family Psychology 20(1): 137-142.
6. Davis, Antoinette, MPH.  2008.  Interpersonal and Physical Dating Violence among Teens.  The National Council on Crime and Delinquency Focus. 

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