Does Domestic Violence Have to Be Physical?

When people think about domestic violence, a lot of images and scenarios involving physical violence readily come to mind. This is the case for obvious reasons, but as Juliet asked, “What’s in a name?”

While the term “domestic violence” is anything but arbitrary, it doesn’t quite encapsulate the extent of what can be considered violent behavior in a domestic setting. That’s why many organizations use “domestic abuse” as a catch-all term for behaviors that can be considered to be domestic violence but aren’t always thought of as such.

What Is Domestic Violence?

In California, domestic violence can involve a variety of physical and non-physical behaviors intended to cause physical, mental, or emotional harm to someone else in a domestic setting.

Perpetrators and victims in a domestic violence scenario are related by blood, a current or former romantic/marital status, having a child together, a parent/child or stepchild relationship, or simply living in the same household regardless of their relationship (such as a friend or roommate).

According to California law, domestic violence can involve abusive behavior such as:

  • Physically harming or attempting to harm someone else, whether intentionally or recklessly.
  • Sexual assault, which can include rape and other forms of non-consensual sexual contact.
  • Making someone reasonably fear for their safety by making threats or promises to harm them.
  • Engaging in stalking, harassment, destroying someone else’s property, or disturbing someone else’s peace.

This means that NO, domestic violence doesn’t necessarily have to be physical.

Physical Forms of Domestic Violence

Many people associate physical forms of domestic violence with hitting or punching, but abuse can include other physical behaviors such as shoving, kicking, throwing objects at someone, following someone, or preventing someone from entering or leaving somewhere.

Mental & Emotional Abuse

Domestic violence can encompass abusive behavior that mentally or emotionally harms someone. People don’t think of this behavior as “violence,” but it can be considered as such under California’s domestic violence laws.

Mental abuse can include making threats or acting in an intimidating manner that psychologically harms someone else. Mentally abusive behaviors can include yelling, making threats, outbursts, unpredictability, gaslighting (making someone think they’re going insane), and other forms of abuse.

Emotional abuse can overlap a lot with mental abuse. The purpose of emotional abuse is often to undermine someone’s self-confidence, break down their sense of self, and damage their relationships with other people.

There are many different ways emotional abuse can manifest, such as these:

  • Lying
  • Calling the victim inappropriate or unwanted names
  • Using sarcasm
  • Withholding affection
  • Lecturing the victim
  • Infantilizing the victim
  • Embarrassing the victim in front of others
  • Accusing the victim of abuse
  • Trivializing the victim’s emotions

Other Forms of Domestic Violence

There are other forms of domestic violence that may not as easily fit into the aforementioned subcategories. Some of these types of abuse can involve harming or killing pets, controlling the victim’s finances, monitoring the victim’s online activity, etc.

The bottom line is that if someone is someone’s behavior is causing harm to someone else in one way or another, it may be considered domestic violence – regardless of whether or not physical violence is used.

What Should I Do If I’m Experiencing Domestic Violence?

If you think you are experiencing domestic violence, trust your instincts. Your abuser may be trying to manipulate you into believe their behavior is OK, but it’s not.

Call your local law enforcement for help or call 911 if you are experiencing an immediate emergency. You should also contact a family law attorney who can help you file for an emergency protective order or a restraining order against your abuser.

These legal orders can prevent your abuser from contacting you or any of your relatives, coming within a certain distance of your or any of your relatives, and even barring them from owning or possessing any kind of weapon.

If you are interested in discussing your situation with a family law attorney, we at Claery & Hammond, LLP can help. Our legal team has many years of combined experience when it comes to family law issues such as domestic violence.

Request a free consultation with us today when you contact us online or call (310) 817-6904.