How Spousal Abuse Can Take Different Shapes

Domestic violence is a term used to describe the attempt at dominance by one partner over the other through abusive behavior.  This behavior can take on many forms and isn't limited to physical abuse. In this article, we attempt to discuss the different kinds of abuse, and how each one can have a lasting effect on its victims.

Recent statistics indicate that women are 5 times more likely to be the victims of domestic violence, and one in four women have been physically abused by their partner.  Because spousal abuse or domestic violence often goes unreported, these numbers are believed to be too low to reflect what is likely going on - that is, domestic violence is more likely than even these frightening statistics would suggest.

In order to help someone who may be the victim of spousal abuse, as our New York family law attorney explains, it's important to recognize what domestic violence really is, and how to get the help they need.

Understanding Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is defined by the United States Department of Justice as having many different forms but is generally subject to a pattern used by one person to gain or keep power over someone else by using actions or threats that scare, force, coerce, or hurt, or embarrass someone. The commonly recognized forms of spousal abuse or domestic violence are physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, economic abuse, and psychological abuse.

  • Physical Abuse

    • The most recognizable form of spousal abuse is physical, and usually leaves some form of obvious evidence. This can include bruises, marks, scratches, burn marks, and any other forms of obvious injury.  The types of abusive behavior include punching, slapping, hitting, pulling, pushing, forcing someone to drink or do drugs, or denying someone the medicine they need to get healthy.  Basically, any behavior that hurts the body of the other is physical abuse.

  • Sexual Abuse 

    • This form of domestic abuse involves the unwanted or forced attempt to engage in sexual behavior. This could include the unwanted or unsolicited touching of genitals or breasts, unwanted sex of any kind, or sexually demeaning or humiliating someone.  In some cases, this conduct constitutes rape or sexual assault.

  • Emotional Abuse 

    • This form of spousal abuse leaves no physical marks, but often cuts the deepest.  This type of abuse includes belittling the victim by damaging their self-esteem or sense of worth.  It includes berating or belittling the victim's spouse, either in public or in private, constantly criticizing their work or efforts, calling them names, cursing at them or purposely trying to turn their family, friends or children against them.

  • Economic Abuse

    • A very common form of abuse occurs when one spouse attempts to make the other financially dependent on the abuser.  It involves denying access to bank accounts, not sharing information about finances, or not allowing the spouse to go to work or school so that they cannot become financially independent.

  • Psychological Abuse

    • Similar to emotional abuse, psychological abuse involves an attempt to control the victim by using fear, intimidation or threats.  It usually involves isolating the victim from family or friends, threatening self-harm or harm to others, destroying property or pets of the victim, or "gaslighting" the victim to gradually convince him or her that he or she is crazy.

Why do abusers abuse?

For the most part, an abuser engages in abuse of a spouse because the abuser feels a lack of power in some other aspect of his or her life, or because the abuser desires to take power away from the victim.  Although there are many reasons why abusers abuse, there are certain statements that are always true:

  • Abuse is never justified.
  • Abuse is never the victim's fault.
  • Abuse can happen to anyone.
  • Abuse can happen to both women and men.

Know the law in New York

In New York, both Federal and State laws protect the victims of domestic violence.  The Violence Against Women's Act and the Family Violence Prevention Services Act are both Federal laws that have established a number of resources for victims of domestic violence and apply to both women and men.  As a result of these laws, there a number of programs have been developed to provide protection for victims of domestic violence, funding for relocation services, and grants to serve victims.  They also established the National Domestic Violence Hotline.  To call the National Domestic Violence Hotline call 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224(TTY for deaf callers).  This 24-hour hotline can help a victim connect with resources in your area and provide help and advice with a safety plan.

Both New York State and New York City have established programs to help domestic violence victims, including a hotline 1-800-621-HOPE, where victims can confidentially seek assistance and relocation where necessary.  Throughout New York City, domestic violence shelters preserve the safety and confidentiality of their residences, while providing domestic violence victims with an opportunity to get to safety.

Ted Alatsas
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Trusted Brooklyn, New York Family Law Attorney helping NY residents with Elder Law and Asset Protection