Family violence is a general term that includes all violence occurring within the family unit (adults, children, elders).  The term "domestic violence" is principally used to characterize violence against an individual perpetrated by another adult within the framework of an intimate relationship.  This has also been called adult intimate partner abuse.  The victim of domestic violence is typically an adult woman, but less commonly can be a male.  While many of the most severe acts of domestic violence are committed by men against women, family violence encompasses other family members as well, particularly children and elders.  Even within families there is considerable overlap of these types of violence.  It has been found that adult women are also abused in 59% of households in which there is violence against children.2  Elderly women can be victims of the same coercive tactics employed against younger women by their spouses.  They may also suffer abuse at the hands of their adult children, particularly when these family members have been targets of abuse earlier in life.   Domestic violence also occurs in same-sex relationships and in intimate relationships with persons who do not live in the same household.

The term "domestic violence" includes many forms of interpersonal assault.  These include adult intimate partner abuse, spouse abuse, partner abuse, intimate violence, woman battering, dating violence, courtship violence, mixed-gender couple violence, same-sex violence, intra familial sexual assault, date rape, marital rape, and acquaintance rape.3

Family violence includes the various forms of domestic violence in addition to child and elder abuse.  Children, disabled adults, and elders, dependent due to age or infirmity, are subjected to a different pattern of abuse that more often includes forms of neglect, mistreatment, or exploitation.  They are also entitled to different protections under state laws.  These lead to different strategies for treatment than those employed for competent adults.  In this program, the terms abuser, perpetrator, and batterer will be used interchangeably to describe the person who commits violent acts in the context of family and intimate relationships.

The classic syndrome of domestic abuse is a varied pattern of behaviors directed against an intimate partner with the intent to achieve control and domination through psychological, physical, and sexual mistreatment.  This behavior has also been called battering.  Elements of neglect are also present in many cases.  Battering behavior is not merely an isolated expression of anger or frustration but rather a complex ongoing strategy for controlling another person.  While physical injuries are the most obvious manifestations of this behavior, they are not the most lasting consequences.  The cumulative psychological and emotional damage that results from entrapment in a violent, coercive relationship runs much deeper and heals slowly, if at all.  Because of similarities to political terrorism, an activity designed to induce change and achieve control through unpredictable persistent acts of violence, domestic violence has been characterized as "domestic terrorism."

Many tactics are used by abusive individuals to seize control in their relationships, with violence or the fear of violence as a critical component.  Men who batter believe that they have a right to control others, to "be in charge," and are entitled to use every means available to enforce this right, including threats, intimidation, and physical violence.  Sexual domination, economic coercion, isolation, emotional abuse, humiliation, and blaming of others for their actions, are commonly used tactics of abusive individuals.  While most commonly used against women, these tactics can be applied to any member of the extended family including children and elders.  The concepts of egalitarian relationships, shared responsibility, and consideration for the rights of others are foreign to these individuals.  Their abuse of personal power and betrayal of basic trust within the family unit deeply affect the victims, often throughout the remainder of their lives.

  Domestic Violence
  Child Abuse
  Elder Abuse

Acts of abuse and neglect directed against persons of varying ages have very different psychodynamics, presentations, and management and will therefore be considered in separate sections.

Copyright 1998 David Lickerman, MD