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Domestic Violence: Overview

Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior, and a method of control. It is a means of establishing a hierarchy of power within a relationship, in which one partner dominates the other through use of physical violence and/or psychological abuse. Family violence includes five primary categories of abusive behaviors: physical violence, emotional abuse, sexual assault, economic control and neglect.

Physical violence includes, but is not limited to, such acts as hitting, slapping, choking, kicking, biting, pushing, and using weapons. Physical violence against a family member very often rises to the level of criminal behavior in Virginia. See, e.g., Va. Code §18.2-57.2.

Emotional abuse may take the form of humiliation and intimidation tactics such as calling the victim degrading names, diminishing the victim’s sense of self-worth, threatening harm to the victim or family, torturing pets, and destroying personal property. Isolation maneuvers are also common. For instance, the victim’s outside contacts with friends or family may be monitored or criticized. The victim may be denied access to a vehicle. Over time, all meaningful contact between the victim and outsiders may be eliminated. Some acts of emotional abuse are explicitly illegal, such as stalking, torturing pets or making threats. See, e.g., Va. Code §§18.2-60.3, 3.1-796.12, 18.2-60 respectively. Other acts of emotional abuse may not be criminal in nature but form an underlying pattern of control. In the earliest stages, where a pattern of abuse is still developing and the abuser may recognize the actions as wrong, counseling and treatment programs are an option. A victim’s best protection from further abuse, especially if threats of serious physical harm are involved, may be in filing a protective order or an order pendente lite (an order pending divorce). See, e.g., Va. Code §§16.1-253.4 (emergency protective orders), 16.1-253, 16.1-253.1 (preliminary protective orders), 16.1-279.1 (long-term protective orders), 20-79 (pendente lite), 20-103 (orders pending the suit).

Sexual assault entails forcing the victim to engage in sexual acts against the victim’s will. The Virginia Code contains several sections related to sexual abuse including sexual assault, incest, molestation, object penetration, rape and marital rape. Most acts of sexual abuse are criminal in nature. In recent years, Virginia has modified its rape laws. A husband too, may be guilty of raping his wife if he sexually assaulted her against her will. Va. Code §18.2-61.

Economic control may include discouraging or forbidding employment, withholding information about family finances, controlling all family finances and accounts, or improper use of power of attorney. Like many forms of emotional abuse, this type of abuse may not be criminal in nature, although it may include some criminal elements such as assault.

Neglect is a form of abusive behavior most often seen in relationships between adults and the children in their care or between adults responsible for the care of older or disabled individuals. Neglect of children is the failure or refusal through a willful act or omission to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, health care, or supervision in relation to a child’s age and level of development. It includes abandonment, expulsion from home, not allowing a run away to return home, failure to enroll a child in school and permitting chronic truancy. Va. Code §18.2-369.

Source: Information from the "What is Domestic Violence?" section and some information used in the Executive Summary are from Family Violence Reference Manual by The Virginia Commission on Family Violence Prevention.