Forms of Abuse

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is any act of violence on the victim, and can include the following:

  • slapping
  • kicking
  • shoving
  • choking/strangulation
  • pinching
  • forced feeding
  • use of weapons (guns, knives, or any object)
  • reckless driving
  • physical restraint – pinning against wall, floor, bed, etc.
  • pulling hair
  • punching
  • throwing things
  • burning
  • beating
Physical assault is the most obvious form of abuse, the most visible, and the most lethal. Assaults often start small, perhaps a small shove during an argument, and progress to a slap or forcefully grabbing you. Physical abuse (battering) usually becomes more severe over time, and more frequent, and can result in the death of the victim.


Threats can be as debilitating as the violence itself. Someone who has already suffered physical abuse can never doubt the abuser’s ability to carry out threats. Even where the victim has not been physically assaulted, the abuser will often demonstrate the ability to harm by punching walls or furniture, kicking the cat/dog, or using aggressive behavior around.

However, many threats are not physical but are part of the ongoing emotional abuse. The abuser may threaten to ‘disappear’ with the children, report their partner to Social Services as an unfit parent or “have you locked up in a mental institution”, harm someone else (like a family member or pet), or commit suicide. Whether the threats are of a physical, sexual, or emotional nature, they are all designed to further control the victim by instilling fear and ensuring compliance.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse can be defined as any sexual encounter without consent and includes any unwanted touching, forced sexual activity of any kind, forcing the victim to perform sexual acts, painful or degrading acts during intercourse, and exploitation through photography or prostitution.

Coercion or manipulation in the form of threats, emotional, or psychological abuse may also be used, leaving the victim to submit to unwanted sexual acts out of fear or guilt. The abuser may insist on sex following a physical attack for the victim to ‘prove’ forgiveness. Whatever form of coercion is used, be it physical, financial, or emotional, any sexual act which is not based on mutual consent constitutes sexual abuse.

Sexual abuse can involve any of the following:

  • excessive jealousy
  • calling you sexually derogatory names
  • criticizing you sexually
  • forcing an unwanted sexual act
  • forcing you to strip, or forcefully stripping you
  • sadistic sexual acts
  • withholding sex and/or affection
  • using practices you are not happy about (e.g. using porn or sex toys)
  • minimizing or denying your feelings about sex or sexual preferences
  • forcing sex after physical assault
  • using coercion to force sex
  • taking unwanted sexual photos, sharing these with other
  • people/internet without your consent
  • forcing you into prostitution
  • forcing sex when you are ill or tired

Marital Rape

When sexual abuse occurs within marriage, the victim will often feel very confused as to whether it is “rape”. This is partially due to the general acceptance of traditional culture which tells us that it is the wife’s duty to fulfill her husband’s sexual demands. Many women don’t believe they have the right to refuse sex, that “sex on demand” is an unwritten part of the marriage contract.

When no actual physical violence was used (i.e., coercion or threats only) many abusers will deny that rape has occurred and treat the abuse as though it was consensual. This has the effect of further confusing the victim as to the reality of the experience.

Emotional/Psychological Abuse

Emotional abuse can be very subtle. Quite often such abuse goes unseen, as even the victim does not recognize the abuse. Although emotional abuse does not leave black eyes or visible bruises, it is very damaging. Emotional abuse is cruel and scars your soul. Physical or sexual abuse often follows earlier emotional abuse, and a person can experience many types of abuse at once. There are many ways to abuse someone emotionally or psychologically. Refusing to allow your partner to sleep is a type of psychological abuse.

Isolation can be a part of emotional abuse. The abuser will control whom the victim sees or where the victim goes. This includes interfering with the victim seeing family or friends or using anger or guilt to control who the victim sees. Many abusers justify their control over their victim by stating that it is proof of their love, or that they worry about their safety when out, etc. The effect of isolation is that the victim feels very alone, doesn’t have anyone to question this behaviour, and is ultimately more dependant on the abuser for all needs.

Forms of Isolation include:

  • checking up on you
  • accusing you of unfaithfulness
  • insisting on moving to an isolated area
  • ensuring you lack transport or a telephone
  • making your friends/family feel uncomfortable when visiting so that they cease to visit
  • preventing you from working
  • punishing you for being late home from work by complaining, bad moods, criticism, or physical abuse
  • not allowing you to leave the house on your own or taking away your passport
  • demanding a report on your actions and conversations
  • not allowing any outside activity
  • finding fault with your friends/family
  • insisting on taking you to and picking you up from work

Verbal Abuse

When thinking of verbal abuse, we tend to think about insults and name calling. While this does happen, there are many other forms. Verbal abuse undermines confidence and self-esteem. Verbal abuse can include:
  • yelling or shouting
  • making threats
  • insulting the victim or the victim’s family
  • being sarcastic, mocking or criticizing interests, opinions or beliefs
  • humiliating the victim in private or in company
  • sneering, growling, name-calling
  • withholding approval, appreciation, or conversation
  • laughing at or making fun of the victim
  • leaving nasty messages
  • blaming the victim for other abusive acts

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse can take many forms, from denying all access to funds, to making the victim solely responsible for all finances while handling money irresponsibly. Money becomes a tool by which the abuser can further control the victim.

Financial abuse can include the following:

  • preventing the victim from getting or keeping a job
  • having to account for every penny spent
  • denying access to cheque book/account/finances
  • demanding your paycheques
  • spending money that should be allocated to bills/groceries
  • needing to beg or commit crimes for money
  • not allowing the victim to spend money on themselves or the children