Signs of Abuse

There are many kinds of abusive behavior – psychological, sexual, physical, legal, and economic. The following is a list of some possible signs.

This list is not complete but only examples of types of abuse.


Perpetrators will use varying combinations of psychological abuse depending on what works on their victims.


  • Verbal threats, name-calling, and criticism against the victim, family members, and pets. Verbal attacks usually focus on the victim’s vulnerabilities, which are well known to the abuser. The perpetrator’s threats of harm may be against the victim, others important to the victim, or they may be threats of suicide.
  • Stalking
  • Harassment and blackmail
  • Brandishing weapons
  • Threats to kidnap the victim’s children
  • Standing over the victim in a threatening manner
  • Outing same-sex partners
  • Threats to out same-sex partners

Isolation: Abusers try to control their victims’ time, activities, and contact with others. Control over the victim is gained through a combination of isolating and misinformation tactics. If a victim is isolated s/he will believe whatever the abuser says, since there are no other sources of information. Tactics include:

  • Moving the victim away from supportive friends and family members.
  • Claiming that the victim’s friends or family are "interfering"
  • Restricting access to the phone, transportation, and outside world.
  • Monitoring conversations.
  • Sabotaging a partner’s relationship with his/her children

Misinformation: These tactics can be used by the abuser to distort what is real or the truth. They can include: giving contradictory information, lying to the victim, and withholding information.


Some domestic violence victims are unclear whether forms of sexual abuse are really abuse, believing it to be their duty as a spouse/partner.
  • Coerced sex by manipulation or threat of physical force
  • Violent sex
  • Sex at a time when the victim is not willing
  • Forcing victim to watch pornography
  • Assaults to genital area or breasts
  • Forced sexual activity with a third person
  • Withholding or demanding frequent sex


There are many degrees of physical abuse. Some result in physical injury; some do not. Some forms of physical abuse could be as subtle as a purposeful overdose of anti-diarrheal medication. Other examples include:

  • Grabbing, choking, pushing, kicking, slapping, punching, biting, hair-pulling, and/or burning
  • Forcing alcohol or drug use
  • Using weapons against the victim
  • Withholding access to medication, medical care, food, fluids, and/or sleep


It is not uncommon for abusers to use the legal system against the victim. Examples of this can include:

  • Falsely reporting victim to law enforcement. If reported first, the victim is often forced to defend herself instead of protecting herself from the abuser.
  • Threatening deportation
  • Threatening to report drug use
  • Threatening reports to social service agencies who might cut benefits
  • Filing orders of protection against the victim to make the victim appear to be the violent one
  • Instituting legal proceedings that the victim cannot afford to fight
  • Threatening to have victim declared incompetent


The abuser may purposely prevent the victim from becoming financially self-sufficient in order to maintain power and control- financial dependence is often a reason a victim remains with the batterer. Examples of this behavior include:

  • Controlling access to resources such as cars, food, clothing, shelter, money
  • Victims are put in the position of having to ask permission to spend money on basic family needs.
  • Preventing victim from keeping a job or from attending school
  • Not listing victim as owner on a car, home or insurance policies
  • Ruining the victim’s credit
  • Threatening to take victim off of medical insurance
  • Refusing to work or to be responsible for financial affairs
  • Controlling how all resources are spent
  • Working “off the books” or for cash so that no or very little income is reported which the victim may be awarded

Learn about the Cycle of Violence