Commonly Used Terms When Discussing Domestic Violence

If you are unfamiliar with the domestic violence field, it can be difficult to understand terms like intimate partner violence or vicarious trauma.

This page explains various and frequently used terms in an understandable way. As you raise awareness and become more familiar with domestic violence issues, we hope you will use these terms in your conversations.


Abuse, Domestic Violence, Intimate Partner Violence

Domestic abuse, also called “domestic violence,” “relationship abuse,” or “intimate partner violence”, can be defined as a pattern of behavior in a relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner. Specific forms of abuse can include physical, sexual, emotional, financial, or actions or threats of actions that influence another person.



A person choosing to cause harm to their partner.



An advocate is a person who provides survivors with  emotional and  practical support for the abuse they experience.


Dating Violence

The term “dating violence” means abuse committed by a person who is or has been in a social relationship of a romantic or intimate nature with the survivor. While they have never married, the partners may or may not live together and/or share children in common.


Digital Abuse

Digital abuse is the use of technology, the Internet, and online spaces (e.g. social media) to bully, harass, stalk, intimidate, or control a partner. This behavior is often a form of verbal or emotional abuse conducted online.


Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse includes non-physical behaviors that are meant to control, isolate, or frighten a survivor. Undermining an individual’s sense of self-worth or self-esteem is abusive. This may include but is not limited to constant criticism, diminishing one’s abilities, name-calling, or damaging one’s relationship with their family, children, friends, or coworkers.


Financial Abuse

Financial or economic abuse occurs when an abusive partner extends their power and control into your financial situation and limits a survivor’s earning potential. This might include employment-related abuse, coerced debt, restricting access to existing funds or equity, or any combination of these.



An extremely effective form of emotional abuse that causes a victim to question their own feelings, instincts, and sanity. An abusive partner may employ one or several gaslighting techniques, including withholding, countering, blocking/diverting, trivializing, or forgetting/denial.



This word has grown in popularity recently to describe a person who is egotistic or self-serving and does not acknowledge the feelings of others. However, the term originates from a clinical diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder, or NPD. While it can be easy to equate with “abusive,” it is important to remember that not all people who abuse have NPD, and not all people who have NPD abuse their partners. The Hotline does not recommend using the “narcissist” label unless a psychologist has confirmed an NPD diagnosis.


Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is one of the most easily identified types of abuse. It involves the use of physical violence, or threats of it, to maintain power over an individual.


Power and Control Model

The Power and Control model from the Duluth Project identifies power and control as the goal of all tactics of abuse. Survivors’ experiences consistently indicate that their partners’ behavior is not random or arbitrary, but purposeful and systematic, disputing common myths like “they just snapped” or “they had a bad day.”


Reproductive Coercion

Reproductive coercion is a form of power and control where one partner strips another of the ability to control their own reproductive healthcare.


Safety Plan

A safety plan is a personalized plan that helps someone to prepare, in advance, for a violent or abusive situation. Safety planning can be done with survivors before, during, and/or after they leave an abusive partner.


Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is when a partner controls the physical and sexual intimacy in a relationship.


Sexual Coercion

Sexual coercion lies on the continuum of sexually aggressive behavior. It can range from begging and persuasion to forced sexual contact.



Stalking occurs when someone watches, follows, or harasses a survivor repeatedly, making them feel afraid or unsafe. It may occur from someone they know, a past partner, or a stranger.



The term survivor often refers to an individual who is going or has gone through the recovery process. We intentionally use this word in place of “victims” to honor the on-going strength and resilience of survivors.


Trauma-Informed Care

Trauma-informed care takes into account the physical and mental effects of trauma.


Vicarious Trauma

Vicarious trauma is an occupational challenge for people working and volunteering in the fields of victim services, law enforcement, emergency medical services, fire services, and other allied professions, due to their continuous exposure to survivors of trauma and violence.


Help is available.

If you or a loved one is experiencing abuse, you are not alone. Our advocates are available 24.7 to talk, chat, or text with you about your concerns. Call us at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or chat at