Types of Abuse

types of abuse
types of abuse

Relationship abuse is a pattern of behaviors used to gain or maintain power and control over a partner. This can manifest in different ways. Multiple types of abuse usually occur in an abusive relationship.

Understanding how abuse occurs and intersects can help you safely respond to situations. Below are some ways to identify the different types of abuse.

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. Because of this, survivors are afraid and uncertain when more abuse will occur. This often reinforces the regular use of other, more subtle, types of abuse.

You might be experiencing physical abuse if your partner has or repeatedly does any of the following abusive behaviors:
  • Pull your hair or punch, slap, kick, bite, choke, or smother you.
  • Forbid or prevent you from eating or sleeping.
  • Use weapons against you, including firearms, knives, bats, or mace.
  • Prevent you from contacting emergency services, including medical attention or law enforcement.
  • Harm your children or pets.
  • Drive recklessly or dangerously with you in the car or abandon you in unfamiliar places.
  • Force you to use drugs or alcohol, especially if you have a history of substance abuse.
  • Trapping you in your home or preventing you from leaving.
  • Throw objects at you.
  • Prevent you from taking prescribed medication or deny you necessary medical treatment.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse includes non-physical behaviors that are meant to control, isolate, or frighten someone. These behaviors are often more subtle and hard to identify but are just as serious as other types of abuse.

You may be in an emotionally- or verbally-abusive relationship if your partner attempts to exert control by:
  • Calling you names, insulting you, or constantly criticizing you.
  • Acting jealous or possessive and refusing to trust you
  • Isolating you from family, friends, or other people in your life because it makes someone easier to control.
  • Monitoring your activities with or without your knowledge, including demanding to know where you go, who you contact, and how you spend your time.
  • Attempting to control what you wear, including clothes, makeup, or hairstyles.
  • Humiliating you in any way, especially in front of others.
  • Gaslighting you by pretending not to understand or refusing to listen to you; questioning your recollection of facts, events, or sources; trivializing your needs or feelings; or denying previous statements or promises.
  • Threatening you, your children, your family, or your pets (with or without weapons).
  • Damaging your belongings, including throwing objects, punching walls, kicking doors, etc.
  • Blaming you for their abusive behaviors.
  • Accusing you of cheating, or cheating themselves and blaming you for their actions.
  • Cheating on you to intentionally hurt you and threatening to cheat again to suggest that they’re “better” than you.
  • Telling you that you’re lucky to be with them and that you’ll never find someone better.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is when a partner controls the physical and sexual intimacy in a relationship. This often involves acting in a way that is non-consensual and forced.

You might be experiencing sexual abuse if your partner has or repeatedly does any of the following:
  • Make you dress in a sexual way you’re uncomfortable with.
  • Insult you in sexual ways or call you explicit names.
  • Force or manipulate you into having sex or performing sexual acts, especially when you’re sick, tired, or physically injured from their abuse.
  • Strangle you or restrain you during sex without your consent.
  • Hold you down during sex without your consent.
  • Hurt you with weapons or objects during sex.
  • Involve other people in your sexual activities against your will.
  • Ignore your feelings regarding sex.
  • Force you to watch or make pornography.
  • Intentionally give you or attempt to give you a sexually transmitted infection.

Financial abuse

Financial or economic abuse occurs when an abusive partner extends their power and control into your financial situation.

Below are ways to identify the different types of abuse in your relationship pertaining to financial abuse.

Examples of financial abuse
  • Providing an allowance and closely monitoring how you spend it, including demanding receipts for purchases.
  • Depositing your paycheck into an account you can’t access.
  • Preventing you from viewing or accessing bank accounts.
  • Stopping you from working, limiting the hours that you can work, getting you fired, or forcing you to work certain types of jobs.
  • Maxing out your credit cards without permission, not paying credit card bills, or otherwise harming your credit score.
  • Stealing money from you, your family, or your friends.
  • Withdrawing money from children’s savings accounts without your permission.
  • Living in your home but refusing to work or contribute to the household.
  • Forcing you to provide them with your tax returns or confiscating joint tax returns.
  • Refusing to provide money for necessary or shared expenses like food, clothing, transportation, medical care, or medicine.

Digital abuse

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

Examples of digital abuse
  • Telling you who you can or can’t follow, or be friends with on social media.
  • Sending you negative, insulting, or threatening messages or emails.
  • Using social media to track your activities.
  • Insulting or humiliating you in their posts online, including posting unflattering photos or videos.
  • Sending, requesting, or pressuring you to send unwanted explicit photos or videos, sexts, or otherwise compromising messages.
  • Stealing or insisting on being given your account passwords.
  • Constantly texting you or making you feel like you can’t be separated from your phone for fear that you’ll anger them.
  • Looking through your phone or checking up on your pictures, texts, and phone records.
  • Using any kind of technology (such as spyware or GPS in a car or phone) to monitor your activities.
  • Using smart home technology, smart speakers, or security cameras to track your movements, communications, and activities.
  • Creating fake social media profiles in your name and image, or using your phone or email to send messages to others pretending to be you, as a way to embarrass or isolate you.
Things to consider when dealing with digital abuse
  • You never have to share your passwords.
  • You don’t have to send any explicit pictures, videos, or messages that you’re uncomfortable sending (“sexting”).
  • Sexting can have legal consequences: nude photos or videos of someone under the age of 18 could be considered child pornography, which is illegal to own or distribute.
  • It’s okay to turn off your phone or not respond to messages right away. You have the right to your privacy. (Be sure that the people who might need to reach you in an emergency still can.)
  • Save or document threatening messages, photos, videos, or voicemails as evidence of abuse.
  • Don’t answer calls from unknown or blocked numbers; your abuser may try calling you from another line if they suspect that you’re avoiding them. Find out if your phone company allows you to block numbers (and how many, if so).
  • Once you share a post or message, it’s no longer under your control. Abusive partners may save or forward anything you share, so be careful sending content you wouldn’t want others to see.
  • Know and understand your privacy settings. Social media platforms allow users to control how their information is shared and who sees it. These settings are often customizable and may be found in the privacy section of the website. Know that some apps may require you to change your privacy settings in order to use them.
  • Be mindful when checking-in places online, either by sharing your location in a post or posting a photo with distinguishable backgrounds.
  • Ask your friends to always seek permission from you before posting content that could compromise your privacy. Do the same for them.
  • Avoid contact with your abuser in any capacity, through technology, online, or in person. Consider changing your phone number if the abuse and harassment don’t stop.

Sexual coercion

Sexual coercion lies on the continuum of sexually aggressive behavior. It can range from begging and persuasion to forced sexual contact. But even if your partner isn’t forcing you to perform sexual acts without your consent, making you feel obligated to do them is still sexual coercion.

No matter what type of relationship you are in, you never owe your partner intimacy of any kind.

Ways sexual coercion can occur
  • Implying that you owe them something sexually in exchange for previous actions, gifts, or consent.
  • Giving you drugs or alcohol to “loosen up” your inhibitions.
  • Using your relationship status as leverage, including by demanding sex as a way to “prove your love” or by threatening to cheat or leave.
  • Reacting with sadness, anger, or resentment if you say no or don’t immediately agree to something, or trying to normalize their sexual demands by saying that they “need” it.
  • Continuing to pressure you after you say no or intimidating you into fearing what will happen if you say no.

Reproductive coercion

Reproductive coercion is a form of power and control where one partner strips another of the ability to control their own reproductive system. It can be difficult to identify this form of coercion because it’s often less visible than other types of abuse occurring at the same time and may appear as pressure, guilt, or shame about having or wanting children (or not having or wanting them).

Examples of reproductive coercion
  • Refusing to use a condom or other types of birth control.
  • Breaking or removing a condom before or during sex, or refusing to pull out.
  • Lying about methods of birth control (i.e. having a vasectomy or being on the pill).
  • Removing birth control methods like rings, IUDs, or contraceptive patches, or sabotaging methods by poking holes in condoms or tampering with pills.
  • Withholding money to purchase birth control.
  • Monitoring your menstrual cycles to inform their abuse.
  • Forcing pregnancy or not supporting your decisions about when or if to have children.
  • Intentionally becoming pregnant against your wishes.
  • Forcing you to get an abortion or preventing you from getting one.
  • Threatening you or acting violent if you don’t agree to end or continue a pregnancy.
  • Keeping you pregnant by getting you pregnant again shortly after you have a child.


Stalking occurs when someone watches, follows, or harasses you repeatedly, making you feel afraid or unsafe, and may occur from someone you know, a past partner, or a stranger. This can include different types of abuse. 

Stalking can look like:
  • Showing up at your home or workplace unannounced or uninvited.
  • Sending you unwanted texts, messages, letters, emails, or voicemails.
  • Leaving you unwanted items, gifts, or flowers.
  • Calling you and hanging up repeatedly or making unwanted phone calls to you, your employer, a professor, or a loved one.
  • Using social media or technology to track your activities.
  • Spreading rumors about you online or in person.
  • Manipulating other people to investigate your life, including using someone else’s social media account to look at your profile or befriending your friends in order to get information about you.
  • Waiting around at places you spend time.
  • Damaging your home, car, or other property.
  • Hiring a private investigator to follow or find you as a way of knowing your location or movements.

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