What is family violence?
What is family violence?

Family violence can mean many things. Sometimes it is called domestic violence. Depending on who is being hurt and how they are hurt, it may be called spouse or wife abuse, battering, intimate partner violence, child abuse, child sexual abuse, or elder abuse. When they happen in the home or are done by a family member, all of these things are kinds of family violence.

Family Violence Upon Children
This includes child abuse and child neglect. According to federal law, child abuse covers anything that causes serious physical or emotional harm, any sexual abuse or exploitation, or putting a child at risk for these types of harms.

Physical abuse can mean punching, kicking, burning, shaking or any other type of physical harm to a child. It includes things a parent or caretaker may have done to punish a child, whether or not she meant to hurt the child.

Neglect can mean that a child is not being given enough to eat, is not taken to a doctor when sick, or is often left alone. It can mean letting or encouraging children to do things that are not healthy or right for them, like drinking, using drugs, or having sex. A child can also be seriously harmed by not being given the affection that all children need. Belittling, rejecting, and constantly yelling at children can hurt them as much as physical abuse can.

Fact: Nearly three times as many children are victims of neglect as are victims of physical abuse. Another 11 percent are recorded as sexual abuse. (US DHHS, 1999)

Sexual abuse includes fondling a child's genitals, rape, intercourse, sodomy, incest, or involving a child in prostitution or pornography in any way. Any sexual contact with a child by an adult or a member of one's family is abuse; there is no such thing as consent where a child is concerned.

Fact: Most child sexual abuse goes unreported. Only one in ten children will tell. (National Victim Center, 1991)

Family Violence Upon Adults
Usually, it is the women in the home who suffer from family violence.

Fact: From 1996 – 1999, 292,994 women were victims of violence in South Carolina. Less than 10% were hurt by a stranger. Family members were most likely to be the abusers. (SC Dept. of Public Safety, 2001)

But husbands and same-sex partners can also suffer abuse in their homes. Sometimes, abuse can mean repeated, severe beatings, bruising, broken bones, physical attacks or threats with weapons. They may force their victims to have sex. Slapping, pushing, shoving, and threatening are all forms of abuse as well. An abuser may try to keep a person from seeing the people they want to see or going where they want to go.

Abuse can be emotional as well. Batterers may yell or scream, put down or degrade, and/or try to control details of a family member's life. They may fly into jealous rages, or say that all of their problems, including the abuse, are the other person's fault.

Sometimes the abuse is brought on by use of drugs or alcohol. Sometimes the abuser appears charming to others, but is mean and abusive when at home alone with his or her family.

Family Violence Upon Elders
About 2.1 million reports of elder abuse are filed each year, but it is estimated that there are five times that many being abused. There are stories in the news about older people being abused in nursing homes. But many older people live with their families or on their own. Most abuse happens there, in their homes or the homes of their families.

Elder abuse can be physical or emotional. It can be hitting, pinching, shoving, burning, or beating. It can be forcing an older person to eat or take drugs in a physically harmful way. Forcing a person to stay in a bed or chair by tying them down can be abuse. Words can be abusive when used to threaten, insult, and humiliate. Or a person can be abusive by giving the “silent treatment” to their victim. Keeping a person from being with friends and family members is another type of abuse. When family members or other caregivers don't give an elder person what they need, such as food, water, clothing, bathing, or medicine, they are harming them by neglect. South Carolina state law protects elders against any of these forms of abuse (SC 2001 Code of Law, Title 20, Chapter 4).

To learn more:

Types of Child Abuse and Neglect
(Department of Health and Human Services)
Provides clear definitions of the different forms of child maltreatment, including child abuse and neglect and child sexual abuse. The Web site is from the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Intimate Partner Violence Prevention
(National Center for Injury Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
is a good overview giving information about the problem, about who is at risk, and how to help.
Elder Abuse and Neglect: In Search of Solutions
(American Psychological Association)
provides a clear explanation of elder abuse with examples that explain the problems, with information about prevention and where to get help.
The National Center on Elder Abuse
The National Center on Elder Abuse provides elder abuse information to professionals and the public; offers technical assistance and training to agencies and professionals; conducts short-term research; and assists with program and policy development.

next » What are the signs of family violence?

Written by: Laura Cousineau, M.L.S.
Reviewed by: Jim Hernandez, L.M.S.W.
Last Modified: Wednesday January 02, 2013 11:17 AM