Domestic Violence Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Domestic Violence, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Domestic Violence?

n. The physical beating of a wife, girlfriend, or children, typically by the woman’s male partner although it can also include female violence against a male and is recognized as an antisocial mental illness. Women continue to endure this conduct or fail to protect a child due to her dependence, low self-esteem and/or fear of leaving. Consequently, battered women sometimes do not press charges or testify against their partner due to intimidation and misplaced love. Domestic violence is increasingly attracting the sympathetic attention of the courts, law enforcement, and community services.

History and Meaning of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is a form of abuse that involves the physical, emotional, sexual or psychological harm in a domestic setting, typically by a partner or family member. It has been prevalent throughout history, although it has not always been recognized as a social problem. In the past, spousal abuse was not considered a crime, and victims did not have legal protection.

It was only in the 1970s that social and legal attitudes towards domestic violence began to change. The feminist movement played a vital role in pushing for greater recognition of domestic violence as a criminal offence. It was only in the late 20th century that states began to introduce legislation acknowledging that domestic violence was a serious crime and that victims needed legal protection.

Examples of Domestic Violence

  1. An abusive partner may physically harm their spouse, causing bruising, cuts, broken bones, or other injuries.
  2. Emotional abuse can take the form of verbal insults, belittling, or controlling behavior that leaves the victim feeling isolated and powerless.
  3. Sexual abuse involves forcing someone to engage in sexual acts against their will, or using sex as a bargaining tool or means of control.

Legal Terms Similar to Domestic Violence

  1. Spousal abuse – refers specifically to the abuse of a spouse by their partner.
  2. Child abuse – includes any act (or failure to act) that results in harm, potential harm, or threat of harm to a child.
  3. Elder abuse – involves any act that harms or threatens to harm an older person, whether physical, emotional, or financial.