What is domestic violence? What “counts” as domestic violence?

At Refuge House, we think of domestic violence as any kind of action where one partner is trying to control or dominate the other person.

The control or domination could look a lot of ways (more than we can list!):

  • When your partner uses mean words (verbal abuse), and treats you like you are worthless and bad (emotional abuse). For example, if your partner calls you names, yells at you that you are ugly, disgusting, crazy, or that no one loves you.
  • When your partner tries to control your body. For example, telling you what to wear, telling you when you can or can’t go to the doctor, making you have sex, telling you when you can or can’t use birth control. Your partner may want you to drink or use drugs in a way that you don’t want or that scares you. Your partner may demand that you have sex with other people.
  • When your partner tries to control who you can see, visit or where you work.  For example, your partner controls or monitors your phone, controls or monitors when you can drive, prevents you from seeing your family or friends without him/her present, follows you or calls you constantly when you are out. Your partner may accuse you of having affairs.
  • When your partner tries to control your money. For example, your partner may demand access to all of your money from your job, or demand you stop working so that you become more dependent. Your partner may try to use you to make money for them by selling drugs for them or by prostituting.
  • When your partner tries to control you by threats of harming you, harming themself, harming your children or harming pets. For example, your partner may threaten to hurt or kill you, may threaten to commit suicide, may threaten to kidnap children or kill or mutilate pets.
  • When your partner physically attacks you or objects around you. For example, your partner may kick, push, hit or slap you, burn you, pull your hair, stab you, strangle you or shoot at you. Your partner may punch holes in the walls, damage your house or car, destroy your clothes, photographs and other personal things.

We are here to help you with any domestic violence situation, and to support your choices. We want to help you reduce the risk of future violence, and help you with resources and options to keep the violence from getting worse. You deserve a good life, and a partner who respects and treasures you.

Who are victims of domestic violence?

While 85–90% of domestic violence victims are women, both women and men may be victims of abuse, regardless of sexual orientation, in all age, racial, ethnic, socio-economic and religious groups. Victims can be wealthy, educated and prominent or may have very limited resources. Victims of domestic violence live in rural towns, urban cities, may be homeless or live in gated communities.

In the areas of north Florida served by Refuge House, we counted…


acts of domestic violence in fiscal year 2016/2017 – that’s more than one incident every two hours.

You did not cause this or deserve to be treated abusively. Your partner may have accused you of “making” them be violent or abusive because of something you did. This is a common tactic used by abusers to excuse what they did and try to make it your fault.

The abuser, and other people, may tell you that you deserved to be abused for some reason. Some victims remain in the abusive relationship because they believe that the violence is their fault. Many victims make repeated attempts to change their own behavior in order to avoid the next assault. No one is responsible for abusive behavior but the person who behaves abusively. Only the violent person is responsible for the abuse.