Relationship Abuse/Intimate Partner Violence/Domestic Violence/Dating Violence

These terms are used interchangeably with the following definition: Relationship abuse is a pattern of abusive and coercive behaviors used to maintain power and control over a former or current intimate partner. Abuse can be emotional, financial, sexual or physical and can include threats, isolation, and intimidation.

This website does not address child abuse except in the context of the co-occurrence of domestic violence and child maltreatment.

Perpetrator/Offender/Abuser/People Who Choose to be Abusive

It is a choice to be abusive towards someone else. Ideally, we would say “people who have chosen to be abusive,” rather than “perpetrators,” “offenders,” or “abusers.” However, this is the terminology used in our courts, institutions and social services and is reflected as such on our site.

Violence against women/Men’s violence against women/Gender-based violence/Violence in LGBTQI+ Relationships

These terms are used interchangeably to describe the use of violence and abuse as a form of gender oppression, and/or as a result of gender oppression. However, the terms that we choose shape the way we view the issue. When we say “violence against women,” we are more likely to focus on “what is wrong” with a woman instead of focusing on what the perpetrator has done to that woman. When we say “men’s violence against women or violence in LGBTQI+ relationships” we start to look more specifically at the perpetrator and the perpetrator’s actions. The term “gender-based violence” encapsulates relationship abuse in both heterosexual and LGBTQI+ relationships, but is still not gender neutral.

Read the United Nations Definition of Violence Against Women.

Human Trafficking

Human trafficking refers to the recruitment, transportation, solicitation, kidnapping, and/or obtainment of a person, and sex trafficking refers to this practice for the purpose of sexually exploiting them by forcing them to commit commercial sex acts through force or coercion. Sex trafficking is illegal, yet continues to occur throughout the United States and globally. Sex traffickers, predominately men, disproportionately target women and girls, specifically women and girls in communities of color. This is due to systemic racism and structural violence, which cause sex traffickers to feel empowered to continue targeting and trafficking women and girls. Specifically, the sex trafficking of Indigenous women and girls by men who perpetrate this sexual violence is a major issue that is tied to the prevalence of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

Read the Human Trafficking Hotline’s Sex Trafficking Statistics, and learn more about how sex trafficking and sexual assault are connected on our Sexual Assault FAQs page.

Gender Pronouns

“Woman” is meant to encompass all female-identifying individuals and nonbinary and genderqueer individuals. Because the vast majority of relationship abuse is committed by cis-gender men against women in heterosexual relationships, this website sometimes contains the female gender pronoun when referring to the survivor (roughly 95% of relationship abuse is by a man against a womA=an and most of the remaining 5% is by a man against another man or a woman against another woman). Maintaining a gendered analysis, while including the experiences of nonbinary and genderqueer people, is essential in recognizing and dismantling patriarchal systems, such as rape culture and toxic masculinity.

Domestic violence and relationship abuse occurs at the same rate in LGBTQI+ and non-binary relationships (roughly 1 in 4) and all of the information on this site is relevant for male and non-binary survivors and for individuals in LGBTQI+ relationships. In addition, please see our resources on LGBTQI+ relationships.

Our goal is to encourage helping professionals to be inclusive to all people experiencing relationship abuse. This includes using gender-neutral language when working with individuals, while continuing to analyze gender as a social construct that has implications on gender-based violence in both heterosexual and LGBTQI+ relationships.


cis-gender- a person whose gender identity corresponds to their assigned sex at-birth

womxn- all woman-identified individuals regardless of assigned sex at-birth. This terms acknowledges the historical exclusion of women of color, transgender, and non-binary individuals and is used to represent the broad scope of womanhood.

gender identity – a person’s perception of having a particular gender, which may or may not correspond with their birth sex and that may fall outside the traditional gender binary.

LGBTQI+- an abbreviation used to describe individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and those who identify with all other genders, sexualities and sexes not described by these letters.

gender binary – a social system that only recognizes two genders, male and female, and that an individual’s sex assigned at birth will align with traditional social constructs of masculine and feminine identity, expression, and sexuality.

transgender – a term that describes people whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth.

nonbinary – individuals who live outside of society’s gender construct and do not identify within the male/female gender binary.

genderqueer – individuals who may see themselves as being both male and female, neither male nor female, or as falling completely outside these categories.


Intersectionality is a tool for analysis, advocacy and policy development that addresses multiple discriminations and helps us understand how different sets of identities impact on access to rights and opportunities. Intersectionality is used to study, understand and respond to the ways in which gender intersects with other identities and how these intersections contribute to unique experiences of oppression. Kimberlé Crenshaw wrote about the term in 1989, where she defined it as “a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects.” Read more…

Association for Women’s Rights in Development

Victim Blaming

Victim-blaming statements and attitudes place the blame on the victim of a crime or act of abuse. In regards to relationship abuse, examples of victim-blaming attitude are: “She must have provoked him into being abusive” or “they both need to change.” Victim-blaming attitudes marginalize the victim/survivor and make it harder to come forward and report the abuse. If the survivor knows that you or society blames them for the abuse, they will not feel safe or comfortable coming forward and talking to you. Read more…


A bystander is a person who observes an unacceptable behavior that they know is destructive or bad. An active bystander takes steps that can make a difference in making a situation better or less destructive. We are often referring to active bystanders when we use the term bystander. This is sometimes referred to as upstander.


Holding abusers accountable sends a message to others that abuse of any kind will not be tolerated in our community. Unfortunately, there are still many barriers to justice in the criminal justice system, and when professionals do not understand the dynamics of relationship abuse, it can make it difficult to adequately identify and prosecute abusers. In addition, many women cannot rely on the criminal justice system due to institutional barriers, including discrimination or homophobia. Therefore, it is important for us to hold abusers accountable on an individual level as well. Do not blame the survivor. Teach your children that violence is never the answer to a problem, and that controlling another person is wrong.


Patriarchy is a male dominant form of social organization that undervalues women and that systematically excludes women from social, political, and economic power. The United States, and many other countries and societies, is a patriarchy. The structures in place serve (and have served historically) to benefit men and to oppress women.


Objectification is seeing/treating a person as an object. This can include or result in the treatment of a person: 1) primarily in terms of how they look, 2) as lacking agency and self-determination, 3) as lacking the capacity to speak, 4) as something that is owned by another (can be bought or sold or used), 5) as interchangeable with other objects, 6) as something whose experiences and feelings need not be taken into account (Nussbaum 1995, Langton 2009).


Transphobia encompasses a range of negative attitudes, feelings or actions toward transgender people. Transphobia can include fear, aversion, hatred, violence, anger, or discomfort felt or expressed towards people who do not conform to social gender expectations, which is fueled by patriarchal values and toxic masculinity.


The term cissexim refers to prejudice or discrimination against individuals that do not identify with their assigned sex at birth. It is related to, yet distinct from, transphobia, which is defined as negative attitudes, feelings or actions toward transgender people. While transphobia is often expressed overtly through disgust, hatred, or violence towards transgender people, cissexism is more subtle and possible more pervasive. Cissexism is the systemic discrimination and false notions about transgender, nonbinary, and genderqueer individuals that manifest in microaggressions, barriers to employment, and misgendering. An example of a common cis-sexist practice is asking a transgender person for their “real name.” Trans people’s names are, in fact, their real names. This behavior only perpetuates the idea that a person who has transitioned genders is not valid, and that the gender they were perceived as prior to transitioning is “real.”


Misogyny is hatred and mistrust towards womxn that contributes to rape, relationship abuse, sexual objectification of womxn, victim blaming, and sexist policies.

Trans-misogyny is a type of misogyny in which hatred is directed towards trans women that is informed by sexism and transphobia. As defined by Julia Serano in 2007, it encompasses “misogyny, sexism, transphobia, and cissexism toward trans women and transfeminine people that may not be experienced by cisgender women or trans men.”


Feminism consists of the ideologies and movements that strive for gender equity politically, socially, and economically. True feminism operates on the principle of intersectionality, and must acknowledge and center the experiences of Black women, Latinx women, Indigenous women, Muslim women, immigrant women, undocumented women, and gender nonconforming individuals of color. The goal of feminism is for society to equally valuing womxn and their contributions to society in the same way men and their contributions to society are valued.

Cultural Competency

  • Cultural competency refers to the process by which advocates and service providers:
    • Combine general knowledge with specific information provided by the individual,
    • Incorporate an awareness of their own biases, and
    • Approach the definition of culture with a self reflective and open mind.

Recognizing that that individuals have different perspectives based on their diversity is the first step in a lifelong process of becoming culturally competent.

    1. When working with domestic violence survivors, a successful, culturally competent intervention incorporates:
      • An understanding of the definition of cultural competency;
      • An awareness of one’s own biases, prejudices and knowledge concerning
        survivors and their culture; and
      • A recognition of professional power (such as the power differential between
        advocates and the individual) in order to avoid imposing one’s own values on the client or person.

From Domestic Violence: Practical Applications Session. Trainer’s Manual For Health Care Providers, Family Violence Prevention Fund (1998)