Types of abuse

People often assume physical violence when they hear about abuse, but that’s not always the case. Dating abuse is a pattern of behaviors used to gain or maintain power and control over a partner — physical violence is just one example of such behavior.

Remember: no one deserves to experience abuse in any capacity and every type of abuse is serious. If you recognize any of these warning signs in your relationship, you can always reach out to us via text, phone, or live chat.

Learn about abuse

Understanding common types of abuse will better prepare you to identify them when you see them; experiencing even one or two of these warning signs may be a red flag that abuse is present in your own relationship.

“Why do I love my abuser?”
“Why do I love my abuser?”

Physical abuse

Emotional and verbal abuse

Sexual abuse

Financial abuse

Digital abuse


Physical abuse

Physical abuse is any intentional, unwanted contact with you or something close to your body, or any behavior that causes or has the intention of causing you injury, disability, or death.

Abusive behavior may not always cause physical pain or leave a bruise, but it’s still unhealthy and should always be taken seriously.

Examples of physical abuse include:

  • Scratching, punching, biting, strangling, choking, or kicking.
  • Throwing items at you like a phone, book, shoe, or plate.
  • Pulling your hair.
  • Pushing or pulling you, or forcibly grabbing your clothing.
  • Threatening to use or using a gun, knife, box cutter, bat, mace, or other weapon against you.
  • Touching any part of you without your permission or consent.
  • Forcing you to have sex or perform a sexual act.
  • Grabbing your face to make you look at them.
  • Preventing you from leaving or forcing you to go somewhere.
What to do if you've experienced physical abuse

Know that you’re not alone. More than one in ten high school students have already experienced physical aggression from a dating partner, and many were unequipped to respond after it happened. If you’re in a similar situation, the most important thing to remember is that your partner’s abusive behavior is wrong — you are deserving of a healthy, loving, and respectful relationship.

Commit yourself to not making excuses for your partner’s abusive behavior and chat with us now for help creating a safety plan to fit your situation. Steps to consider next include:

Remember: unhealthy or abusive relationships usually get worse. It’s important to assess your abusive partner’s level and use of force to determine the urgency of your situation and what kind of support you need to get safer.

Emotional & verbal abuse

Emotional abuse includes non-physical behaviors such as threats, insults, constant monitoring or “checking in,” excessive texting, humiliation, intimidation, isolation, or stalking.

Relationships can still be unhealthy or abusive even without physical abuse. Examples of behaviors that qualify as emotional or verbal abuse include:

  • Calling you names or putting you down.
  • Telling you what to do or wear.
  • Yelling or screaming at you.
  • Intentionally embarrassing you in front of others or starting rumors about you.
  • Preventing you from seeing or communicating with friends or family, or threatening to have your children taken away from you.
  • Damaging your property (throwing objects, punching walls, kicking doors, etc.)
  • Using online communities or communications to control, intimidate, or humiliate you.
  • Blaming abusive or unhealthy behavior on you or your actions.
  • Being jealous of outside relationships or accusing you of cheating.
  • Stalking you or your loved ones.
  • Threatening to harm you, your pet(s), or people in your life.
  • Threatening to harm themselves to keep you from ending the relationship.
  • 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.
  • Making you feel guilty or immature when you don’t consent to sexual activity.
  • Threatening to expose personal details, such as your sexual orientation or immigration status.
What to do if you've experienced emotional abuse

Emotional abuse may not always cause visible harm, but it does cause emotional pain and scarring and may lead to physical violence eventually. Constantly being criticized, told you aren’t good enough, or made to question your grasp on reality can cause you to lose confidence in yourself and lower your self-esteem. As a result, you may start to blame yourself for your partner’s abusive behavior — resist this impulse.

Remember: emotional abuse is never, ever your fault. Talk to someone you trust like a close friend, family member, or mentor, and make a plan for your safety.

Contact us 24/7 via text, phone, or live chat for personalized support to help you deal with emotional abuse.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse refers to any behavior that pressures or coerces someone to do something sexually that they don’t want to do.

It can also refer to behavior that impacts a person’s ability to control their sexual activity or the circumstances in which sexual activity takes place, including oral sex, rape, or controlling reproductive methods and choices.

Everyone has the right to decide what they do or don’t want to do sexually, and not all sexual assaults are violent “attacks.” Most victims of sexual assault know their assailant, and people of all genders and sexualities can be victims or perpetrators of sexual abuse. That includes people who are married, dating, in a “friends with benefits” arrangement, or just acquaintances.

Examples of sexual abuse include:

  • Unwanted kissing or touching.
  • Unwanted rough or violent sexual activity.
  • Refusing to use condoms or restricting someone’s access to birth control.
  • Preventing someone from using protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
  • Sexual contact with someone intoxicated from drugs or alcohol, unconscious, asleep, or otherwise unable to give clear and informed consent.
  • Threatening, pressuring, or otherwise forcing someone to have sex or perform sexual acts.
  • Using sexual insults toward someone.

Sexual abuse is never the victim’s fault. Just because someone “didn’t say no” or doesn’t resist unwanted sexual advances doesn’t mean that they consent. Physical resistance can sometimes put victims at higher risk for further abuse, and the narrative that a lack of resistance equals consent makes it more difficult for survivors to report abuse. It’s up to each of us to understand consent and to communicate and respect the boundaries of our intimate partners, without exception.

What to do if you’ve experienced sexual abuse

Your safety should always be your first priority. Try to get to a safe place away from your attacker where you can think through your next steps. You may be scared, angry, confused, and hurt — remember that the abuse was not your fault.

Steps to consider next:

  • Contact someone you trust. You may be in shock after having been sexually assaulted, and you will almost certainly feel a mix of complex emotions. Having someone there to support you can help you express and process these feelings in a way that doesn’t threaten your safety, and can give you room to focus on your healing while they help with everything else. It’s often useful to speak with a counselor, sexual assault hotline, or support group if you don’t feel comfortable reaching out to a friend or family member.
  • Go to an emergency room or health clinic. It’s extremely important for you to seek health care as soon as you can after being assaulted. You can expect to be treated for any injuries, offered medications to help prevent pregnancy and/or STIs, and have tests run to ensure your long term wellbeing. There may also be sexual assault advocates in the area who can assist you and answer any questions. A Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) can provide these services and collect evidence in case you decide to pursue legal action in the future.
  • Report what happened. If you determine that it’s safe for you to do so, you may report what happened to law enforcement to pursue criminal legal recourse against your attacker. If you decide to do so, it’s important that you do your best to avoid altering or destroying any evidence of the attack to prepare a stronger legal case. That means don’t shower, wash your hair or body, comb your hair, or change your clothes, even if it’s hard not to. If you’re nervous about going to the police station, it may help to bring a trusted friend with you, keeping in mind any relevant safety considerations for them as well.

Remember: you always have options. Chat with us now to learn more about sexual abuse or to find available resources in your area.

Financial abuse

Financial abuse often operates in more subtle ways than other forms of abuse, but it can be just as harmful to those who experience it.

Modern conditions of stark economic inequality mean that financial security is directly tied to our health and wellbeing. No one has the right to use money or how you choose to spend it to control your actions or decisions, and no one should control your ability to work.

Examples of financial abuse include:

  • Giving you an allowance or monitoring what you buy.
  • Depositing your paycheck into an account you can’t access.
  • Preventing you from seeing shared bank accounts or records.
  • Forbidding you from working or limiting the hours you do.
  • Preventing you from going to work by taking your car, keys, or other mode of transportation.
  • Getting you fired by harassing you, your employer, or your co-workers.
  • Hiding or stealing your student financial aid check or other financial support.
  • Using your social security number to obtain loans without your permission.
  • Using your child’s social security number to claim an income tax refund without your permission.
  • Maxing out your credit cards without permission.
  • Refusing to provide you with money, food, rent, medicine, or clothing.
  • Using funds from your children’s tuition or a joint savings account without your knowledge.
  • Spending money on themselves while preventing you from doing the same.
  • Giving you presents or paying for things with the expectation of something in return.
  • Using financial circumstances to control you.
What to do if you’ve experienced financial abuse

Financial abuse is usually coupled with emotional or physical abuse. If you’re not in control of your finances or if your partner has taken money from your bank account, it can be especially scary to leave an abusive relationship. Chat with us now to get support and identify local resources to help you regain control over your finances — some organizations may even provide short term loans to cover important expenses while leaving an abusive relationship.

You can also consider talking to a trusted friend, family member, or legal professional about getting a protection order. No matter what you decide to do, consider making a safety plan that includes setting aside funds in a separate, private location.

Digital abuse

Digital dating abuse is the use of technologies like texting and social media to bully, harass, stalk, or intimidate a partner. This behavior is often a form of verbal or emotional abuse, conducted online.

All communication in a healthy relationship is respectful, whether in person, online, or over the phone. It’s never okay for your partner to use words or actions to harm you, lower your self-esteem, or manipulate you.

Examples of digital abuse include:

  • 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 pressuring your to share your account passwords.
  • Constantly texting you or making you feel like you can’t be separated from your phone.
  • 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.
What to do if you’ve experienced digital abuse

You never deserve to be mistreated, online or in person. If you’ve experienced digital dating abuse, we encourage you to contact us so we can talk through the details of your situation and identify available options. Remember:

  • Your partner should respect your relationship boundaries. Always.
  • You never have to share your passwords with anyone.
  • You never 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 own privacy and to spend time with other people without your partner getting angry. Just be sure that the people who might need to reach you in an emergency still have a way to.
  • 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 has access to it. These settings are often customizable and may be found in the privacy section of the website. Keep in mind 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 by 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 any technology, online or in person. Consider changing your phone number if the abuse and harassment don’t stop.


Stalking occurs when someone watches, follows, or harasses you repeatedly, making you feel afraid or unsafe.

A stalker can be someone you know, a past partner, or a stranger. While the legal definition of stalking varies from state to state, examples of stalking behavior include:

  • 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.
What to do if you’ve experienced stalking

If you’re being stalked, you’re likely going through a lot of stress, vulnerability, anxiety, and other emotions you may not be able to express right now, which in turn may be affecting your sleep or concentration at work or school.  Every year, 3.4 million people in the US experience stalking — youth between the ages of 18 and 24 experience the highest rates.

Most people assume that stalkers are strangers, but in reality, three out of four victims of stalking are harassed by someone they know. If you think you may be in danger, contact an emergency service provider to help you reach a safer place, and consider obtaining a protection order to prevent your stalker from coming near you. Understand the risks of contacting law enforcement for your own safety and others, including that the person harassing you may ultimately be arrested and convicted within the criminal legal system.

Regardless of whether you intend to pursue legal action against your stalker, it’s important to save evidence of the abuse for proof in the future if you ever need it. Take time to write down the dates, times, and places of each incident that occurred, including names and contact information for people who may have witnessed what happened. Examples of such evidence include:

  • Text messages
  • Voicemails.
  • Pictures or videos
  • Letters, photographs, or cards
  • Unwanted items or gifts
  • Social media harassment (including inappropriate friend or follow requests)

Stalking is a traumatic experience. You may lose sleep, feel depressed, have nightmares, or feel like you don’t have control over your life because of your experience. These reactions are normal and you should be forgiving of yourself as you heal. It can help to tell a trusted friend or loved one about your experience and work to develop a safety plan.

We’re here 24/7 to discuss your situation, identify next steps, and support you in making the decision that’s best for you.

Answers shouldn’t be hard to find.

We're here to help!