What Is Family Violence? Statistics, Types, and Prevention

View all blog posts under Articles | View all blog posts under Online Master of Social Work

A social worker comforts and counsels a victim of elder abuse.Family violence manifests itself in many forms and can have lasting effects for those involved, including children, parents, and spouses. Social workers play a vital role in helping individuals prevent, recognize, and recover from family violence.

Though incidents of family violence can often be difficult to acknowledge and resolve, social services are crucial in helping people heal from volatile experiences and rebuild their lives.

What Is Family Violence?

Family violence (aka domestic violence) is a broad term that encompasses many different forms, so it can be difficult to define exactly what family violence is. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, family violence can include emotional, verbal, physical, sexual, psychological, and financial abuse. It can occur between any family members, such as spouses, partners, co-habitants, parents and children, and caregivers and children.

People often use family violence to exert power and control in their relationships due to jealousy, feelings of inferiority, low self-esteem, psychological disorders, anger issues, or issues with drugs or alcohol. This violence is never justified, regardless of the issues, the abuser may be experiencing.

Family violence can include felony or misdemeanor crimes. These crimes can occur as isolated incidents or be repeated over time, causing years of trauma or injury to the abused. As a result, this type of domestic violence can have a substantially negative impact on an individual’s short- and long-term behavioral patterns. It can also have a lasting effect on children’s physical, emotional, and psychological development.

Family violence doesn’t just affect the victim of the abuse, but also other relations and immediate family members. For example, parents who fight or engage in violent acts with each other can cause emotional and psychological harm to their children.

As the National Institute of Justice reported, children exposed to violence or aggression from their parents may grow to exhibit signs of antisocial behavior, criminal tendencies, drug or alcohol abuse, and mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. Similarly, warning signs of family violence in children and adults can include withdrawal from family, friends, and regular routines; unexplained injuries; shifts in personality and mood; and sudden changes in physical appearance.

A Look at Family Violence Statistics

Family violence can be difficult to categorize and understand. Because it isn’t always physical, it can be hard to detect. Indeed, children and partners may not recognize that they are experiencing family violence. Moreover, many victims of family violence may be in denial of their situations.

Family violence statistics can help individuals involved in these experiences, as well as social workers caring for victims, better understand the impact of this form of abuse.

Consider these facts about family violence in gauging its effects.

  • There were nearly 1.2 million reported cases of domestic violence victimization in 2019, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey.
  • Up to 10 million children and teens witness violence between their parents and caregivers each year, as reported by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men have reported experiences of physical violence, sexual violence, or stalking by an intimate partner. More than 43 million women and 38 million men have also been victims of psychological aggression.
  • Only 52% of domestic violence victimizations and 58% of intimate partner violence victimizations were reported to the police, according to the Criminal Victimization 2019 report from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs.
  • NBC News found that reports of domestic violence increased across the United States as a result of lockdowns and isolation at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some cities saw up to a 20% increase in these calls between February and March 2020.
  • The number of people affected by domestic violence, which includes elder abuse, is projected to increase over the next 20 years, with the increased retirement of the baby boomer population, according to a paper by the medical education provider StatPearls Publishing.

Types of Family Violence

There are many different types of family violence. Some involve contact that is physical or sexual in nature, while other types inflict a psychological toll on the victim, including emotional abuse, economic abuse, or generally controlling behavior.

Common types of family violence include the following.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse involves the use of force, often causing injury or pain. Examples of physical abuse include hitting, kicking, punching, shoving, beating, slapping, stabbing, and shooting. Physical abuse may involve weapons, such as guns, knives, or objects thrown at or near another person. Physical abuse also includes physical restraint against someone’s will, such as holding a person hostage or locking them in a room, and withholding physical needs such as sleep and food. Additionally, the threat of bodily harm or assault is considered a form of physical abuse.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse involves forcing sex or sexual acts upon another person without their consent. Sexual abuse in the family context may occur between people who are married, dating, or cohabitating. Examples of this form of abuse include engaging in sexual activity with someone who is underage, asleep, or intoxicated; exposing someone to sexual content against their will; and withholding sex as a form of control or manipulation.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse involves using words, actions, insults, intimidation, or manipulation to control, exploit, frighten, or humiliate another person. Examples of emotional abuse include name-calling, yelling, threatening, brainwashing, and bullying. Emotional abuse may also involve taking deliberate steps to make someone feel confused, preventing someone from practicing their religion or seeing friends and family, or influencing them to deny other forms of abuse.

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse entails using economic resources to exploit or manipulate another person. This can include taking someone’s property without their permission, withholding money, or taking control of their assets. Financial abuse can also involve making someone lose their job by preventing them from working or intentionally jeopardizing their career.

Harassment and Stalking

This form of family violence involves following someone without their permission, tracking their locations or phone calls, showing up at their home repeatedly, and causing a person to fear for their own safety or that of their loved ones.


Neglect is a form of family violence in which a parent or caregiver fails to provide their child with basic necessities, such as food, shelter, nutrition, hygiene, and health care.

Family violence can also occur among different genders, ages, and relations. Common types of family violence defined by the relation between abuser and victim include those listed here.

Intimate Partner Violence

Intimate partner violence can occur between spouses or partners at any time throughout their relationship. It typically occurs when one person wants to control the other due to jealousy, feelings of inferiority, drug or alcohol abuse, or mental illness.

Child Abuse

Child abuse can be committed by a parent, caregiver, sibling, or other relatives. It can be inflicted directly on the child, or it can be committed by making the child a witness to another form of abuse, such as intimate partner violence.

Elder Abuse

Elder abuse can be committed by an adult child, caregiver, or other family members. It commonly involves physical, emotional, or financial abuse such as misusing power of attorney or failing to provide necessary medical attention. Elder abuse often goes unreported due to lack of understanding, fear, or shame on the part of the victim.

How to Prevent Family Violence

Social workers can use key strategies and resources to help people learn how to prevent family violence or cope with the abuse. Because many cases of family violence go unreported, it’s especially important that victims have trustworthy professionals to turn to for lifesaving information and services.

In their roles, social workers are helpers. They are responsible for identifying people in need and assisting them in solving problems and coping with issues in their lives. They may be on-call to respond to crisis situations and may work with people on an ongoing basis as they heal and recover.

Social workers commonly connect people to vital services, such as therapy, as part of their practice. They also act as advocates for vulnerable populations, working with communities, organizations, and policymakers to spread awareness about certain issues or advocate for legislation.

Clinical social workers with medical training are equipped to diagnose patients and provide certain treatments such as therapy. Social workers can also specialize in a particular field, such as child and family social work, school social work, health care social work, and mental health social work.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the largest employers of social workers in 2019 included the following.

  • Individual and family services (18%)
  • Local government organizations (14%)
  • Ambulatory health care services (14%)
  • State government organizations (13%)

Whether they work in schools, community centers, or hospitals, social workers can use a variety of methods to help prevent family violence. According to the CDC, these six strategies are crucial in reducing incidents of family violence, such as intimate partner violence, and reducing its harmful impacts.

  1. Teaching healthy relationship skills to youth and couples
  2. Educating influential adults and peers about the signs of abuse
  3. Disrupting the pathways toward partner violence by conducting early childhood home visits, family engagement at school, and treatment for at-risk youth
  4. Creating safe environments for vulnerable people in schools, workplaces, and communities
  5. Increasing economic support for families through financial security programs
  6. Supporting survivors of abuse through housing programs, legal protections, and treatment services

Government programs are also in place to help prevent family violence. For example, the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act authorizes funding to support emergency shelter and assistance for victims of domestic violence, including adults and children. The act also calls for increased public awareness of family violence, support for local domestic violence programs that provide trauma-informed care, and services for children exposed to violence at home.

Family Violence Prevention Services

Many resources exist to help people learn about, prevent, and mitigate the threat of family violence — whether they are victims seeking information, family members in need of education, or social workers building strategies to effectively handle cases of family violence in various forms.

Use these family violence prevention services and resources to better understand and respond to these experiences.

How Social Workers Make an Impact

Career social workers impact lives and help people cope with real-world issues such as family violence. Ohio University’s online Master of Social Work program is designed to equip professionals with advanced and specialized skills that can be applied to a range of settings. The program also prepares students to make a difference in their field by bringing much-needed resources to vulnerable communities lacking access to critical services, such as those in rural areas.

Build a rewarding career in the growing social services industry, and learn more about how Ohio University’s online MSW program can help you pursue your professional goals.

Recommended Readings

Career Spotlight: Marriage and Family Therapist

Important Social Work Job Skills

Working as a School Social Worker


American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Domestic Violence and Children
Arizona Coalition to End Sexual & Domestic Violence, Types of Domestic Violence
Child Welfare Information Gateway, Domestic Violence and Worker Safety
Family & Youth Services Bureau, Family Violence Prevention and Services Program
Government of Canada Department of Justice, About Family Violence
Hands of Health South Carolina, Family Violence
National Association of Social Workers, Domestic Violence Media Toolkit
National Association of Social Workers, Why Choose the Social Work Profession?

NBC News, “Police See Rise in Domestic Violence Calls Amid Coronavirus Lockdown”
RaisingChildren.net, “Family Violence: What Is It?”
StatPearls Publishing, “Domestic Violence”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Social Workers
U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Victimization, 2019
U.S. Department of Justice, Family Violence