Forms of violence and abuse

It may be difficult to recognise violence and abuse in your own close relationships. The abuse may start with an action that feels small, and the perpetrator may apologise for what they did. Violence and abuse in close relationships may take various forms at different stages of the relationship.

All forms of abuse always involve psychological abuse, since violence and abuse is about controlling the other person and exerting power. However, knowledge of the different forms of abuse may help you identify dangerous situations.

Psychological abuse

Psychological abuse may involve:

  • insults, belittling remarks or humiliation
  • accusations, pressure or blackmail
  • separating the other person from other people, including people close to them
  • controlling the other person in terms of opinions, way of dress or moving outside
  • threats of physical violence or suicide

It may be difficult to recognise psychological abuse. Arguments and differing opinions are a natural part of relationships, but you should be able to state your opinion in an argument. Psychological abuse also involves fear. A victim of psychological abuse may feel lonely or guilty for their own behaviour, for example, or choose to not say or do things because they fear the consequences.

Jealousy may also turn into psychological abuse, and it may show in constant accusations, mistrust and monitoring the other person’s activities. It is common that the perpetrator denies or downplays their abuse. They may also accuse the other person of abuse.

Physical violence

Physical violence may involve:

  • pushing, hitting or slapping
  • holding the other person down or twisting a part of their body
  • scratching, biting, pulling hair
  • throwing objects
  • threats of physical violence or suicide

Physical violence refers to all actions that violate the physical integrity of the other person. Physical violence may not leave marks on the body, but still, it is always wrong, since it is done against the other person’s will.

Sexual violence

Sexual violence may involve:

  • pressuring or forcing the other person to have sex
  • pressuring the other person to perform sexual acts against their will
  • sexual harassment, such as inappropriate touching
  • photographing the other person or publishing photos without the other person’s permission
  • forbidding the use of contraception or stopping contraception without the other person’s permission
  • rape or attempted rape

Sexual violence refers to all actions that violate the sexual and bodily autonomy and integrity of a person. Sexual violence may not always involve physical actions; it may also involve exposing the other person to sexual material or inappropriate suggestions and remarks. Even in close relationships, everyone has the right to decide how and when they want to be touched. In a safe relationship, you must always be able to refuse or stop a situation without having to fear what will happen if you refuse.

Financial abuse

Financial abuse may involve:

  • controlling financial matters, such as using assets or money without the other person’s permission
  • pressuring the other person in financial matters
  • restricting the use of a bank account or card.

In an equal relationship, financial matters can be discussed and agreed on together when needed. The people in the relationship should be able to decide about their own use of money. Pressure in financial matters may be very subtle. For example, only one person may be left responsible for paying the bills, and they may feel they cannot refuse paying them. Pressuring someone to lend money and various threats in such situations are forms of violence. The aim of financial abuse is to restrict and control the other person’s life and their ability to live independently. Sometimes, the abuser may also aim to benefit from the other person financially.

Digital abuse

Digital abuse may involve:

  • secretly reading the other person’s messages
  • spreading undesired material online
  • monitoring the other person’s movements via tracking devices
  • controlling the other person’s social media accounts or logging into the accounts
  • continuous and intrusive messaging or calling

Smart devices, advanced technology and social media let people control and abuse each other in new ways, even in close relationships. Digital abuse refers to situations where a person is using technology, such as smart devices or social media, to control, monitor or shame the other person. Digital abuse is closely related to psychological abuse.

Honour-based violence

Honour-based violence may involve:

  • controlling and restricting the other person, such as restricting their movement or controlling their way of dress or finances
  • threats
  • coercion
  • isolation

Honour-based violence may involve any form of violence or abuse perpetrated within the immediate or extended family or a community based on the honour norms of the community. Honour-based violence is related to the community’s views of acceptable behaviour. Deviating from these norms accepted within the community is thought to bring shame to the community or family. The community may try to prevent this shame by controlling the behaviour of its members.

Conflicts arise in situations where a member of the community is suspected of having violated the norms. The reasons for the violence may be fear of the honour rules being broken, or a past situation where the rules have been broken.

Honour-based violence may take the form of psychological or physical abuse. Refusing to exert violence, such as controlling or abusing a family member, may also have consequences for the person who refused. Honour-based violence occurs within various communities, and it is not tied to a specific religion or ethnicity.

You can find more information and support for honour-based conflicts and violent situations from the SOPU work of Loisto Setlementti.


Stalking may involve:

  • continuous following and surveillance
  • continuous undesired contact
  • threats
  • slander

Stalking refers to repeated and undesired ways of approaching, following and intimidating a person. Stalking may involve threatening insinuations or slander or harassment on social media. Stalking is often related to divorce or break-up situations. In many cases, the violence and abuse began during the relationship.

In divorce situations, children may also become victims of stalking or their parents abusing their power. Following, monitoring or threatening an ex partner through a child is always wrong. Children and young people should feel safe even during a divorce. If a young person is afraid or conflicted, or needs to be wary in such situations, they should discuss the feelings and experiences with a reliable adult.