What Is Abuse?

Relationships are on a spectrum from healthy to unhealthy to abusive. They can move across the spectrum, too. It can be hard to tell where your relationship falls, or when it or a behavior moves from harmful to abusive.

Harmful behaviors are abusive when:

  • They’re used to manipulate
  • They’re used to gain control
  • They’re used to gain power over someone
  • They make you feel bad about yourself or other people you’re close to (friends, family, etc)
  • They make you afraid of your dating partner

Not all harmful behaviors are abusive. For example:

  1. One day, Jamar was jealous of Michael’s friends, so he texted Michael more often than normal.
  2. Every day JC texts, calls, and messages Tessa many times per hour because they think Tessa should only spend time with them.

Number 1 shows a harmful behavior because Jamar was acting jealously. This may not be abuse because it happened one time. If this was the only time that Jamar did this, then it might not have been abuse.

Number 2 shows abusive behavior because JC is trying to manipulate who Tessa spends time with and gain control over what Tessa does. It is also abusive because this happens every day and very often.

There are different types of abuse: emotional, physical, and sexual.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse, also known as mental abuse, is the non-physical way people can be hurt. Name calling, criticizing opinions, insulting, scaring and making a dating partner feel guilty are just a few examples of emotional abuse. Even though this type of abuse doesn’t leave marks you can see, emotional abuse is just as serious as physical abuse!

This kind of abuse can be LGBT specific, too. Some examples of LGBT-specific emotional abuse are:

  • outing or threatening to out a partner
  • threaten to interfere with transitioning for a trans partner
  • belittling, questioning, or denying a partner’s identity
  • criticizing or humiliating a partner based on gender expression or body
  • sharing information about a trans person’s body without their permission
  • using incorrect pronouns

Emotional abuse can happen even when people are apart through social media, texts, and the internet. Asking for passwords, constantly texting or messaging a partner, posting photos without consent, and going through someone’s phone, social media, or email without consent are all examples of electronic harm.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is the use of violence or threats of violence against a partner. Hitting, slapping, spitting, pushing, pinching, and shoving are a few examples of physical abuse. There are many actions that are physical abuse – anything that is unwanted physical contact is physical abuse. There is a specific type of physical abuse that  is different than others, and that is sexual abuse.

Sexual Abuse

This type of abuse is any unwanted sexual or physical contact. Dating sexual abuse takes many forms, included unwanted sexual contact like forced oral sex; forced kissing; and unwanted fondling, grabbing, and touching. It also includes threats of wanted sexual contact, attempted rape, and rape.

Sexual activity can be forced on someone in many different ways, from verbal persuasion, guilt, and emotional teasing to persistent attempts, threats, and physical force. Dating sexual abuse is an act of violence and is a way of using sex as a weapon to gain power. Sexual abuse and rape by a date are as much of a crime as sexual abuse by a stranger.

Many people have or will experience some degree of unwanted sexual touching in their lives, and it is nothing to be ashamed of.


Remember! Everyone deserves a happy, healthy, safe relationship and no one deserves to be abused!