What is Considered Domestic Violence in California?

Domestic violence is shockingly common in the United States affecting an estimated 10 million people a year. In California, statistics show that nearly 35% of women and 31% of men experience a form of domestic violence.

Domestic violence covers more than physical abuse. Some people may not even know they have been a victim of domestic violence if they’re not familiar with the different types.

In the first of our three-part series examining domestic violence in California, we’re going to explore the different types of domestic violence as well as the different risk factors surrounding abusers.

What is Domestic Violence?

According to the National Coalition of Domestic Violence, domestic violence is defined as “the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another.”

Domestic violence includes:

  • Physical violence
  • Sexual violence
  • Threats
  • Emotional Abuse

The frequency and severity of domestic violence can vary dramatically from case to case.

Different Types of Domestic Violence

There are different types of domestic violence to be aware of. These include:
Physical Abuse
This is the most common form of domestic abuse. It can cover a wide range of behaviors at different levels. The most common forms of physical abuse are:

  • Hitting
  • Pushing
  • Slapping
  • Shoving
  • Stabbing
  • Burning
  • Biting

Many victims also experience rape as a form of physical abuse.

Emotional Abuse

Abuse can also come at the emotional level. It can be harder to identify because you can’t physically see it. Emotional abuse can embarrass the victim and wreak havoc on their self-esteem. It impacts their emotional and physical well-being.

Some emotional abusers are guilty of gaslighting. This is when the abuser distorts reality through statements or actions to confuse the victim.

The victim can also face emotional abuse when their requests and needs are constantly being ignored.

Financial Abuse

In this form of domestic violence, the abuser controls the economic resources of the relationship in a way to oppress the victim. The abuser may also take away the victim’s ability to earn money.


By isolating the victim, the abuser regains control over his victim. They may keep them away from family and friends.


Stalking is a severe form of emotional and psychological abuse. Many times women find themselves the victims of stalking. Stalking is the persistent and unwanted pursuit of another person. It can occur during the relationship or when the relationship is over.

Domestic Violence in California

As we mentioned above, domestic violence in California is common. Common crimes include battery, abuse, threats, and neglect. Some crimes can be misdemeanors while others are felonies. Some crimes can be charged as both depending on the severity, the defendant’s criminal record, and the circumstances surrounding the offense.

Under California Penal Code 13700(b), domestic violence means “abuse committed against an adult or a minor who is a spouse, former spouse, cohabitant, former cohabitant, or person with whom the suspect has had a child or is having or has had a dating or engagement relationship.”
Under Penal Code 13700(a), ‘abuse’ means “intentionally or recklessly causing or attempting to cause bodily injury, or placing another person in reasonable apprehension of imminent serious bodily injury to himself or herself, or another.”

Domestic relationships that the laws apply to include:

  • People who have a child together
  • Married people or those who were married
  • People who are engaged or dating or used to be
  • People who live together or used to live together

It can be confusing whether two people who live together are in the type of domestic relationship that defines them as “cohabitants”.

Factors that are considered are:

  • Sharing of income or expenses
  • Joint use or ownership of property
  • The length and continuity of the relationship

While all abuse cases are serious, when the defendant and the alleged victim are in a special kind of relationship, the law treats this as a more serious type of offense. Under the California Penal Code, it is a crime to use physical violence against your domestic partner or to threaten them with physical violence.

Risk Factors for Domestic Violence

Some people are at a greater risk of becoming alleged abusers in a domestic violence case. Many abusers act to gain control over their victims. This desire can stem from:

  • Anger management issues
  • Low self-esteem
  • Jealousy
  • Personality disorders
  • Alcohol or substance abuse

The need to control others can be fueled by childhood abuse, growing up in an abusive environment, and drug and alcohol abuse, among other factors.

The Takeaway

When discussing domestic violence in California, it’s important to understand the different types as well as what the law views as domestic violence. This can help determine whether you or someone you love is the victim of domestic violence.

Domestic violence crimes can be charged as misdemeanors or felonies, depending on their severity. While there is no excuse for abuse, there are some risk factors that can make someone more likely to become an abuser.

Now that we have a clear explanation of domestic violence in California, part two of our series will look at how California courts handle domestic violence and how they work to protect the victims’ privacy.